Hui Lai Le


I spent my first full year out of college immersed in the study of Chinese, choosing to put the English language on hold for awhile. And there were a collection of daily linguistic encounters that I thought to be quite funny.

One of them is commenting on leaving or returning. This scene often plays out when someone is sitting on or around the stoop of a nearby apartment or a small corner store. Walking along you are invariably coming or going – and the appropriate comment would be – 出去 chu1 qu4 – something to the effect of, “leaving, eh?”

And on returning, which could very well be the same person commenting – 回来了 hui2 lai2 le – “back again.”

One night shortly after I had re-entered the English-speaking world, while exchanging stories over a hutong dinner gathering in Beijing, I recall a guy named Paul who made this simple interaction into almost a joke. I remember laughing and laughing with the small group that night, all of us enjoying the moment, as we each reflected on the part we played of participatory observers in this almost daily ritual.

And here we are – 回来了 hui2 lai2 le – I’m back again to continue writing after a healthy break from daily computing. Our class took a three week field study – half of us headed to the East Coast of the US (Washington DC, New York, and more), while half of us headed to China (Beijing and various spots through Yunnan Province).

Some thought (if not still think) it strange that I essentially found myself back, retracing steps I took as recently as just a few months ago. On the one hand, it’s true. To return to a place where I once spent a good dose of time could be viewed as not worthwhile or productive. Though flipping this thought process on its head, I heard different stories and perspectives from people I have known in some cases for almost a decade. I met a solid group of new and interesting people, including site visits to places that I might not have been invited to see had I just been living the daily in Beijing. And most importantly of all, I learned much from my classmates and travel companions given their unique way of looking at the world, and the common language / communication style we have developed together through APLP.

A return to China. A return to Hawaii. Lots of returns. And now we return to our regularly scheduled program.


Since nothing interesting came up for a Google image search on “return” and I was hesitant the movie references for “I’m back” would be a bit too overwhelming, I opted for my first Chinese language search with 回来了 (same as the title. I found this great work by 丰子恺 feng1 zi3 kai3, an artist where you can learn more about his selection of children’s cartoons, volume 1 of which the above is included here on Baidu.