A Story of Soul Exchange






SAMSUNG CSCOne peaceful and beautiful night, an American boy, Sam and a Chinese boy, Li, met in the same dream with the god. ‘Do you want to experience a different life with a different identity in another country?’ the god asked. ‘That sounds great! Please let us try!’ they answered excitedly. The god smiled, ‘I will give both of you a chance to enjoy this wonderful one-day travel.’
Act one——Sam in China
My soul woke up within the body of Li in the dormitory of Li’s university. I was surprised to find that 4 people lived in this 20 square meter room. Oh, how crowded it was! After walking out into the city where the university was located, I discovered that almost all the buildings in the city were more than 6 stories tall. I could hardly find a single house with a garden, which was one of the most common phenomena in the U.S. The sky was cut into pieces by various roofs. People seemed like ants wandering in this crowded reinforced concrete forest. Living space between America and China was so different!
It was time to go to school! Before every class, Li’s friends would ask me to go to the lecture halls together. ‘Oh, dear! 4 people run between buildings. Why shouldn’t we act separately but always in a team? Is walking a team game? Won’t we look strange?’ But when I looked around the campus, I was amazed that so many students gathered in crowds and groups here. They walked, talked and laughed, which seemed so intimate. When I entered the canteen, the situation was almost the same. Most students sat with their friends at one table chatting over food. Although American students could be seen with friends, they still seemed to love to do things alone. Maybe to some extent, the space between people in the U.S. was larger than in China.
How different the two countries were!
Act two—– Li in the U.S.
What could I see through the window of Sam’s room was a beautiful garden with soft grassland and gloomy flowers. It was a small city named Davis in California. When I wandered along the quiet streets in Davis, I saw many cute houses painted in different colors. The scenery I saw in Sam’s house was very ordinary here. Smooth lawn, big trees and bright flowers were arranged well between houses. When I looked up, I could see a whole blue transparent sky. No skyscrapers. No crowded streets. Americans really owned pretty ample living space!
It was time for school. But when I walked into the classroom, I was surprised to find that many students sat alone silently without talking to others. After class, they quickly packed their books and dashed out of the room separately to the next lecture hall. ‘Do they have any friends? Do all Americans love to become lone wolves? It is so weird.’ I felt a little lonely and unhappy. It seemed like that I was not accepted by other students. But when I entered the canteen, I found that though some friends sat together, many students kept eating by themselves. Maybe it was not that they didn’t accept me but Americans were more independent with each other than Chinese? Maybe they loved to keep certain space between classmates, even friends.

The next morning, Sam and Li returned to their own bodies. How strange the experience was! China is a nation with much crowded living space, which makes it difficult for people to erect a spiritual barrier between the self and others. America is a nation with much larger living space. As a result, the mental space between people in the U.S. is relatively bigger than it in China!

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One Response to A Story of Soul Exchange

  1. Chen says:

    Those pictures come from different places
    The 1st photo was found on the Internet (Huai’an). It is about my hometown, a small but peaceful city in Jiangsu province of China. The 2nd photo was taken by me on J Street in Davis, California during April. We can see in the first and second photos that cities in China are often more crowded than cities in the U.S. In Chinese cites, very few buildings are less than 6 stories tall. It is difficult to own a single house with a garden in cities unless you are very rich. But it seems like an ordinary phenomenon in America that citizens could have a house with a small garden. Maybe Chinese people own less living space than Americans because of China’s pretty larger population.
    The 3rd and 5th pictures were shot by my friend, Duan, in Nanjing University of Finance and Economics on 29th April. The 4th photo was taken by me on UC Davis campus. The last one was found on the Images of America’ blog and was taken by my classmate Susan (In-class). In the third and fifth photos, students in China usually walk together to classrooms or canteens and they choose to sit together over food. Of course you can see one person eating alone but more people choose to get together. It seems like a tradition that in China, people will act in groups when working, studying or relaxing. Many people will feel strange and isolated if they always do something by themselves. They may like the sense of intimacy. However, the situation is quite different in the U.S. When looking at the fourth and sixth pictures, we can find that though some Americans sit together to chat, many Americans are used to acting alone whenever eating or relaxing. Maybe keeping some mental space between each other is also a tradition of Americans.
    Every time I walk along the quiet streets of Davis, I will appreciate the beautiful gardens and grassland of the houses beside the roads. Here I could see a whole blue sky, but in China, the sky is often cut into pieces by different kinds of skyscrapers. It was the difference in space that made me think more when read the article ‘Keywords for American Cultural Studies’. When I read it, I found that Kirsten Silva, Gruesz’ main idea was about the question, ‘what is America and who is American?’. Is America only a concept of geography or does it contain some more complex meanings? I totally agree with the author that ‘America carries multiple connotations that go far beyond its literal referent’ (17). Then we watched the cartoon ‘Elbow’, introducing the history of how Americans expanded their space. That article, cartoon and everyday scenery inspired me of an interesting topic, ‘space’. Gruesz insists in the article that “’American’ may at first seem to refer simply to U.S. citizens, but the context of the sentence strongly implies a consensual understanding of shared values, not just shared passports” (17). Could the word ‘space’ not only mean the room in material but also refer to multiple connotations in American society?
    In my opinion, the first and second photos are on behalf of living space, a sort of space in material. We could find clear differences between the two nations. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth represent mental and social space. Individual independence and social tradition also differ so much in these two countries. As a result, we could start an interesting discussion about various meanings of space in America by comparing it with China.
    Works Cited
    Gruesz, Kirsten Silva, “America.” Keywords for American Cultural Studies. New York: New York University Press, 17.
    Huai’an, Niao kan Huai’an. Huai’an sheyingguan. 22 September 2011. 14 May 2013.

    In-Class Activity: Photos from Daily Life that Represent ‘America’. Images of America(ns) in Popular Culture. 29 April 2013. 14 May 2013.

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