It’s been over a year, and I still can’t believe I let you leave without asking for a way to get a hold of you. I still think of our nights in the desert, the endless stars, the inky black night wherein we traded our dreams.

I’m back in China now and all of those dreams seem so far away. I made it to Istanbul, and then Serbia, and to Ukraine, but soon it was March, and I had to decide so quickly: do I stay out in the wide world, or do I go home?

I probably should have stayed. I didn’t have much to come home to save my family’s apartment and the same job I’ve always had. There’s a lot here I love and had missed, but I’m so desperate to return to the sands of the Sahara which I have such a hard time extricating from my memories of being with you. Sometimes, at night when I’m alone in my tiny bed, with the muffled traffic sounds coming in from the window, I can close my eyes and still feel your fingertips on my neck like they were when we said goodbye all those months ago.

From Zhou Xiaodan to Shaoudan
“It is so amazing and romantic.”

It’s so funny, Shaoudan. It’s funny what captures you in the end. When I left home I had designs on seeing all the worlds wonders – the Colosseum in Rome and the Pyramids of Giza – but now that I’m back at home I’m still hung on the empty, wide expanse of the sand in Morocco in this way that makes me wish I could snatch it back. I wasn’t scared to leave home and venture out alone, but I was terrified to tell you everything I wanted to, your face the one wonder I wasn’t prepared for.


Remember Casablanca? Did you feel, as I did, like we were tethered to each other, like an invisible, unbreakable filament connected our eyes? I remember the bazaar when you grabbed my hand and I felt the electric pang of your skin on mine for the first time, and I wish I could tell the person I was then that I’d be writing this, that I’d be sending this out into the world hoping it would somehow snag you; I wish I could tell myself, back in that bazaar, that I would be the one to sever that tie with my silence.


I’m so sorry, Shaoudan. I’m sorry for a lot, now, but mostly because maybe everything could be different: maybe if I hadn’t kept quiet we could be back there in the shifting dunes together, mapping out a life where the world unfolds just for us. But instead I’m passing the cold night under a heap of familiar blankets, typing this into a void where I’m fairly sure that you aren’t. 


To Shaoudan from Zhao Xiaodan
From Tianjin, with love

I don’t think this will find you, but if it does, maybe we could find a brand new place to start, a place we both know but have never been together; maybe after I’ve passed this time when so many borders are closed with my family in Tianjin we can meet back where the east meets the west, where the Bosphorus splits my continent from yours. Maybe there in Istanbul we can save each other, and we can find a way to redraw all those lines that we broke. Or maybe we can break new lines that we invent together, our designs forged from months of distance, created without the fear of needing to mend everything we break because we will have all the time the world can give us to make new things every day.

I miss you, Shaoudan.

Your love,

Zhao Xiaodan

[I myself traded Istanbul for Skopje. I can’t go back for three months, so I hope I haven’t left too much behind.]


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *