"Tong-Hai-Kou," has a poetic pause between each syllable, and means, "to the sea." All my stories started from my hometown named Tonghaikou, in the middle of China. I lived there with my extended family, when my parents went to the United States to study law. This inland town connects to no sea, but gives a promise in its name. There, I grew my toughness, my yearning for the outside world, and my ardent love of reading.
The town had intermittent electricity, unreliable running water, and few cars. However, a child does not know to be disappointed by poor living conditions. I laughed when the electricity suddenly went off, delighted as if I had somehow tricked it. I played with mud, dug traps with friends, and ran after geese. These are all wonderful, but only two things were magical.
The first thing was airplanes. My town does not have trains, so going anywhere takes days of traveling. However, airplanes flew over us. At the rare sight of an airplane flying by, I would run out with other kids and shout; "Airplane, come down, take me to the sky!" When I came home and mimicked the airplane with my arms wide open, and imitated its roar to my Grandma, She replied, "This is a small place. You must go somewhere big someday. You have lived here, so you are tough enough to survive anywhere. Keep learning to go far.".
The second magical thing there, even better than airplanes, are books. Uncle Fang had a one square meter large bookshelf tucked away in the corner of his house. It was covered by a thin cloth, to protect it from dirt and dust. It never quenched my thirst. I perused through the collections again and again, and jumped up and down every time new books arrived. Greek mythology, Aesop's Fables, and Arabian Nights entered my dreams at night. Stories of the cities of New York, Shanghai, and Paris, all turned into vivid imaginations; I would gaze with an even deeper craving at the airplanes.