征文30 ▏Juan Miguel: Xiamen will always be my city

家外之家 2021
征文30 ▏Juan Miguel: Xiamen will always be my city

Name : Juan Miguel Ortega Quesada


Country of Origin : Costa Rica


Occupation : PhD Candidate, East China Normal University, Shanghai


Years in China : Six years in China 2014-2018, 2019-2021



One would suppose that journeys have a beginning, a definite point of no return from which life inflects and your soles step into unknown paths bestowed with new adventures. Any beginning is arbitrary, choices in a storytelling plot. I, for instance, choose to mark the start of my journey to China one random afternoon at the office where I was working when I got a mail saying that I had been awarded a scholarship to do a master in anthropology at Xiamen University. After that moment, a series of unsuspected events took place, events that I now call my life, my Chinese life, my journey.


I planned for nothing; I had no established intentions. I had no interest in Chinese history or culture or its booming economy for business’ sake. My knowledge of mandarin was null, an empty blank page. I came purely out of adventure, looking for other ways to explore life and to understand what I was capable of doing. I learnt Mandarin six months after arriving in China and this allowed me to take the courses for my masters, which were taught in Chinese. Everything in between arriving and today has happened in magic and unsuspected ways; the way life happens, I guess.


Xiamen was the first glance that I had of this place that now lies so close to my heart. In Xiamen, I had shocking, amazing, emotional, and quotidian experiences that let me become more connected to the Chinese way of living. This city has given me some of the most precious people in life; people with whom I was destined to meet and without whom I could not imagine this journey. I learnt to be conscious of my embodied difference every time I got children afraid of my long curly hair or my weird foreign face. I also experienced generosity from strangers in ways that I had not known before. I learnt to receive everything with joy, the scared gazing and the warm smiles because, in the end, everything has come together to constitute the mosaic of my understanding of what living in China means.


Somewhere in Xiamen in 2015

I remember one day; I was in a faraway rural area in Fujian doing fieldwork practice for my graduation. Walking around town, I got to a house where the door was opened. Some children were playing inside the threshold and I came closer to talk to them. One of the kids approached me and asked me in a very serious manner: “Are you a monkey?” I guess that my laughter startled him more than my looks and until now he still may think that he talked to a monkey.


That is how it has been for me in China: My presence, somehow disruptive, has adapted to give and receive the way people do it in different contexts: in the faraway town, in the city, at university, among friends and with strangers. I have been fortunate to see and feel the many versions of China that thrive and strive together. I have learnt to deal with notions of form over content. I have challenged my standpoints to get closer to my friends. I continue learning and sometimes on the bus I still will scare out a child or two. But then we smile at each other and the journey goes on.


Now I have been living in Shanghai for two years. But Xiamen will always be my city, the one where I built my first memories. Every time I go back, I have the feeling of coming back home. I feel that I know its corners: here we had that amazing picnic, there I walked around the lake at two in the morning. Here I love the way the trees grow and form a meshwork of roots and lianas. There I love to walk over the sea. Here I love the smell that comes out of the small windows at dinner time and disperses all over the narrow streets like an invitation to stay. There I love the messy and bizarre juxtaposition of places, people, sounds and smells. Corners and open spaces, I possess them and they possess me and will stay in the crooks of my heart forever.


Xiamen’s best gifts: my friends

A little bit on his hometown:

介绍一下Juan Miguel的故乡:

I come from a very small town in Cartago, the City of Mist, in Costa Rica. My village lies on the slopes of one of the tallest mountains in the country. It is called Cerro de la Muerte (Death’s Mount) because it can get really cold and people died trying to crossing before roads were built. Despite its name, my town is not ominous at all, just a few houses scattered over prairies and forests with tempered weather all year long. That is why even with all my love for Xiamen I still cannot stand its weather; it is too hot for this body of mine.

我来自哥斯达黎加“雾都”卡塔戈的一个小镇。我的村庄坐落在Cerro de la Muerte的山坡上,Cerro de la Muerte被称为死亡之山,因为它有时会变得非常冷,而且在道路建成之前,人们试图穿越这座山的时候,可能会付出生命的代价。虽然它被称作“死亡之山”,但我的小镇一点也不可怕,在草原和森林上零星散落几间屋子,一年四季都是温和的天气。即使我如此热爱厦门,我也无法忍受这的天气,因为我总觉得太热了。

My hometown. A day out with the children

作者:刘君浩 翻译:潘泽彬

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