I haven’t been back to Guangzhou, my birthplace, in over a decade. When I was younger, my family used to return every five years or so to visit relatives during the summer (bad time to go unless you’re a fan of the heat, by the way). Since they have mostly immigrated to America and sold off their homes in the mainland, there hasn’t been much reason to go back. This was my first trip to Guangzhou without my parents, but the wave of nostalgia I thought I would have was noticeably absent.
China is changing at such a rapid pace that every time I return, it feels like an entirely different place. My mom’s ancestral home has been torn down to erect new apartment buildings. If you’re lucky, the government will displace you to a new home in a well-developed part of the city. Few street vendors can be seen anymore since the major crackdown right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in an effort to improve the image of the country. Sadly, that’s one of the things I miss most. Ordering fish ball skewers dipped into hot sauce from metal carts, sipping Mexican coke for 1RMB a bottle before recycling them into a plastic crate, or shopping for stationery with my cousin as vendors lined all sorts of pretty pens, notebooks, and art supplies along the road. All vestiges of a past China.