Chapter 4: Far Far Away

School Far Away (4)

A school far away…

The idea planted itself in my mind like a seed. It took root, then grew and grew, its vines twisting around every other thought in my mind Far away, far away.

“Absolutely not!” was my mother’s response. “You belong here at home with your family, learning our culture.”

“When have I ever belonged?” I threw back in her face. “Look at me! I have no friends. There is nothing for me here in this prison you call a home. I need more than this!”

My mother’s angry face changed into impassive stone. “If that is really how you feel, Xifeng,” she said at last, “then so be it. If you can find this far away school, and a way to pay for it, then we will let you go.”

School Far Away (9)School Far Away (1)

“I already have,” I said. It was true. From the moment the idea had taken hold, I had begun to research, sitting in front of my father’s computer late at night while my parents slept, hunting for information on boarding schools and other programs. Finally, I had found it – a foreign exchange program for high school students. Attend school in the United States! It advertised. Spain! Scandinavia! New Zealand! Japan! Although I would have loved to return to the States, that option turned out to be the most expensive. The Scandinavian countries seemed affordable, however, and far more exotic and interesting than China. That was it. That would become my new home, I decided. After that, whenever I was finished with my regular schoolwork, I buried my nose in language books, absorbing the strange words of the country that was to become my new home.

School Far Away (2)School Far Away (3)

“How can you possibly pay for this program?” asked my parents.

I set my chin. “For years now, I’ve been winning chess tournament after chess tournament. I now know that you have received money for those competitions and kept it from me.” My father hung his head. It was true. “I have one more big tournament next weekend in Beijing,” I said. “If I win that, the prize will be large enough to cover the expenses, right?” My father agreed. So the next weekend, he and I traveled to Beijing, where I played chess like I had never played before, sweeping my opponents until the very last checkmate.

I had done it. I had paid my way out of China.

School Far Away (5)

The day before I left my family’s homeland, I took one last, long look at the village and mountains beyond. I savored one last plate of dumplings and rice and noodles. Then I bid my family a farewell – a cold, distant farewell, as that was their way – and I left for good.

School Far Away (6)School Far Away (7)    School Far Away (8)

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