I scanned the front page of the NYT website this morning and saw this feature on the famous “Tank Man” photograph taken right after the Tiananmen Square massacre
I remember how, in a moment of frustration with everything, with the country, the pollution, the lack of moral certainty in every conversation, I tried to talk about the incident with my language partner. I just didn’t understand her. “Have you ever seen this picture?” I asked, after describing it. She looked a little uneasy not so much at the question itself as at the expectant, almost aggressive tone in which I asked it.
Focusing all my frustrations with the country and the chaos, poverty, quiet human desperation I’d seen for the past several months in her, I looked at her in that moment but didn’t see her real face. Instead, I projected onto it everything that had frustrated me about about the country even before I went there.