Right on time, Yoke (that’s not his name, just a phonetic approximation of his German name), knocked on the door. Dawei was ready too, and we thought we had to wait for Chun, the South Korean student to join in. Yoke had a surprise – he invited an Italian girl called Roberta with the R really rolled.
Roberta arrived with a sniff and a wink, literally. She kept dabbing her eyes, due to conjunctivitis, which I discovered only later. Chun arrived a little late, and soon it was 3 of us women in one taxi, and 3 in another. Rorberrrrrta, it seems, has traveled well for her 24 years. She comes from a really small village near Milan, which she says has only 1000 people. “It’s not the place for people with big ambition,” she asserts. Turns out she is interested in languages, especially in the aboriginal languages of Australia, having spent some time there. I love this much about the West – their broad mindedness to explore just for the sake of learning another culture. We aren’t so – Indians, and dare I say, Asians? I know from my own Indian upbringing that till 24 it is unheard of to do anything but study. By that, I mean real serious study – what parents approve – the clichéd engineering, IT, medicine fields. Do that, and you are made for life. Marry after that and you are made for seven lifetimes. Kids after that, and you are leading the perfect life. This is not to deride any one who is a parent – or who would want to be one – it’s just fascinating how for many Indians our horizons extend only one way. To contemplate another way of existence is rather insane – let alone try accomplishing it.
Anyway, Jinli Street is where we landed in. Rather redone chic Chinese ancient. I didn’t like it – it was more like materialism triumphing over culture.
Of course, you can see all the ‘arts and crafts’ of ancient China, paraded through Yuans and set in posh stores that scream for every dollar. You know, money was important in ancient as well as modern China. Jinli Street was incredibly crowded. We jostled with what seemed like several thousand Chinese. Yoke and Rorrrberrta kept wandering off, lost in conversation while Dawei, Chun and Birdy kept pace, taking photos along the way.
I hate these kind of made-up streets. I really do. It’s Asia masquerading as a pathetic whore, inviting the leering West, come here, come thither, look at our glorious culture. Oh! Sorry, we kind of destroyed most of it, with you the West, playing your own part, but don’t mind that, look at this shadow puppetry! Exquisite? Buy it! Look here at these paper cuttings? Painstaking? Buy it! Dollah. Dollah. Dollah!
Yikes, we moved out to have lunch – some disgustingly plain noodles that Yoke and Rorrberrrra found really spicy. Then back to Jinli for some ice cream. This was really good, even though I know I have to run a mile tomorrow. My diet is all haywire here, and I only hope I won’t return to India with the idiotic, awful comment : Oh! You have put on weight, na?
Then, after a bit of dawdling it was decided we would go to Renmin Park where R had some friends waiting. Taxi again, and when we reached there we found Sophie, another German student we had met before there too. We waited interminably before R turned up with another girl, and immediately announced they were going to a market. This was the time that R revealed that she had conjunctivitis. I told a rather confused Birdy that I wasn’t going to the market, hoping she would catch the hint, I would rather go to the Renmin Park we had actually come to. Chun agreed, and so too did Dawei. The Park turned out to be pretty – filled with life – people dancing, a huge crowd of people watching a singing performance, and a lovely teahouse where we ordered jasmine tea, chrysanthemum tea and green tea and spent a little time whiling away while evening gently sunk in.
A bus ride back home, and we bid Dawei and Chun good-bye. As I munch on sunflower seeds, and have bean milk, I think how the day presented so many vignettes. Moments that I cannot capture in words or in photos. Soon, I will forget these moments. Others will move in. Such a short shelf life our mind. Such a short shelf life the people we allow to occupy our mind. So important all the more to keep those shelves clean.