I had been dreaming of going to America for God knows how many years before
I finally came to this land. The various misfortunes in my life gave me a
chance of being sent to America by my university only when I was about to
be 40 years old. Thinking th at I would take the chance to root myself
here, I went through a hasty experience of taking the GRE and TOEFL tests,
sending my credentials everywhere and trying to get information from
everywhere. For the past ten months I have been sitting in front of m y
computer day in and day out to read school pages on the Internet and look
for employment news. When I finally summoned up enough money to get several
I-20 forms, my enthusiasm for going to university plummeted suddenly and
what I have been thinking sinc e then is to buy an air ticket to go home.

To comfort myself I thought of a principle by which I have been doing
things these days: Just fight and fumble in America to get whatever I can,
with my great motherland backing me up. The worst of it is to go back to go
on being a professor and moonli ghter and in any case, I will still be
among the para-middle-class. As to the money I spend here, well, just treat
it as the money I lose in Las Vegas.

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But still I am no big gambler. When I talk about going abroad before I went
abroad, we talked it in such a way that it seemed we would rather do
anything to stay abroad. Even the jails in America are better than the
shabby house of my home in a big yar d in Beijing. If I was a big gambler,
I would just stay undocumented and underground. Although I am 40, when I do
the pull-ups, I can still reach the standard of passing the test in
physical education class in my university. The sanitation in America is s o
good that I have never fallen ill since I came. What cannot I do with such
a strong body! And more, compared with those illegal immigrants smuggled
in, my fluent English can at least help me a lot.

In another sense, however, I am no better than those illegal immigrants,
for they are poor people who will lose nothing but their poverty. When they
fight in America, they will remain poor if they lose it, and they will get
rich if they win. As for me, I will become poor if I lose and I can get
rich only when I win. I am already a loser to them by 1 point.

This is not the only story though. My former teacher, a Shakespeare expert,
wrote me to ask me to tell him about the newest development in American
literature. I felt ashamed when I read the letter. I did not write back. If
I had written, it would be a letter of confession, saying that I have no
time caring about literature, though I really want to, because I am busy
finding a major that promises big money. My only solace is that I got a
whole box of books, all about literature of Britain and the US, b ut still,
if I am to spend money to send them back, my hand will shake.

Not long ago, I read an article in a Canada-based e-magazine that says many
Chinese students who finally stay in north America are all busy buying
cars, inspecting houses and getting babies. They work in companies with no
much enthusiasm, yet they have to be there, because it is their rice bowel
that cannot be readily thrown away. It seems to me that the image of a
successful something of the new generation of Chinese students is just like
this. Indeed, some people who are more ambitious have gone back to China to
invest. but most are staying like this. Some of them may be rich enough to
go back every three or five years to meet old acquaintances, eat some
genuine Chinese meals and bring home some duty-free commodities to families
and relatives so that they can hear them talking: Vow, the third son of Old
Li’s house is really somebody now!” In this way, they cancel from their
heart all the bitterness and loneliness that they have experienced when
struggling in a foreign land.

So is this the way of American living that I had been hoping to see? Last
Christmas, I went to stay with an old friend and had some experience of an
American festival in a Chinese way. My friend lives in Maryland. Both she
and her husband are Ph.D. gra duates from the University of Maryland and
now they both have lucrative jobs and one lovely daughter. During
Christmas, the Chinese students who graduated from the university invited
one another to eat their Chinese dishes served in the American way. The
morning of December 25 was the time for the kid to look at her gifts. There
were many gifts and she was happy, but there were only four of us in the
house and I felt that this most important American holiday was devoid of
its taste in the home of a Chines e family. Although they live in comfort,
the liveliness, the noisiness and the merriment that we Chinese are so
accustomed to were lacking. USA has no big fuss about the Chinese New Year.

So the Chinese in America, when celebrating their own festival, do not feel
like it. Isn’t this a double deprivation in the life of the child?
I am afraid many Chinese who stay in America have experienced such an
embarrassing dilemma. On the one hand, they do not want to loose their
Chinese root, on the other hand they want their kids to be well adapted to
the American society. So they spend much effort running Chinese schools, or
send their children back and forth between China and America. I wonder how
the young heart of a kid can endure such a conflict of cultures. The
children of the last generation of immigrants all identify themselves w ith
America and according to an investigation, the more Americanized they are,
the less hard they work in schools. I have seen this in my Chinese classes.

Then, can the parents foresee a blessing or a misfortune in their little US
citizen kid?
I once said that I wanted to visit the Mayan sites in Mexico and even
wanted to live in Mexico for one or two years to experience the culture of
the Spanish language. My Chinese friends said, well you are already in the
United States, if you go to Mexi co, you will be laughed at. I think many
people stick to America or a profession or a major they do not really have
fun in just because they are afraid of being laughed at. To save face, to
save for cars, to save for houses and to save the future for thei r kids,
they turn themselves into hard and fast settlers in this country.

To talk about face, I remember having thought about it. In America I do not
feel like being in a strange land because I am benefited by the well
developed information technology that enables me to get news from home from
TV, newspapers and Internet. No r do I feel how admirable life in America
is. At the same time, when I project the prospect of my staying in America,
I do not see how good it will be. But I have one way to comfort myself,
that is, to think of me from the viewpoint of those still in Chin a. When
they know nothing about me but the fact that I am in America, they will
have more admiration than contempt for me . They may even think, in the way
a man will think of a woman’s arm when he sees her hand, and think of her
naked body when he sees h er arm, that, vow, he went to America, he must be
somebody now, he must live in a big house now, he must be a manager now, he
must have a kid who is a US citizen now and he must have got his daddy and
mammy and brothers and sisters to America now. If they get the news that I
am in Mexico, they will think differently, maybe conceiving me as an
illegal immigrant being beaten up by the clubs of the immigration officers.

This shallow guessing I once had of others, now I can feel contented on
basis of the shallowness of others.

If what we seek is only this contented life in America, it is better we go
back to live a meaningful and down to earth life. Man is an animal of
symbols and he can only be happy in his own symbol system. The symbols may
not be native though, but they m ust belong to him. A man out of his own
symbol system while not yet into another symbol system is an animal without
symbols and therefore an animal indeed. His house is only a cave. His car
is only his leg. His company is only the wild land for hunting ga mes for

As far as America is concerned, it all depends on how you look at it. It
maybe a welfare house for the rootless, or it maybe a country with strong
culture power to unite people. To come here as a rootless person and live
in a small colony under the pro tection of one’s native culture and
language, a man may live comfortably, but I feel that it must be a solitary
existence, a light existence. But it may not be easy to go into the core of
this society and even may not be a desirable thing to do for most o f us.
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