Fallen Leaves

When I was nine years old, I tagged along with my mom to attend a higher education fair in Beijing. The fair would typically occur in a convention center that looked like a fine art museum to me. The attending schools were universities from around the world, but usually from the US, Canada, and other English-speaking countries. As a nine-year-old, I would not understand why I was here. It confused me why people waited in line to speak with people who looked different from most people I saw in China. The school officials had golden and brown hair, tall noses, and speckles here and there. I looked into their blue eyes and felt a little scared actually. “Would they harm me? And what should I say back to them if they said hi in a language that I don’t understand?” I let questions as such float around my head but they did not bother me.

I was tall even for a nine-year-old, so I could easily reach one of the booklets on the table with my hand. Those booklets were really nice. I was immediately drawn to the pictures printed on the covers: Some of the pictures showed a chapel-like building that had long corridors leading to it, which I bet meant some sort of prestige. Other photographs were more naturalistic, showing maple leaves covering the alleyways of a university campus during the autumn months. Looking at these pictures, I began to wonder if I could one day visit one of these fairytale-like places. And where are they anyways? I am sure that when I was pondering these questions, I must have fantasized about a euphoric future by smelling the paint on these fine prints. But I hurriedly put these picture books back on the table. These exotic destinations just seemed so far away that they were beyond my reach.

It wasn’t clear to me what I would do. I was a kid anyways. Just like any grade-schooler, I let go of my thoughts and romped around the booths. Once the fair was over, I barely thought about it. I kept on doing the homework my Chinese teachers assigned at elementary school, and I kept reading the monthly computer mags I enjoyed reading. Days and years passed. Who would have thought that, ten years later, I would board a flight across the ocean to one of those destinations printed on the booklets? I would not. Yet here I am strolling down golden lanes paved with autumn leaves. I guess dreams do come true if you believe in them, deeply and firmly.

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