About Kingston’s Short Stories: In this series, I’ll be sharing one story from every year of my life. The stories may at times seem mundane, but its these day to day occurrences that define us. A lesson is then pulled from each story.
Summertime: A Time Of Boredom
My sense of adventurism continued when I was 20. I was a few years into college (University of Nevada, Reno) by this time and as summer approached, I was like many other youths in that I was going to have too much free time on my hands with not enough to do.
My mother had already guilted me into going to college a few years ago, now this time around she wanted me to have the “full college experience” by being an exchange student as well.
I chose Shanghai as the place I wanted to study in. While most of my schoolmates were off to Europe, I wanted to do something a little different. Plus I had spent 3 years in high school and 1 year in college studying Mandarin Chinese, I wanted to put what I learned into use.
I ended up being the only one in my school to be going to Shanghai as an exchange student. It was a tad bit nerve racking as I was going to a foreign country all by myself.
But the process was pretty streamlined, I was home in San Francisco during the summer so it involved me taking the train (Bart) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), hopping on the plane, clearing Chinese immigration (visa needed beforehand which was a pain), heading to the taxi queue and showing them the address of my dorm in Shanghai University and being transported there.
I’ve since learned how to navigate foreign countries with local transportation but I digress. It was not what I expected, I only had classes with other American students from all over the country and if you wanted to meet local students, you needed to do that on your own accord.
I did get some course credits that counted towards my degree, but besides that, I felt I could have gotten a similar experience by doing a volunteer abroad program which wouldn’t have involved paying all these expensive fees.
It was only 5 weeks which kept costs lower than many of my peers, plus I could say that I have been an exchange student which would be darn near impossible now after finishing university.
Self Discovery: I Love To Solo Trek
And really it was my exchange student experience in China where I discovered my love of solo trekking. Being dropped in a foreign city by myself is a thrill that entices me to this day. During the organized trips as part of the student program (which added to the expenses) I would wander off by myself.
My guides didn’t like me much as they were responsible for everyone and me running off by myself just made their job more difficult. They ended up grabbing me by the arm at times to ensure I wouldn’t run off (which is why I rarely use tour guides now as I love the independence.)
I caused my local guides a lot of trouble.
Locked & Loaded
A side story, one time I brought my pocket knife to one of these day tours. During one of the attractions we visited, the Pearl Tower of Shanghai, we had to pass security. As I ran my bag through, it was pulled for further inspiration.
“這是刀 (There’s a knife…)” the lady security officer started.
Crap, this was my favorite knife.
I understand enough Mandarin to know what was going on but I feigned being an ignorant American tourist.
“Uhhh… 我是美國人不明白中文 (I’m an American, I don’t understand Chinese)” I began stammering.
My tour guide knew I was in a jam and darted over. She gave me a death glare,
“Do you have a knife?”
“No.” She said sharply and grabbed my bag in one hand and me by the arm with other to leave before the security could say anything.
She saved me from my stupidity there.
Towards the end of the program, we were taken to the capital, Beijing, for a guided tour. One stop involved seeing the famed Great Wall of China.
Too Cool For Pictures
Trekking up those steps was a lot of fun. Problem was I didn’t take any good pictures of the “萬里長城” (“City of Ten Thousand Li” I believe). I was criticized by family back home about not having a good picture of the Great Wall.
They said I was a traveler there, not a postcard photographer.
You know what they’re right. That fun hike up a big wall is not something you do everyday. A picture (and perhaps some video) is there to capture that moment. A moment you’ll never get back.
Sure you can show your loved ones right after the fact on where you’ve been. That’s part of it. But besides that a picture has little value immediately after.
Never Leave A Priceless Moment Uncaptured
Snapshots in time are there more for the long term. When your old and flipping through old albums and see a picture or piece of film from 50 years ago and say “Ha ho! Who’s this young boy? Let me tell my grandkids all about when….”
That is when a picture is priceless
At least, that serves as a primary motivation on why I take more photos of myself now and film YouTube videos.
I may have let the Great Wall experience slip from my grasp, but I use it as a reminder to not allow any other memories to go uncaptured.