Miracle People

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved to take photographs. I remember carrying my Kodak disposable camera through Magic Kingdom in Disney World, the excitement of getting the film developed, finally seeing the pictures I took and marveling at the sudden tangibility of a moment already passed. The first time I got a digital camera, I made my Barbie dolls into models, draped their waxy blonde hair down their slender shoulders and slipped their tiny plastic feet into hot pink pumps. I followed my family around the house and bombarded them with camera clicks, played a syncopated beat with the capture button and counted the beats with the pictures I took. I locked my cat in my room, draped her in feathered boas, topped her head with oversized hats, forced sunglasses over her eyes, and played paparazzi. I cast lightning bolt flashes all over the bedroom until she learned to love the camera.

My camera became a second pair of eyes; I took it with me everywhere, always afraid my memory card would miss a moment. It was better than any toy or Barbie doll, better than any board game or movie. With a button and a screen, I could capture thousands of realities and pick my favorite ones to keep forever.

When I grew old enough to think realistically about my future, I picked up my camera and imagined a potential career: taking photographs for a living. From then on, I started playing with angles and flashes. I strayed from auto shooting and began manipulating the scenes in front of me. But still, I was only taking pictures. I was only freezing moments in time and brightening them on my computer. It felt more like routine, and less like art.

At thirteen I received an opportunity to travel to Europe with a teacher and a few students. My parents stayed home while I walked the streets of Florence, flowed down the Seine River, wandered a maze of art pieces in the Louvre, gawked at the Vatican churches, and stepped back in time in Pompeii. At thirteen I witnessed hundreds of worlds and cultures different than my own. I learned that language is a symphony of communication; I learned that art is emotion in different colors; I learned that people are more beautiful than any museum piece; and I learned that I wanted to spend my life learning. Photography became a way to make that happen.

No longer a routine, I saw something beautiful through my lens. I saw smiles tell stories of success and frowns tell stories of growth. I saw locals breathing life into statues on the street. I saw starving artists grinning wide at young admirers’ sloppy Italian compliments. I saw tiny pale faced boys tossing coins into flowing fountains and squeezing their eyes shut until they knew their wishes were cast into the bright blue water. People became portraits of emotion instead of skin and bones. I decided that I wanted the world to see what I see when I look at a person’s face—I wanted the world to see each other as miracles.


When We Eat Together

It was my second hot pot dinner of my trip to China and I had already fallen in love with this signature meal of the Sichuan province. The waiters brought out the familiar favorites (chicken, beef, noodles) and the Chengdu specialties (duck tongue, quail egg, lotus root), and, immediately, hands from every direction collided over the boiling broth in the center of the table. Chopsticks flew from plate to plate. Our Chinese friends dumped more food on our plates than on their own and spent most of the time searching on their phones for English descriptions of the mystery meats we were all devouring. It was then that our new friend Mike (I failed to learn his Chinese name) announced to the table: “When we eat together, we are like brothers – like sisters.” And for a moment – there was quiet (the most shocking thing to experience in a hot pot restaurant).

I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss American food while I was in China, but it lacks a crucial element of Chinese dining culture: the community built at a dinner table. Ordering food was a discussion – a table-wide compromise determining what food would satisfy everyone equally. After that came the delicious chaos of actually eating. Elbows collided, food flew, broth splashed, chopsticks clamored, and everyone shared everything. Nothing was claimed by anyone. The food belonged to the table.

Not only was it a chance to share food, but also a chance to share ideas. With our friends from Sichuan University we talked politics, language, education, and even High School Musical. The food was a bridge over an ocean – a shared experience to shatter any cultural barriers we once had. After that meal, I really did begin to see these friends as family. Mike’s words were the truest words I heard in China. And that meal was the best meal of my life.

Months before I embarked on my trip to China, I was not so excited. In fact, I was mostly scared. Every time I shared with someone my plans to fly overseas and take part in Sichuan University’s Summer Immersion Program, I was not met with encouragement, but with confusion and fear.

“China? Why?”

“What do you expect to gain from that?”

I met with the unfortunate discovery that we live in a world of borders; we see the differences in each other rather than the similarities. We plug our ears and refuse to listen to the wisdom other cultures can offer. In this heavily globalized world, we have become more divided than ever.

Mike opened my eyes to the importance of learning from our friends across country lines. He taught me to drop my prejudices at the boarding gates and enter new countries with an open mind and an open heart. I owe it to him to hold this knowledge with me and to continue sharing it with my future friends around the world. I owe it to him to continue my travels abroad.