A week after a pair of bombs placed near the finish line at the Boston Marathon killed three, wounded 183 (including 13 with lost or maimed limbs) and ignited a weeklong manhunt that culminated in a violent standoff with a pair of ethnic Chechens, Lu Lingzi, the 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from Shenyang who was killed in the blasts, was remembered Monday night at an emotional service at BU’s GSU Metcalf Hall.
The ninety-minute service, which was open to the public and streamed live on Boston University’s website, featured Lu’s classmates and professors recalling her perpetual smile, strong work ethic and endearing personality, alongside readings from the Bible (Lu was reportedly Christian) and musical performances, including a pair of haunting piano performances from fellow Chinese nationals.
In the eulogy, Lu’s weeping father recalled a “jolly little elf” who excelled at calligraphy and the piano and was particularly adept at creating personal relationships with everyone she encountered. She remembered every food that she ever tried, he said, and as a high school student, she racked up a series of scholarships, studying English well into the night and making every effort to learn about the college application process.
“Every child is actually a little buddha who helps her parents mature and grow up,” he said, referring to an ancient Chinese proverb. “We will never forget you.”
A memorial fund created in conjunction with her family, the Lu Lingzi Scholarship Fund, has already raised more than $630,000.
Another Chinese national, Lu’s fellow BU student and friend, Zhou Danling, was gravely wounded in the bombing, the deadliest act of terror on American soil since the September 11 attacks, and continues to recover from her injuries at Boston Medical Center.
Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a marine biology major at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, was charged on Monday by federal prosecutors in his hospital room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, a crime that carries a possible death sentence. He is unable to speak due to throat and neck injuries sustained during his capture and remains in serious condition.
About 200,000 Chinese nationals are currently studying in the United States, or about 22 percent of the total number of foreign students in the country. In the wake of the bombing, we reached out to several former, current and prospective students about public safety, assimilation and their experiences in the US.
Shuai, 23, student: Hendrix College, Conway, AR
Do you feel safe in the United States?
Most of the time. I live in the South, however, and everyone has a gun here. For an international student, it’s nearly impossible to get a gun license to protect ourselves. It’s kinda not fair. Sometimes I worry about getting shot in the street.
You arrived in 2008 when you were 18. Any big cultural differences?
The drinking and partying was a cultural difference, for sure. And I live in the Bible Belt: almost 90% of them are Christian.
Have you been converted yet?
Lu Lingzi, one of the fatalities from last week, was Chinese. How did you react?
Her death is a tragedy, to be sure. There are lots of incidents happening around the world every day. While this incident may affect many people’s feeling about living the States, it doesn’t necessarily represent the States nor does it really represent anything — it’s just an incident.
How often do you talk to your family?
Every other day.
Sue*, early-30s, venture capitalist: Bay Area, CA
Tell us about yourself.
I’m originally from Beijing. After my getting my undergrad in Beijing, I got my MBA from [an East Coast school] in 2012 before moving to the Bay Area to work in the investment sector, primarily with early stage startups.
What did you think about the US before you arrived?
The stereotype about the US from the Chinese news was that students were lazy [laughs]. I had some friends who told me that American students “couldn’t calculate” — you know, think analytically.
And after your arrival?
Everyone that I met was super-smart and super-hardworking. Everyone. I was enrolled in a highly selective program with some very smart people. And in regards to the country itself, it’s huge and diverse, just like China, each section with a different culture, language dialect and lifestyle. I learned to see the country as a whole — not just in small parts.
Chinese students in the US are stereotyped as being very insular…
Very true. But being in an MBA program, my classmates were different — they were very aggressive because networking, getting to know people from all over the world, is very important in business. And while some friends and classmates initially had problems with the culture and language barriers, I think that our experience can be considered to fall under special circumstances and isn’t representative of the Chinese experience as a whole.
Do you feel safe in the US?
Generally. After the [Highway 85] shootings last year in Cupertino, many of us [in the Chinese community] talked about getting guns. The incident encouraged us to get some protection and learn how to shoot. But it wasn’t a serious consideration [laughs]. To be honest, I value America’s advanced technologies and business opportunities more than basic safety.
Note: At this moment in our phone call on the night of April 18, initial reports surfaced of the shots fired on the MIT campus that resulted in the death of campus police officer Sean Collier and the subsequent firefight between police and the two suspects.
How about in China?
We can’t imagine this kind of thing — bombs and terrorism — in China. But then there’s the food safety and pollution issues…
*Not her real name
Jing Gao, late-20s, blogger and freelance journalist: Midwest
Tell us about yourself.
I came to the US from Nanjing for my master’s degree right after graduation from a Chinese university in 2008.
Any culture shock?
Because of my personal affinity for and prior knowledge of the US gained through websurfing, reading and film and TV watching, I was, for the most part, prepared for the cultural and social aspects of the US.
