“That was such a wonderful time”

Hellish pit of despair: Shenzhen in 2010

A Chinese-American woman, traumatized by her 19 months in Shenzhen, flees back to the US. Five years later, she revisits the southern Chinese city and finds it wasn’t necessarily the hellish pit of despair she had remembered:

I had spent the years since I left China processing the experience and learning to accept my Chinese-American heritage. In trying to distance myself from my own dark chapter, I had not kept up with my local friends. I anxiously wondered if their lives today were as full of despair as they had been five years ago.

After several fumbling attempts to contact my old friends through email and text messages, I finally discovered that most powerful of communication tools in China: WeChat. My phone chirped with emojis and excited exclamations for days as we made plans to meet on a Saturday in the middle of May this year.

During that reunion I experienced something I had almost never felt when I lived in Shenzhen: joy. Our friends weren’t, as I remembered them to be, victims of vast, unfeeling forces. Instead they were empowered actors, charting their own destinies to find a purpose and hope we didn’t know was possible just five years ago.

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