William Zhou’s College Essay


William Zhou, Contributor

August 8th 2019, Beijing, 30 minutes before this Buddhist temple would close, I looked
around me: tourists were taking pictures. Many kneeled in front of the statues of
Buddhas under the sunlight of the golden hour, praying superstitiously for luck. As they
left, monks started appearing in small groups. I burned some incense, not knowing
where I was on the spectrum of faith. I began to wonder how I got here.
I believe I was looking for the source of beauty.

A few years ago, as an attempt to get the attention of another person, I started paying
attention to my clothes. I thought beauty was about how I looked, but, after a while, I felt
empty. My style was merely an imitation of mainstream aesthetics without
understanding the culture, which I didn’t even belong to. Every night after I took a
shower, I’d stare at myself in the mirror, naked. I didn’t know what was left when I was
just me.

So I dove deeper. I looked to art, starting with music since I’d already been playing
guitar for two years. Whereas in the past I only learned showy songs to impress, I
started to write original songs. Doing so allowed me to express words and emotions that
I was too afraid to express normally. My thoughts and feelings were woven into the
music and lyrics, showcasing my authentic self. Sometimes, when I was writing songs,
I’d experience tender and delicate moments that were beautiful but ephemeral. Music
helped me record them and made them something memorable.

I wanted to comprehend the secrets that other artists might hide in moments alike.
Lured by the spirituality of the worlds they created, I wondered if that was where true
beauty lies. Musicians led me into their worlds of passion; filmmakers pulled me into
screens of their stories. It was as if I was the prince climbing up Rapunzel’s hair,
stepping foot into a metaphysical world. I thought that beauty had to be somewhere in

So there I was, at the buddhist temple, August 8th, 2019, 20 minutes before it would
close. I sat on the stairs next to the praying hall, daydreaming.

I dreamt of a boundless icefield. Its endlessness didn’t seem to provide a diverse sets of
scenery. Everything was covered in ice and snow. One object stood starkly among the
field of the infinite nothingness, a gigantic ice-wall.

Staring at the temple’s wall covered with peeling red paint, I wondered what was behind
it. In the world of art, I discovered emotions, love, and all the other human elements. But
I was perplexed. How can we, flesh and blood, perceive and create something so
beautiful? The source of good and beauty resided behind the wall, out of reach and
sight. However, its light leaked through the cracks on the wall to the icefield. Some
people call this entity God, but how can I use it as a symbol to replace my Garden of
Eden? I possessed two tools: faith and reason. I was reluctant to use faith, but reason
could only get me so far; I was attempting to think the unthinkable.

My breathing became heavy and my heart started pounding.
“Excuse me, sir. We’re closing in 10 minutes.” A monk approached me, with a
nonchalant attitude that starkly contrasted my anxiousness.

I didn’t want to leave, but there wasn’t a choice. The abstractness of philosophy and
faith was dangerously attractive, but I knew I shouldn’t stay here forever. On my way
out, I inadvertently joined a flock of superstitious tourists from earlier. A bitter smile crept
onto my face. I was just the same as these people, teetering on the verge of spirituality.
Stepping out of the temple, I was back to reality; everything felt more real. I felt alive.
Maybe beauty is everywhere if I believe it to be.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email