Growing up in China: memories of snowy days, laughter and friends

May 10, 2023 — by Sunny Cao
Photo by Sunny Cao
A photo collage of Sunny and her friends as kids.
Contrasts with life in the U.S. are considerable.

Even the most mundane of memories have added to the sense of nostalgia I feel for my childhood in China. I distinctly recall perching by a frost-tinted window at my suburban home during crisp winter days in anticipation for the first fleck of snow to fall; as snow piled up, I would bound outside and meet all my friends, frolicking in the powdery wonderland. Cheeks flushing red, we’d rush back inside to our mothers, who would greet us with cups of steaming hot water.  

I couldn’t have realized it at the time, but after moving to the U.S. in second grade, I now see those photographs taken during such fleeting moments as permanent doorways to those earlier, simpler days.  Scrolling through old photos isn’t a waste of time for me; it’s perfectly natural to yearn for the past, to think once more of youthful innocence and ignorance.

While there, I lived in a xiaoqu, which is similar to a standard neighborhood with 24 to 30 apartment-home buildings and multiple households living on each floor. Every day, without fail, I would go downstairs to my friend’s house, which was right next to mine. While my parents went to work during the day, I would practically live at their house, watching old classic Chinese kids’ shows on their TV like xi yang yang (happy sheep) or xiong chu muo (bear out) and zhu zhu xia (GG bond).

Thinking back to those shows and memories now immediately brings a smile to my face. I loved the laughter always floating in the air and nonexistent stress — in fact, we were only remotely stressed if an episode of our favorite show happened to air off schedule. We would make up completely bizarre stories of our future and huddle over the aroma of our moms’ amazing jiu niang, a kind of fermented sweet rice made with rice wine. And when night fell, my parents would come to their house to play a round of poker and pick me up. 

Another key memory of my childhood was, of course, kindergarten and elementary school. Now, of course, my memories are hazy, but I will always recall the first two best friends I’ve had; we were all in the same homeroom, which was a classroom where students assemble daily with the same teacher before dispersing to other classes. 

These were accidental friendships — you never know how it happened, just that the three of us were inseparable. Every spring, after annoying our parents and running away from them when they picked us up, we would all go see the cherry blossoms that bloom annually on a street near our school. Every winter, we would also go hiking up a mountain near my house to play in the snow. Of course, all of our parents would roll their eyes at our mischief, but we loved it. 

Now, every summer that I go back to China to visit, we have a reunion, and it’s become a tradition to go to arcades to hang out and relive our childhood moments together. Although I cherish the newer memories made in the U.S., I will always attribute my most prominent memories of childhood to growing up in China.

1 view this week