When I arrived at the PVG Shanghai airport on Thursday, a wave of relief swept over me. Yes, I've been to Shanghai only twice before, but it's something about China. It makes me happy, fulfilled. It is comfortable. Memories of standing by the Wai Tan over the Shanghai skyline at night and drinking tea with my host mom in Zhuhai in the evenings and my group of students winning the Changshu scavenger hunt fill my mind whenever I breathe in the air.

Although I feel comfortable and nostalgic being in China, it also saddens me because so much of this language that I love is slipping away slowly from my mind. I think wistful is the perfect word to describe it. Waiting for our car after dinner tonight, standing on the side of the road as bright Chinese mall signs around us lit up a dark night sky, I was sad. I took deep breaths, taking in air that smelled familiar, the way that sandalwood does in India. Learning Chinese for me has meant being able to communicate with an additional 1 billion people in the world, and it strengths my global connections. It has meant priding myself in learning and having good pronunciation in a language that is one of the most difficult to learn in the world. It has meant being proficient in a language of which I love the musicality, expressiveness and the way it rolls off my tongue. It's difficult for me to explain the connection I feel toward China and the Chinese language. All I know is that if I lose this language as I make my way through medical school, I will have lost something that feels like a part of me. 

I suppose part of the feeling is that I never thought I would be confident speaking a language I did not grow up with, unafraid of rejection even if I made mistakes. Chinese culture makes me comfortable, sometimes more than my own. I took Spanish for 5 years but still would never try to speak it in a Spanish speaking country because the tenses and conjugation were too much to think about to make it sounds right. Mandarin feels like it was meant to be on my lips. It begs for more vocabulary, more comprehension, more fluency that my mind cannot provide yet. It drives me absolutely insane that I don't have greater proficiency. I haven't had much of a chance to speak it here nor will I as I'm at an English speaking camp. It makes me miss living with a host family, which was one of the most wonderful things I have done during my time in China. 

My passion for the Chinese language reminds me a lot of the passion I have for dance. It is raw, and that saddens me. I have struggled with this my whole life - having several skills and talents, but none to the point of excellence. Now it is on a deeper level where it is my passions, things I feel such deep emotions for, that I seem to have not the time nor opportunity to develop to excellence. I talked about dance in my last post, about how I had not danced or choreographed very much throughout my entire gap year and was worried that this meant I was drawing away from having dance in my life. The same thing happened with Mandarin, and I'm afraid I don't see myself having a chance to study further once medical school begins. It feels like when you cook a meal, and if there are too many separate parts to prepare. When everything comes together in the end, it might be cold and taste mediocre compared to a dish that had few parts but stayed hot and delicious. Not a great simile, but sometimes it is how I feel - mediocre at all the things that I love to do. I strive for excellence, it's who I am, but in many ways, I never seem to get there. 

Especially after Japan, where I really struggled in many ways, it was wonderful to come to a place that felt familiar, even though I've never been to the Duke Kunshan campus before. Duke is familiar and China is familiar and that seemed to be enough for me. I hope for many more years in China after this one so perhaps one day I can live out a dream of fluency. 

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