Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Traveling Thoughts 3

Continued from Traveling Thoughts 2

Coming to China most people want to see the great wall. I was no different. I spent one night in Beijing and left for Tanggu the next morning. My plan was to visit the wall on return journey. Manager in Tanggu while sending me to Shekou suggested going back through Hongkong, which is next door to Shekou. I nodded a hesitant approval but told him about my plan to visit the great wall as I left his room. “I am not sure if I will ever come back to China again”, I added. After an hour or so he called me back and called Nana, administrator in Beijing, to arrange for my travel from Shekou to Beijing, weekend in Beijing including the wall visit and then travel back to India. He even asked Nana to show me around the city. She was busy on Saturday, she said, but agreed to accompany me on Sunday.

I reached Beijing, from Delhi, around 5 in the evening. I was pretty tired from all the travel over last few days and strolled out of the hotel for a small walk before I had dinner and slept. The markets close by had few grocery shops, a fruit vendor, one pharmacy, few restaurants and very large number of massage parlors. I checked out the prices of the massages on all the boards and could not stop myself from entering one. I had been planning for a massage for a while but Aussie rates were never under few hundred dollars and I could never bring myself to massage away so much money. After struggling to convey my message at the reception for few minutes ‘the massage menu’ came to rescue and after wondering what kind of massage to go for I settled on 40 minutes oil massage. 100 yuan.

The place looked pretty sneaky. I mean it was some king of parlor in the basement and with pretty dark alleys. However, once I found there were no way of locking the doors of each room from inside I realized this place must be a massage parlor and not “massage parlor”. They had Chinese tea as complimentary. One look at it and I thought it was the some kind of oil. I just kept it on one side. The girl, masseuse, that walked in was pretty hot but very businesslike. I did have other thoughts for a while but once she got to work it was damn relaxing. After the massage I felt I could sleep forever. And I did nearly the same for next few days in the office. Chinese trip had begun well.

As I checked back in the same hotel on the last evening in Bejing, the receptionist handed me a letter from Nana. Before leaving Shekou I had called her to inform that I will only be staying for Saturday and leave in the evening. She had prepared a big plan for me to travel around arranged cars. She explained everything in the letter and also expressed how sorry she was that she could not take me around the city and asked if I could change plans and stay on till Sunday evening. I called her, thanked her for all the trouble she had taken for the arrangements, told her it was OK if she was not free, asked her if she lived close by hotel so that maybe we can meet for a coffee/dinner, which she did not, and she again asked me to change my plan to leave from Saturday to Sunday.

Sometimes the distance is irrelevant. Sometimes it does not matter who one is with, where one is or what one is doing. Sometimes one just did not care. But it’s been a long time for this sometime. A long time for those someones, a long time for those somewheres and a long time for those somethings. Now there is this feeling of being stretched in time, both inside and outside. There is this feeling at most of those somewheres, with most of the someones, most of the sometimes and during most of the somethings. The time one is alive, the place where one is, the people one is with and the things one do are becoming relevant. One thinks about all this now. One wonders if one can and if one should live.

I wanted to get back home as soon as possible. Back in the mid of air which sustains me for all those times when I am not there. A place where standing in the middle of smoke of burning fields of hay, after the crops have been harvested, there is no feeling of loss of air, the place where smoke is full of life. A place where traveling final five miles from the town to the village makes you five years younger.

Nana could not understand why I did not want to stay one more day. “I want to get back home asap” was all I could tell her. She was still singing the sorry song of not being able to show me around and I was still playing the chorus of it is OK and thanks for everything. Eventually with a high note of let me know if you need any help tomorrow and final fading beat of sure I will thankyou bye we finished our conversation.

After the eventful night at the hotel, I got up early, packed, had my breakfast, checked out and was on my way by 7:30 in the morning for the guided tour, in Chinese, of Beijing and the great wall. The driver as usual was 100% Chinese and nil% English. It was early morning and there was fog in the air. The air was relatively clean and one could catch few breaths of fresh air. We drove on nearly empty highways. Our first stop was Tianeman square. It was not a stop I found out later.

I had done some googling on the square last night. Just for general awareness as I was sure I will not have anyone for the insights into the structures and history and whatever little I had read in Wild Swans (courtesy Ravi) a year back I had totally forgotten. The ride to the square was through the heart of the city and for the first time I could see how massive the place was. As we approached the square I loosened the seat belt a bit and rolled down the window. On my right came what looked like the grave of Mao. I asked my driver if we could stop. Somehow he managed to convey the message no-parking-here-we-don’t-stop-here-we-just-take-a-round-and-we-keep-moving. I fumbled inside my bag, got my camera out and took a shot of what I thought was Mao’s grave. The driver had nearly brought the car to a standstill risking a ticket. We turned left and that’s when it became clear that there must be more than billion people here in China.

I used to wonder why there were few people with small bamboo sticks with a flag held high at various airports across China. Of course I could never read what was written on these flags language being Chinese. There was a sea of humans at the square and it was just eight in the morning. The square was big but having read that it was the largest square in the world I was a bit disappointed. I mean all that empty land next to my village could be a bigger square (with no walls and structures around of course and not much of bloodshed in history). Jokes apart the number of people in the square was huge. And all the groups were following a flag hanging at the top of a bamboo stick. Yes that’s what it was for. So that people don’t get lost in the sea of humans. I think another reason could be that they all looked so similar it would be hard to make which group one belongs to (I guess this is the problem with every community if you don’t belong to it).

He, my driver, was trying to convey some message. It was tough for him but he seemed a patient guy and kept trying calmly. After all his hand gestures and his entire English vocab failed to convey the message he fished into one of the boxes in the car cabinet and took out a small booklet which appeared like a bill book but which was infact a travel guide. It contained all the important words and sentences a tourist may need and was in few languages English and Chinese being two of these. He tried to find what he was looking for but could not and hence gave up the idea and kept driving. I picked the booklet, flicked through it and to my surprise found out plenty of helpful sentences. For the rest of the day I just pointed at the English sentence and the driver looked at the Chinese one and we could converse easily (except for once when I was trying to ask him to take me to some market like the market of exotic and he kept taking me to some weird crappy markets).

I asked my driver if we can visit the Olympic park (with the help of the booklet). From his facial expression I could make that he could. And after about 20 minutes of ride we were parked next to the bird’s nest. He pointed at his watch. I had 30 minutes. 2008 is the year to be in Beijing. Or it was, till the Olypmics. After watching all those games and fireworks on TV, the bird’s nest appeared as beautiful as you could imagine. The Olympic park was huge with the nest and the water cube at the heart of it. Chinese must have spent a fortune at this park but at 50 yuan per person and the monstrous crowd waiting early in the morning to enter the stadium it wont be long before the nest returns its cost. 30 minutes of Olympic glory and I was back in the car on my way to the wonder of the China, the only man made structure visible from moon as they say. It was two hour ride and it was not long before I dozed off.

No comments:


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember....