I had been excited for over 6 months about my trip to America since my godparents told me they were going to take me there for Chinese New Year, but from the very beginning, I barely knew anything about our plans. My mom decided this would be a surprise trip for me and she did a good job. So most days started like this: “Zoe, are you ready to go? Are you excited?” “Yes, yes, I am. But where are we going?”
My dad even messaged me before my trip to Shenzhen. He told me they had secret plans for San Francisco.
“Hey Zoe, do you know what are we gonna do in San Fran?”
“No, so what are we gonna do?
“Do you really wanna know? But you have to promise not to tell mom that I told you this.”
“No no no, don’t tell me, no spoilers!”
“Ok, I won’t tell you our hot air balloon trip…”
“Oh my god, you are so mean, but I love you.”
“because we are not going on one.”
So deep in my mind, I thought we were going on a hot air balloon trip. And I pretended I knew nothing about it.
The minute we got out of the airport and were waiting for a taxi, I looked at the sky, it was a beautiful afternoon, the sunset was like a fire in the sky, but not so strong as fire. Yes, it was like a giant exploding orange, and I saw so many birds, I was like a 5-year-old child, so excited and so surprised. And then I finally realized, “OH MY GOD, I AM IN AMERICA!”
Then we walked into Chinatown, I thought it was just happened on the way to the bridge. But then my mom said, “ here we go, Chinatown, that’s our trip for today!” I thought she was joking. “Haha, you are funny.”The next day, they took me out, of course I knew nothing about where were we going! I just kept guessing by looking at the building near us. San Francisco is so crowed, it was just like Hong Kong. So when I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, I was so sure we were going to the world known bridge. I shouted, “ yay, I saw the bridge!” but they pretended they didn’t know what I was talking about! So I am even more certain. Maybe we would take the hot air balloon on the bridge! But, we didn’t!
But then I noticed they were kinda serious, but we stopped moving!
“errr….what? really? Chinatown? But I am a Chinese myself!” but at the end of the trip, it was definitely a great place to visit!
I do know Chinese culture well enough, but I didn’t know anything about American Chinese culture! We had a tour guide, David. He is an American Chinese himself, but could not speak Chinese (most people in Chinatown speak Cantonese.). He showed us around Chinatown and told us a lot about the history. IT was all very surprising to me. I thought the first Chinese immigrants just came to America and then “la de dah , we were in America” and then lived happily ever after. But I was totally wrong. They first came here as railway labor workers. They didn’t have citizenship, they couldn’t get married, they couldn’t own property. So to speak, they didn’t have many human rights or much freedom. The buildings in Chinatown showed us how they managed to squeeze into such tiny spaces. They rebuilt everything after the great earthquake and great fires of 1908. Life was tough but they stayed. Looking at the buildings, I tried to imaging myself in that time, but I couldn’t, I could not image how they left mother China, stayed in America, worked in America and lived in America. But look nowadays, they finally got paid back. The first Chinese immigrants to American took China with them and kept it the way it was, so no matter how many years after, their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren all know where they came from.
What do the Chinese like the most? Food , money and gambling. You can really see that in Chinatown. There was an open area where many people just sat together and gambled. People in Chinatown also kept some Chinese traditions that we don’t follow in mainland China. As a young person, I don’t have much experience with traditional China. The most traditional Chinese thing we do is Chinese New Year, but the most memorable thing about Chinese New Year for kids in the lucky money they get in their hongbao. It’s just a big break from work for many people, and the tradition part is gone.
Zoe Gong was born in rural Hunan in 1995 and is fluent in English. She has worked in English training centers and at expat restaurants since she was 16. She is the author of several adventure books for girls. You can learn more on her website zoeygong.com.