Feature: A tale of two American sisters' China journeys

(Xinhua) 09:27, April 01, 2024

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Xinhua) -- For a moment, a sense of "paranoid," as she described, hit Montserrat Romero-Rocha on a China trip's third day -- on her first try of Chinese hotpot, the U.S. girl was just not sure if the food in the hotpot was done.

But her doubt was soon eased by the piping hot and exotic cuisine placed on a large rotating disk plate, especially after the whole morning trek in the huge Forbidden City. "It's alright. I think I did good!" The 12th grader from the Washington state wrote in a daily note in her mobile phone.

During her 11-day trip with other 23 students from Washington's Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School, this is one of the countless cross-cultural encounters, be it painting bamboo fans with Chinese ink with Chinese peers, learning dragon dances or a glimpse at one of the oldest Catholic churches in Beijing, the St. Joseph's Church, also known as Wangfujing Church or East Cathedral ("Dong Tang" in Chinese).

They were invited by Chinese President Xi Jinping. This Spring Festival in February, Lincoln students and teachers sent a New Year greeting card to Xi, his wife Peng Liyuan and the Chinese people, and received the couple's reply in which they were invited to visit China more often.

The trip, traversing from north China to the south and ending Wednesday, is part of an exchange and study program: Last November, Xi announced during a U.S. visit that China would invite 50,000 American youths to China in the next five years.

"Went to the Forbidden City! It was very big and a lot of walking." Romero-Rocha wrote. The imperial palace complex in recent years has seen a boom in visitors with traditional Chinese costumes, especially those of emperors and their concubines, posing for photos against the historic golden tiles and red walls. Romero-Rocha snapped many photos of "pretty dressed up girls" she came across.

She herself was also looking forward to buying traditional Chinese attire, known as Hanfu.

The Washington delegation, dressed in Tai Chi outfits, also hiked up to the Wudang Mountain, a sanctuary for the Taoism martial art in central China's Hubei Province. There Romero-Rocha learned to pray in a temple built hundreds of years ago, bought wooden swords from a vendor, watched Tai Chi performances and joined the masters to have a try, which turned out to be the most striking episode in her journey.

"The way they jumped, did flips and used their weapons were so synchronized. It amazed me, it really really did!!!" She wrote.

Many of the students are fans of Chinese Kung Fu and Kung Fu movie stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Donnie Yen, and have long longed for the Tai Chi training. Though it features slow and gentle movements, Romero-Rocha found it much harder than it looked, as it took strong core strength and made her legs "burning."

"This was the part of the trip I was the most excited for since it just looked sooo COOL!" she wrote, though they all got "sweaty and nasty" after a long climb up the stairs that she said were killer.

And for Romero-Rocha, the trip is even more personal. She has beautiful Chinese poem books on her shelves, brought back by her elder sister, who visited China in 2016 and has since kept telling her China stories.

Back in 2016, Abranna Romero-Rocha was one of the 100 students who got a chance to visit China also at the invitation of Xi.

During his first state visit to the United States as Chinese president in 2015, Xi paid a visit to Lincoln High School. Many students were deeply impressed by Xi's affinity, who, with collar open and without a tie, presented gifts to them, including books about China, a ping-pong table, and his personal invitation for them to visit China.

"Through travel, you will know China better, and hopefully, you will like China," he said, and received a football and a personalized jersey bearing his name and the "No. 1" on the back from the students.

The next year, the students toured Hong Kong, Fuzhou, Chengdu, Beijing and other places. Many of the students flew for the first time in their lives.

"Beautiful Chinese poem books still sit on my shelves. The effects of that trip have rippled down through me. Her story also sparks nostalgia and hope in me," Romero-Rocha said.

Lincoln arts facilitator Lynn Eisenhauer, who has been to China with students four times and witnessed all the warm-hearted meetings and correspondences, said that the exchanges help students "realize that we really have a lot that binds us together."

The day after her Forbidden City tour, Romero-Rocha went to Peking University, where U.S. students played table tennis with Olympic Champion Ding Ning.

Having learned about the story of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in school, Romero-Roch said "the newer generation is taking the paddle, continuing that connection between America and China. It's really an honor to do so." 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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