Nostalgia — bittersweet, like your favorite dark chocolates

Eileen Chang

The SF bay area, where I live, throngs with immigrants and transplants. Once I had dinner with friends, and we realized, with a bit amusement, that the twelve of us were from eleven countries.

So here comes nostalgia for me and many of my friends.

Nostalgia is a blend of memory and imagination. Nostalgia cannot be measured by logic. If it has a taste, it’s bittersweet, like your favorite dark chocolates.

An evening. A little before midnight. You taking a walk, alone, in your hometown which you haven’t visited for many years.

You walk in a mist that has made the city cold and foggy. A bus passes carrying only a few passengers, its wheels splashing through puddles. The air is unusually fresh—a treat, one may say. The thick daytime smoke from the giant chimneys of the chemical factories is temporarily dormant, so are the loud motorcycles and scooters that infest the city like locusts. Without the distraction of noises and crowds you begin to appreciate the low-slung, mustard-brick houses covered by overgrown ivy, wedged between newer condos, the pebble-surfaced alleys without streetlamps, and the thousand-year-old Clouds Pavilion that had been burned down and been rebuilt twenty or more times over the years.

A young night-shift worker in blue uniform is biking towards you, one hand holding an umbrella, the other inside his jacket. When you were a teenager you would ride hands-off, letting the bike snake through narrow, bumpy streets like a drunkard; it was considered cool. After passing you the man rings his bell—a ripple of crystal sounds: maybe a belated hello or merely for fun.

Just like that, your eyes are moist.

Featured image: Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang), one of my favorite Chinese writers. I’ll write about her in a future post.

 

Author: Fan Wu

Fan Wu grew up on a state-run farm in southern China. After college, she received a scholarship from Stanford University to come to the United States. Her two novels are February Flowers, translated into eight languages, and Beautiful as Yesterday, praised by Amy Tan as “a story with intelligence, insight, and heart.” For more, please visit www.fanwuwrites.com

2 thoughts on “Nostalgia — bittersweet, like your favorite dark chocolates”

  1. I can see myself there! Thank you for your meanderings thru the past, not unlike the memories I have from my past. Thanks for keeping the magic of living alive.

    1. Thanks, Sheldon.

      Reading Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and one passage touched me profoundly. “…in the end she promised, and it was an easy promise to make because she had at that time no thoughts of leaving Saeed, but it was also a difficult one because in making it she felt she was abandoning the old man, and even if he did have his siblings and his cousins, and might now go live with them or have them come live with him, they could not protect him as Saeed and Nadia could, and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

      In Greek, Nostalgia means “a painful yearning to return home.” But the “now” home is never the same home one left behind.

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