I got an email about entering a photo contest called “Picturing Asia” but it’s been sitting in my inbox for a few weeks. “We would like to give you the opportunity to tell a visual story,” they told me. A visual story. But I didn’t know if I could pull out that visual story right now, the one those pictures tell me, and just me. Those stories are so nicely lined up in rows of shiny photographs, but they seem so far away now. Those little photos all have their own smells and sound and chorus of eight-year old Chinese children yelling “Teacha! Teacha! Teacha!” at me and waving paper cranes in my face. And sometimes it takes too much effort to live in nostalgia.
But for some reason I’ve been thinking about those visual stories lately. I’ve been worried that I’m going to forget some of them. I’m worried that I’m going to forget that little part of myself I found in Asia. I’m worried about losing that story I wrote in China with my experiences. I’ve been worried that it’s slipping away because it’s so far away from my life of homework and BYU and Americanness. But sometimes that little four-months-of-Asia experience surprises me and comes out when I’m least expecting it. Like this week, when I was walking down the hall of the JKB and I heard a whole group of voices speaking Mandarin. I don’t know how to speak Mandarin but I know those sounds. I don’t know what those sounds mean, not any of them, and yet I know those sounds. They sound like dirty train station waiting rooms and chopsticks and those beautiful slippery noodles that swished through black sauce and steamed up around our faces. They sound like women gossiping next to the bus windows, they smell like that long hallway where we lived. All those sounds were right there in the JKB and I couldn’t stop smiling. These American boys were making those sounds, these young BYU students, and I was so happy to find them. I sat on the bench and listened when they weren’t watching me. I was so glad that China was still there, deep down, deep inside of me and that it hadn’t forgotten me. I’ve been missing my China. Two years and six countries later and that’s the visual story that keeps asking me to tell it again. So here they are. Here are a few visual stories that have had the dust brushed off of them.