A Wall that helped build Bridges

"Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with vegetation and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting." Only in my case it was a Sunday and it was winter morning. A Beijing winter and I was going to see the great Wall of China. The very mention of the Great Wall inspires awe. I had never imagined I would actually get to see this great monument.

Sharp at 7.00 am, I was to meet my friend at the entrance of the Metro Station. My new-found friend. My Chinese friend from work who had insisted that I should not leave the Middle Kingdom without at least seeing the famous Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. And not only that, on realizing that I was alone, he had offered to take me there himself.  I was completely overwhelmed by his generosity – after all who would willing give up a day of one’s precious weekend to take a junior colleague visiting from a foreign land sightseeing? I had had lot of apprehensions about the Chinese, with the country being projected a nation antagonistic to India and the West seeing China having nefarious intentions towards the world in the world. Maybe it might be true of the politicians. But then politicians are politicians everywhere. However, this one act of friendship began to make me see the Chinese people in all together a different light.

I got up at 6.00 am, was ready by 6.30 am and was down for breakfast. Unlike people who tell sorry tales of struggles to find suitable food in countries like China, I just loved the breakfast at my hotel – noodles with all kinds of exotic ingredients one can pick for oneself, assorted varieties of boiled yam and bean cakes. So that was a good beginning to my Sunday morning. A stomach full of Chinese food and a head full of visions of Chinese landscapes, I set out on my day’s adventure. I reached the station sharp at 6.55 am.  Legendary German durability served to protect me from the cold as I waited – the jacket I had purchased in Germany a decade back continued to serve me in good stead. My friend Xiaolin’s car appeared sharp at 7.00 and we were soon on our way.

As he drove, he started talking. “The Great Wall is on the outskirts of the City. It is not the entire wall. There are bits of the wall all over China. Most of the wall lies in bad repair. But some portions of the wall have been restored for the benefit of tourists and we shall be visiting the one in the outskirts of Beijing.”

I nodded my head.

“Good that the traffic is less today. Usually the road is full of traffic. We have 70 Km to cover and it could easily take 3-4 hours in peak traffic. But since it is a Sunday and we have started early in the morning, hopefully we can beat the traffic and reach in an hour.”

I again nodded my head. I liked listening to him. As against the stereotype of the reticent Orientals, Xiaolin loved to talk.

“So, what do you do during weekends in India?” he asked.

“I mostly read or spend time with my family,” I replied. “What do you do?” I asked in return.

“I spend a much time as I can with my son. He is going to finish his schooling and go to university soon. So, we don’t watch television at home. I spend time talking to my son and inspiring him. The only recreation activity I indulge in is a walk around the park with my wife every evening. We have a large beautiful park close to my home, which is part of the summer palace. If we have time, I will take you there as well.”

“What does you son plan to study at the university if I may ask?”

“I think he will like to study science or engineering. That is what provides maximum employment opportunity. But it is also a choice between the university and subjects. Sometimes one has to take lesser preferred subjects in order to get into a better university.”

“How does one get into universities in China?”

“There is a national level exam and based on the ranks in that exam, there is counselling, and one picks universities and subjects.”

All this seemed so familiar to me. A tough competitive exam like IIT JEE and students taking less preferred subjects such as Civil Engineering to get into a more reputed university. The Chinese did not seem all that different from us. Same kind of education system, same kind of parental aspirations! They did not seem all that alien anymore.

By now we were at the Great Wall of China.

“You are lucky. It is not crowded as it is winter, “he remarked. Indeed, it was freezing cold, more so since the altitude was higher.

After a few moments he stopped and pointed to where something was written on a plaque. He translated for me, “It is a quote from the great steersman Mao during his visit here. He has said no one can truly call himself a man till he has climbed the Great Wall at least once. So, are you ready to be a man?” he asked, with a smile?

So far, I had only read about Mao. He seemed a distant figure in a distant land. It seemed so strange to now be standing in Mao’s land and discussing what Mao had said with one of Mao’s people.

“Do you want a picture next to great man’s great words? Go stand! I will click.”

Now I would have a piece of history with me.

Then as we climbed I began to pant and puff! It was really steep, and the wind was real cold. I just could not keep pace with him. “Not used to too much exercise, eh?”

I felt he was taunting me and my competitive spirit rose. I had to keep up the Indian pride in front of the Chinese. I soldiered on for few more steps. But I just could not. I had to finally stop for breath. How the hell was he managing. He looked more overweight than me and he smoked as well.

“Don’t worry. Even I was like this last time I came. But ever since I have been exercising regularly and, so I am more fit these days.”

Thus, the fire of competition was doused by few words of understanding.

“We used to come here every during our school and college vacations. We used to climb 5 Km and back on either side.”

Seeing the haggard expression on my face, he said, “Don’t worry. We will not climb that much now. Let us just climb one side and only for as much distance as you can manage.”

I heaved a sigh of relief. As we walked up, I began to catch sight of amazing views like what I had seen in the pictures. It was really an elevating experience – standing there and seeing this glorious spectacle.

“This wall was built thousand years back when barbaric hordes used to attack China,” he explained to me

“Which nation were these hordes from,” I asked, curiously.

He spoke to someone in Chinese and mentioned some name to me which I no longer recollect.

“So now which country lies on the other side of the great wall?” I asked

“That is also China. Those days China was much smaller. Now all those regions which were threatening us has been assimilated into China,” he said proudly.

That was an interesting history lesson for me.

On the way back, he asked me if I would like to have my lunch at a local place or one of the international chains. Before I could answer, he himself spoke up again, “Let us go to a local place. International food you can eat anywhere. It is local good you must eat to experience local culture. That is what I do whenever I visit other countries,” he said.

“But I am vegetarian,” I protested.

“Don’t worry. I know the folks at this place well. I will talk to them and ensure there is no fish or meat ingredients.”

We went to place that looked really authentic. “Since you don’t know our dishes, let me order for you. Just let me know whether you prefer noodles or rice,” he said.

“Noodles,” I said.

So Noodles it was and he also ordered a dish made of potatoes. It was a real sumptuous meal. I could not perceive any meaty taste as such. And I did not inquire too deeply into the matter for I did not want to find out something I didn't want to know.

After the meal, he dropped me back at the metro and thus ended my Chinese day out. Somehow since my return from that trip, I could not think of the Chinese anything but fondly. Being a World traveler and going on trips of Exploration to different parts of the world did make you more Open Minded and Love the World more and more. Travel Inspiration I call it.

Lufthansa seeks to support your dreams of being a World Traveler and this post is an entry for a contest they are holding as part of their campaign. Click here to see the campaign details. Do take a look at this video to see the spirit behind this campaign. 


Janani said...

Inspired the opening lines,I am pretty sure we are going to have a series on "Adventures of Karthik". I liked the humour element where you tried to compete with him in climbing the wall and how you gave up after the understanding 😁 Well written as always..

T F Carthick said...

Thanks a lot Janani.

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