• Haila Amin

"Eyes on the City" ENTRY 1

Introduction: As a third-culture child, I set my foot to trace for my identity in Beijing, Ulan Bator, New York, Richmond, and many more. Growing up in the city means finding a unique path to embrace my narrative in the beauty of collisions of globalization.


Main Essay:


I have two narratives in my body. One comes from the endless green plateau of Mongolia, primitive, straight-forward and always bold; the other comes from the concrete jungle of skyscrapers of Central Business District in Beijing, modern, delicate and quite sophisticated. Growing up as an ethnic minority in Beijing, China, I am among those millions of children facing an identity crisis due to family migration, and constantly looking to find a place in a world of converging cultures.


Holding hands with friends and eating chocolate on the way back home was not the only memory of my elementary and secondary school--since primary school, being an outcast was a norm. Minority traditions in Chinese history and literature classes were portrayed as savage and poor; parents meeting reminded me of heart-pounding occasions making sure my mother was speaking Chinese to me in front of peers; making friends to me meant repeating over and over the fact that my “long and exotic” name was not something only appear a cartoon. I was ASHAMED of my culture, my identity, and MYSELF.


Things changed when I, for the first time, walked hesitantly into an English Literature class on my first day of school as an 8th grader in Richmond, Virginia. Mrs. Hayes gave me a hellish torture: saying out my strange, exotic name to a group of White peers I hardly knew. When I thought I was going to get a cold shoulder as usual, a burst of warm applause aroused, embracing me to this brand-new community. Those candid eyes of my brothers and sisters overseas made me change my mind: being myself was not the end of the world, and I was RESPECTED just as everyone else.


Since then, something was growing, little by little, in my heart, and until one day, I asked my mom, “can you take me home? I would like to have a look.”


On the flight from Beijing to Ulan Bator, I was intrigued by a page in the magazine about a personal narrative of Sainkho Namtchylak, an ethnic Mongolian just like myself, who uses traditional Mongolian throat-singing technique to introduce simple but authentic Shamanistic ideas to the world. I closed the book, and was ready to see how my culture would impress me.


I walked around in the museum learning the heroic stories about my own ancestors. Those old Yehe Zasag (rules and laws) guiding to build a sustainable ecological cycle inspired me to reflect on the modern exploitation of energy, and how cooperating with nature can be a mutually-beneficial deal for our future. Those old tactics passed down from Chinggis Khan’s military troops can no doubt add new values in terms of managing and raising spirit of modern big enterprises.


I immersed myself into the scenes, constructing a beautiful picture in my mind peacefully, from all directions. Taking random walking in the middle-of-nowhere under a shiny mid-summer starry sky, observing people’s faces and listening to their conversations and laughter, looking up to a sculpture of Chinggis Khan on Sukhbaatar Square, I realized, I was PROUD to be who I am.


In the departure area of Ulan Bator airport, soft winds kissed onto my face. I paused and decided to look, for the last time, this place my ancestor call “home”. Recalling the restless nights looking at myself in the mirror questioning my existence in this world, I, for the first time, was bold enough to play out a music in my mother language, yes, this time, without a headphone and a shameful pounding heart.


When I returned home, I was no longer ashamed. I fell in love with human rights philosophy and was determined to be a minority rights activist. Being inspired by my soulmate Martin Luther King Jr., I wrote up my version of “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” to challenge the old stereotype, and explain how minority traditions infuse fresh blood to the five thousand years of Chinese history. As an orator, I was as determined as Chimamanda Adichie to explain the danger of a single story to my community through the passionate speeches made in front of 2500+ people from all over the world.

Many years later, failed to squeeze into the parade for the Times Square Ball on New Year’s Eve, I wondered around the McDonald’s, next to Bryant Park on the 42nd street, feeling the winds blow by: two gentle, well-dressed ladies stopped in front of me, talking in French, next to them I saw a homeless old man, probably in his sixties and a gang of Latino hippies hanging around. The final countdown approached, fireworks and cries of cheers exploded--amid the crowd, I felt someone clapping hands with me, and another group of strangers looked at me and said “Happy New Year.”


I set my eyes on the buzzing cities in the globe: Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, New York, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro. From a nomad on the plateau singing the beautiful khoomei and morin khuur songs one after another in the small yurt, to an urbane international school girl wondering on the crossroads of global politics and economies on the Wall Street of New York, to the many places to be followed, there will always be a place JUST for me, intrinsic, alienable, from conception to natural death.


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