I turned around. It was…..not her.
“The Forbidden City is closed. But you may pay two Yuan and see the garden,” said the ruddy faced plainer looking girl.
“Thank you very much. But is there some way I can at least see the Forbidden City from outside?”
I had actually gone all the way to Rome and come back after seeing the Colosseum from outside just because my friend who had come along did not want to cough up the 10 Euro fee to see it from inside. He had argued that seeing famous places was nothing but a tick in the box. So it did not matter if you saw it from inside or from outside – it was all the same.
“Yeah. If you walk towards the South West Gate, you will be able to see it.”
“How long will it take to reach the South West Gate?”
It was getting late. I was wondering if my boss had sent across some work. I had better be starting back.
“It will take 15 minutes. Maybe 10 if you walk fast.”
“Do I have to walk through the garden or can the Forbidden City entrance be reached from outside as well?”
She pointed across the street. “You can go round that way but it would be longer.”
So that decided matters. The garden it was.
“By the way, I am an art student. Would you mind taking a minute off to have a look at the display of our art works before your proceed to the garden?”
Poor girl had so patiently answered all my questions. I definitely owed her at least this much.
I entered the little stall and she began to excitedly show me around the art gallery.
“Have you been to the Great wall?”
“Yeah. Went there today morning.”
“See these beautiful paintings of the great wall by my fellow students. Beautiful, aren’t they?”
They looked just ok. But they were too small and seemed to be printed on ordinary paper. They did not look all that great to me. But then these were students of art. I needed to encourage them. So I just nodded.
“See these. They are my paintings. They represent winter, spring, summer and autumn respectively. What do you think of them?”
These were pretty decent and I kind of like the concept of paintings representing seasons. The paper also looked better with embroidered borders.
“How much do they cost?”
I suddenly looked at my watch. Twenty minutes had just flown away. I was yet to see the garden and the entrance to the Forbidden City. I was supposed to have finished all that and should have been on the metro back to the hotel by now. But anyways how did it matter what I had seen and what I had not. I had enjoyed myself relishing all those beautiful paintings, hadn’t I? That was all that mattered.
“The prices vary. We have paintings from 100 Yuan on. The ones by the teachers are more expensive.”
“How much is this one?” I asked pointing at one of hers.
“That one will be 200 Yuan. Which one will you take?”
That was like 2000 Rs. I had not intended to spend anything that evening. But the poor girl had spent so much time explaining stuff to me. It would be a pity leaving without buying anything.
“But aren’t the four a set. If I take one, won’t the set be incomplete?”
“Yes. It will be. So why don’t you take all four of them?”
“I don’t have so much money.”
“No problem. You can pay by card if you don’t have cash.”
“I mean it is too expensive for me.”
“Then take one of the Great Wall ones. They are just hundred Yuan a piece. By the way as an incentive, if you buy any art work, my master will do a calligraphy for you free of charge.”
I wondered if I should ask her if she could give one of the season paintings for 100 Yuan. But then that felt so so wrong. How would I feel if someone asked me to give me a copy of my book at half price? As an aspiring artist myself I needed to respect a fellow artist. I again asked her to explain the four seasons. She explained in detail also pointing to the larger versions of the same paintings that were on the wall across.
I was about to pay for one of the season paintings when my eyes fell on a couple of paintings to the corner.