China Institute

China Institute in America
125 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10065

Few decades ago, the Institute used to organize retreat on Labor Day (2 night/3 day) to Lake George/Adirondacks. The resort Silver Bay YMCA on the lake offers cottage and hotel rooms. I planned the trip with my roommate and two girls. But as the trip grew near, the girls dropped out. Then a couple of days before the long weekend, my roommate announced that she too wasn’t going because she would be going up north, far north to Toronto to visit her married boyfriend.
I was mad. I announced without any further thinking that I wan going. Hoping to sway, at least my roommate changing their mind. Unfortunately none of them did. I had no way out but to go alone.
When I arrived at the front door of the China Institute, I regretted my decision immediately: the crowd around the tree lined street was either couples or groups of friends. I was the only lonesome duck. I tried to befriend with two girls who were by themselves. But as soon as they realized that I was an odd man out there, their necks began to grow longer and looking unapproachable. Actually this was not the worst. I could at least sullen up in my seat on the bus and listen to my Walkman, and dreaming to have a friendlier roommate. But when we got to the resort, the organizer informed me that I was lucky to have a room all to myself. No extra charge.
At that point, I was little desperate,

“Could I pay more to get a roommate?”

The organizer was too busy and walked away.

There went my weekend.
I was insanely hopeless: what was I going to do out there, for the three days? I cried in the room. It took me a long time to realize that I am, in fact an introvert. It pains me to have to initiate a conversation with a stranger. Hold up in the room for half an hour, then I bravely decided to go swim. That’s a lonesome activity. No one would know I was alone.
September isn’t exactly a good time to go swimming. Kind of cold. I would have gone in even it was zero degree. Surprisingly, there was skeleton swimmers in the rocky beach and few brave souls were even in the water.
Hooooray … I jumped right in. Fish in the water, finally.
One of the few in the water was a really nice girl who spoke to me.
Oh lord finally showed mercy on me.
“Hi, I’m Doreen.”
What? Why couldn’t she speak Chinese and have a common name, like Jane or May?
[For a long time, I just couldn’t pronounce her name .. and from grapevines, I later learned that she thought I was really snobbish ..]
After the intro and few pleasantries, she asked if I would play tennis [perhaps hoping I’d say no so she could get away from a BOF ..]
“Yes .. ..” I was practically jumped out of water for joy. Not only for tennis but for the company.

That was where and when I met the huge contingent of Chinatown boys and their families that had been going there for more than a decade.


The following morning, I got up early and went out for a walk. As I was passing by the church, I heard a very familiar melody. It was strange, who would play the Yellow River piano concerto there? I dashed in. A lonesome man with crew cut was practicing, at the far end. Row up on rows of completely emptied pews. I took the seat in the small hall and listened.

Memory poured out.


“What’s your name?” I asked and instantly feeling stupid.
Yin Chengzong 殷承宗.” He replied nonchalantly without missing a beat on the piano.

I sat there and listened till he finished the piece. The music was lovely and lively; and his skill was still in tact but it didn’t seem to be able to chase away the dreariness hanging heavy in the air. He looked chubbier than what I remembered from the compound we shared in Beijing. So much had happened since.
The rest of the stay was fine and grand.
None of my girl friends and roommate felt remorse for abandoning me. So a lesson learnt: revenge isn’t pretty, and often senseless.

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4 Responses to China Institute

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