On China

When people ask me about China, I usually respond ‘it is interesting.’ Interesting either implies it is interesting, or becomes a euphemism for ‘it sucks dude.’ One day, I would leave the inquirer bewildered, another I would say it’s the former. China runs deep. Five weeks I have spent travelling across its vastness with my friend. Thousands of kilometres covered, yet on a map it’s just a small piece. But that is not what I meant. I neither meant its long history, of which Chinese like to boast a lot. It is deep in its complexity of historical, political and cultural nuances, merging with the new, capitalist face, moneys and materialism.

Observe

I travelled out of Europe for the first time, expected nothing and prepared to embrace everything. Once landed and with my both feet in the cab, I started observing and inhaling the atmosphere of Beijing, but only with caution, as the pollution welcomed us with a thick hug. Cab dropped us off into a side street between Hutongs and one-liner from Apocalypse Now sprang in my mind and accompanied me throughout the following weeks, Saigon…Shit.

Shit… it is easy to fall down to calling names in an instant. Once you close your mind just a tad too much, little things will get to you, annoy you, tease you and tempt you to call them out. But it is a different country, so you cannot expect things to work the way they do back home. Herein lies one of the challenges.

Extended period of time in China means you better be able to accept, accept and then accept some more, and to break bread with variety of folks from the most lovely people to those who want to rip your arms off along with your dinheiros. Day by day I asked myself is this because I am white? – in both positive and negative encounters.

I still don’t have her figured out

Many a time I stopped to contemplate on China. It gave me hints on my life, on the way of the traveler, it made me ask myself about the meaning of things, it asked out loud: what is your dogma? To me, China was first and foremost a great mirror. And I emphasize the me part, since the experience varies from person to person. However, behind the mirror’s reflection, the whole world opens up. And to understand it, one has to tap not a vein of one of China’s cities, but that of the whole country. For now, it’s way beyond me. Thus, allowing me to glimpse what is on the other side of the veil, China left me bewildered as I did some of the inquirers who asked me: how is China? And I said: interesting.

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6 thoughts on “On China

  1. It`s funny that you discuss the meaning of the expression “It`s interesting.” in the first paragraph. Two days ago I had a very passionate discussion about it with my friend. I realized that many people use it to cover that they actually did not like something. Especially with food 😛 But when something is interesting, it means that it caught your attention and that is good thing right?
    However, I remembered that the same happened to me when i came back from Tenerife. People were expecting wonderful stories but all I could say back then was, that it was interesting.
    I believe that what I was actually saying was “It was interesting, maybe we can talk about it later because I still have to figure out whether I liked it or not”. After few years I can say that I loved it. And it gave me experience which I didn`t get from the trips that I liked right away.
    I hope that you will write some short stories about China in the future. I really enjoy your writing, it`s so calming from some reason… 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment my friend 🙂
      You hit the nail on its head. Digestion of “interesting” experience takes time and cannot be done overnight, yet people are banging on the door, saying tell me… tell me!. As weird as it may sound, to me it feels like a prostitution of that experience, if it makes sense. And since I don’t like doing that, I’d just say – “oh there, yeah, it was interesting” 🙂
      I am putting together my notes from the trip, but when will the outcome see the light of the day, I dare not say.
      Thank you for stopping by and hang tough,
      P.

      Like

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About Petr Klíma