My biggest problems and surprises during my adjustment period, which lasted probably a year, were that many locals talked a bit too fast and unclear, and that Americans are as poles apart from one another as Chinese are. I thought that all Americans were talkative, humorous, critical of their government and passionate about social causes. Whereas this could probably be said of 70% of the population, 30% couldn’t be more different.
How often do you socialize with other Chinese?
Very often. Chinese nationals living in my area often hang out together at least once a week. I don’t necessarily regard it as a sign of failure to blend in with Americans. Instead, I believe there are sometimes cultural differences that prove hard to overcome for Americans and Chinese to hang out very often. For example, some Americans may never understand why Chinese love to eat hotpot and play board games together, namely mahjong and poker, whereas some Chinese never find the American way of spending weekends, including bar crawls and watching baseball, interesting at all.
Do you feel safe?
Despite my overall positive impression of life in the States, safety is probably one of my few concerns here. Generally, I feel safer in China, and I’ve never had any problem or concern walking alone at night in the streets in Nanjing, Beijing or other Chinese cities, and I actually did that a lot when I was an undergrad.
There are probably many more petty crimes, such as property theft, pickpocket and burglary, but I guess percentage-wise, much fewer violent crimes in China. But in the States, we are always advised not to walk alone at night — and from what I heard on campus, violence occurs pretty frequently in small college towns in the Midwest where I live.
Has it directly touched you?
One of my close Chinese friends got mugged himself: he was dragged into the bushes on the roadside and beaten repeatedly before his wallet was taken away despite the fact that he didn’t even try to resist. The prevalence of gun ownership is one reason we are uneasy, and we have had too many gun shootings and gun-related massacres in the past few years.
Can something like the Boston bombings happen in China?
China also has terrorists and extremists, but so far, they have not yet had the opportunity to cause any real harm on a large or severe scale. That might have something to do, fortunately or unfortunately, with the fact that China is such an Orwellian state.
Michael, 18, high school student: Shanxi, China
You’re going to study in the US this fall…
I’m going to the University of Chicago to pursue my undergraduate education. I would like to fully engage in college and make good use of all the educational resources and opportunities. It also fascinates me to know more people and make more friends from different backgrounds. Just take some challenges and have some fun, in general.
What’s the mood like in China now?
People generally mourn and pray for Lingzi and her family. Her death is indeed heartbreaking. I think it is really a dreadful tragedy for all regardless of nationality.
Has the incident changed how you feel about moving to the US?
This tragic incident makes me more concerned with safety issues in America. I hope such incidents may never happen again.
Ethan, 29, MBA student: Fordham Graduate of Business, New York City
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Beijing and most recently came to New York in Fall 2011.
Do you feel safe in the US?
It’s a mixed emotion. I’ve been living in Manhattan, so I think it’s quite safe under 120th Street. I’ve never had a safety issue. But I know people get robbed or something in the Bronx and Brooklyn — especially late at night. If you scale out of New York, I think the US is still quite safe in most areas.
Do you ever worry about something happening that may not happen in China?
In recent years, shootings on campuses have popped up on the news once in a while — they’ve raised some awareness of gun control. I know there won’t be tragedy to such an extent in China, so I don’t worry about massive killing on Chinese campuses.
Did you have culture shock when you first arrived?
I’m kinda different from other Chinese students because I studied in a US public high school back in 1999. Also I was immersed in rock music, films, art and other cultural stuff, so it wasn’t so difficult for me to live and study here. I’m pretty adaptable, anyway: I have a really lovely group of friends, we hang out almost every week. They are creative artists, curators, bar owners and even actors. I had a great time here in New York mostly because of them.
How often do you socialize with other Chinese?
In Fordham, there are about 1,200 new Chinese every year. Now I serve as president of the Chinese business society at Fordham Graduate School. We have 500-plus members and I love to attend other Chinese organizations’ panels, social events and things like that.
Have you encountered any cultural differences or misunderstandings?
People say America is like a salad bowl, various cultural and races mixing together, especially so in New York. I found that the most common cases of misunderstanding happen to the Chinese students who are not very familiar with the context of Western democracy, values and relationships. Some of them are less likely to pay attention to art or think that it’s useless. A majority of them won’t even read any novels: they are focused heavily on school work and looking for jobs in which they have no idea of the context. And the Chinese are less likely to make friends with others.
Has the incident changed how you feel about living in America?
I feel sympathy for all the innocent victims. I haven’t talked about it with anyone, and I know it’s making a tremendous impact to her family because we are all from one-child families. I feel sorry for her tragedy. This… is not the first time [this has happened] and neither will it be the last. Terrorist activities are going on everywhere else — I just hope the government will do something for the benefit of world peace and pray for the good people.
Pete DeMola is a writer and creative consultant in Hong Kong. He tweets @pmdemola. (Image Melody Komyerov, BU Today)