United States

ᴅᴏɴ'ᴛ ᴡᴏʀʀʏ 'ʙᴏᴜᴛ ᴛᴏᴍᴏʀʀᴏᴡ ᴀɴʏᴍᴏʀᴇ.

Message to Readers

probably a billion typos bc i proofread this quickly and rereading my own personal narratives is embarrassing for me. also, this is hella long.


Chicago O'hare Airport: AA Terminal 3

September 23, 2020



In the Chicago O’hare International Airport, there is a Hall of Flags, one flag for every country American Airlines flies to. Every summer, my family would have the chance to walk through that part of the airport in order to get the the terminal for our connecting flight.

I remember it as a thing of beauty, one of the highlights of our midpoint stop. The ceiling was a large, transparent arch that let the sky's light shine though. It was cold; the flags flapped in tandem with the pulses of the aggressive air conditioning unit. The framework for a large copper-colored globe hung in the center of the hall, and the American flag waved adjacent to it while all the other flags leaned out of the sides.

When I was young, I remember walking through that hall, wrapped in layers of wool and clinging onto my mother. The airplane was almost always cold, but I daresay the hall was colder. Sometimes we were in a rush, sometimes we weren't. It was never uncrowded, cliques of different families streaming around us in similar states of transition and rush. If O'hare was a stream, we were the pebbles caught in the ripples. In that hall, I caught myself in that river. 

When we had time to dawdle, I would stand under the Chinese flag, staring deeply into the red. It was nestled between the easily recognizable colors of the German and the French flags, and to my childlike mind, it was almost satisfying to see those Chinese stars so close to the central American stars. If I saw it today, I think I might be able to recall it, that fleeting feeling of elation at something so seemingly meaningless.

If I reached out, it felt like I could touch the thin fabric. If I stretched my little pointer finger further, it felt like I could steal those golden stars from that madder sea. Yes, because if O'hare was a river, then China was a sea. I flowed towards it unwittingly and never tried to resist that almost intangible pull. The waters were not calm, but I always stayed on the side closest to the shore. "China" was a concept more interesting than "America". My grandparents were Chinese. My parents were Chinese. I could recite famous Chinese poems, and I could read Chinese better than I could speak English. Back then, the American sea was big, but the Chinese sea was bigger.

We went to O'hare because it had a flight straight to Beijing, something we didn't have in our own airport. The Hall of Flags felt like a place almost disconnected from the rest of the airport, like a little pond on the edge of the stream. That Chinese flag felt like looking a family photo, red as my blood. Even when I was younger, I think I knew that I probably wouldn't find a face like mine too common where I lived, and as I stared at that flag, I think I got a little closer to touching a place I could be considered "homogeneous". 

A few years later, American Airlines managed a direct flight from our local airport to Beijing, and we no longer had any need to go to O'hare. It was inconvenient and tiring, and it was too much of a strain for my parents. Still, O'hare had that Chinese flag, and I never say it again. I think the last time I saw that fluttering flag was at least four years ago, the last time I could definitively say I was Chinese. I can't read Chinese anymore, and I can only recite a few poems. I can now write English better than I can speak Chinese. If China was a sea, and O'hare was a river, I washed the silt from my skin and the salt from my bones. 

It's been awhile since I've been to O'hare, to China, or even my local grocery store. I take those repetitive Chinese lessons on Duolingo, and even though I haven't read it in a while, there's a Chinese language learning book on my shelf. I lost O'hare, but I didn't lose all of China, not yet. And even if I feel more American than Chinese now, and I'll always choose this country over the one I haven't visited in years, I'll always be able to recall that Hall of Flags with this ineffable warmth in my chest. It feels like finding myself again, really. It feels like one step closer. 

It feels like coming home.

Trying out a different style. I think it'd do me good if I got more confident in my prose. 

Man, O'hare was such a dreamlike airport. I like airports kinda. I like liminal spaces. 


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  • rainandsonder

    "If O'hare was a stream, we were the pebbles caught in the ripples. In that hall, I caught myself in that river." "If China was a sea, and O'hare was a river, I washed the silt from my skin and the salt from my bones." the repetition of these lines?? this is such a lovely piece, you can really tell how meaningful it is to you, especially with that last line tying everything together. and i totally agree with the footnotes, i have a love/hate relationship with airports but i love them as a liminal space.

    about 2 months ago
  • Wisp

    There's a yearning in this piece that I just can't help but feel through my very core, my very bones, my very soul. Why? Because I know what it's like to look in mirrors at your Asian features and ask yourself, "Am I even Asian?" And this piece, it resonates with that so deeply I don't know what to say. There's beauty in losing yourself they say, but they never talk about the effect it has. And if losing myself was a beauty, then maybe I have corroded away from the effect of it. This piece, it hurts my heart in that longing kind of way. And I am so absolutely in love with it. The simplicity, the metaphors, the meaning, the pain. Gosh, it's all so poignant and I have no words.

    about 2 months ago
  • bellairet

    Oh god :(
    This took my breath away, really. Fellow Chinese-American here, I felt every single line of this. The themes of slowly losing your culture, the language, and being conscious of your almost-total Americanization and yet still being proud of your roots? I reread so many times! As much as I love reading your poetry (from the shadows of course), this just hit differently.
    Can't agree more with what's already been said.. your prose is amazingly flowy, seemingly effortless. You know wang zhihuan‘s poem deng guan que lou? I had those vibes while reading this. Thank you for putting into words a feeling that I couldn't do justice with myself. All the best!
    p.s. wtw will not let me type hanzi into the comments arghh

    2 months ago
  • jun lei

    i'm sorry but who gave you the right to break my heart and leave me crying? i just--i ached when i read this. you captured the--dare i say agony? of loving your culture and losing it. and i don't know why i empathize with this, given that i never lost my culture because i never had it, but--i do.
    i adore your poetry, but i love this because it settles comfortably between poetic and prosaic. the flow is lovely, and the language is both simple and beautiful. this was...god, this was an honor to read.
    here's to finding yourself, darling. here's to going home.

    2 months ago
  • Wicked!

    Beautifully written! The nostalgic longing shines through brilliantly, and I absolutely adore the extended metaphor of the sea :)

    2 months ago
  • books4life

    this is beautiful!!! what the literal heck im so moved...also i use duolingo too, that pecky little green bird always annoying me lol.....anyways, great piece!

    2 months ago
  • outoftheblue

    " If China was a sea, and O'hare was a river, I washed the silt from my skin and the salt from my bones." ok wtf its 10 am and im sobbing how dare you write something this beautiful and aching with hometown loss and love and identity and yearning and symbolism and gorgeous, gorgeouss figurative language

    2 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Idk what vote for Kiki means, but... wow. I love this. It feels so natural and, well, poignant.

    2 months ago
  • Paisley Blue

    I love this piece! The descriptions, tying the airport with that sense of pride to be Chinese, wow. so good! your prose is beautiful <3 really amazing piece! I love this! <3

    2 months ago
  • naomi ling

    holy holy i stumbled upon this piece and got so frantic at the writer's note....,,,,, i-land reference??? please my goodness i've found someone to talk to, vote heeseung too ;-;

    this piece is such a poignant narrative! i almost saw myself in between the lines where you described being between two worlds, and the airport could not be a better place to describe this. wonderful prose, really. (fighting!)

    2 months ago