Summer of 1999, I flew to Hong Kong for the first time. I was excited and oh so nervous. In Hong Kong, I would spend one week relaxing and getting over jet leg prior to boarding a slow train that would last 28 hours and take me to the heart of China-Xi’an. At that time, Xi’an was not the bustling, modern city is is now. The only western restaurants I remember were KFC (one) and a DeliFrance where I could spend a week’s allowance on a shot of coffee. We could get Coke and Fanta on the street-warm and a Tsingdao beer was cheaper than water. These were the days before high speed internet. I relied so much on the mail that I spent many a night curled up with a new stack of post cards and my special pen.
I remember going to an internet cafe all of 3 times. Each time I went, I knew that my 10 minutes of paid time would result in several hours of frustration as I waited for the empty chair, waited for the horrifically slow connection to be made, and then waiting, waiting, waiting, for the email to load…to type….to send. In all, it was faster and less stressful to barter for a stack of postcards, write them and pop them into the mail. It was easier for me anyway. During that time, I received only 2 letters-both from my grandmother. I still have those letters tucked away. These were the days when letter writing was beginning to fall away. Correspondence was done via text message or email. I had neither a cell phone nor stable access to the internet. My new world existed in a different time than that of my family back home.
Today, my heart ached as I missed a dear friend. We’ve never actually met in person but he’s there tucked away as someone who I care deeply for. Through space and time, we are able to connect in ways I never imagined. Skype dates here, Google hangout conversations there, we’ve forged a friendship around our shared love of literacy. As I thought about him, I wouldn’t text-he’d still be sleeping (time zones are funny that way). I opened my computer and wrote him a letter. It was as I was writing that I began to think about all those letters I used to write back in my Xi’an days. Connections back then were difficult to maintain, but they ran deep. Today it is so easy to type out a message and press send. Today, my mind wandered back to days long ago and memories I had all but forgotten have re-emerged. “We don’t just write to spit something we know, we write because it leads us to unexpected places,” as Kelly Gallagher says. And so today, I will write and I will remember.