GUILIN, China — I stretch my arm into the air to draw an imaginary river, but it is met with another highly baffled look by the woman in front of me. “Tour. Li River. Yangshuo,” I said while trying my darnedest to conceal my frustration. Spirit of Mulan, guide me.

It has come down to this: charades. I then raise my forearm and form a shape of a mountain. Two mountains. A dozen now.

“Why you come to China?” the Immigration Officer repeats. The Immigration Officer. Seated behind the counter. Holding my passport. Personifying that one fear I have about traveling to this country: be deported even before I could get out of the airport. And it looks like it’s exactly what is about to unfold. Behold.

And once again, I say, “to tour.” I rummage through my head for synonyms, but all I find are more complicated words. “Sightseeing. Cruise. Leisure. Li River. Tour.”

I’ve been standing here for roughly five minutes, but it feels like the longest five minutes of my Mandarin-free life. She is struggling to understand a single English word, and I have exhausted all the Chinese words I tried to learn prior to this trip.

“Why you come to China?”

Here we go again. “Tour. Li River. Please?”

Another Immigration Officer comes over and with him is a ton of pressure. He roots himself in place behind the lady and from there watches the charades. It looks like I am going to be escorted away from here any time soon. I feel so tense that if she asks me one more time, I will probably just break down, curl up into a fetal position on the floor, and cry.

She lets out a long, deep sigh that reverberated across the room, fixes her stare at me, and — in what looks like a moment of complete surrender — puts an entry stamp on my passport. Hallelujah.

Nice to meet you, Guilin City. We’re gonna make lots of wonderful memories together.

Li River


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