travel thoughts and experiences
It was a cloudy, rather cold, day. The wind was blowing dust right into my face. I could barely see when it whirled up. That kind of day you would rather stay home with hot cup of tea in hand, enjoying your favorite book. The weather has been alike far too long, though, thus I decided to visit the ancient town of Qufu, birthplace of the great Confucius.
Approaching the train station a balloon crossed my path, flowing in whirls with the wind, changing its direction rapidly only to get back to its course – me. It was greenish color with two small finger-like horns barely pointing out due to it being only lightly blown. I staggered for a moment there, watching its unpredictable moves. I don’t really remember my thoughts, there were probably none. What I do recall, however, is the boy’s face.
The memory is very clear, as if I were him and now remembering my own thoughts and feelings upon the sight of my balloon drifting away beyond return. I’d also remember the foreigner, strange shaggy face the shape of a water melon. Not the round one, the one which is long and more sweet with stripes of light and dark green.
I saw the boy’s eyes with expression of both fear and despair, standing there, hoping. I imagined his reactions, were it a Chinese instead of me walking within a grasp of his balloon. “Catch it!” I almost heard him shout. “Don’t just stand there!”. Or would he behave the same, being just a small boy in the world of big men, unsure and maybe even scared a bit – of course nobody could know about that but him.
It was me, though, a strange two-faced person with huge eyes and even bigger pointy nose, having the other half of the face covered with hair and beard, almost like a goofy old man from a forest nearby the little boy’s village, I imagined. And it was me picking up the balloon, a move the boy could watch with either great fear or joy, possibly both.
I did it without thinking, no expectations involved whatsoever. Caught it without hesitation, approached the boy handing it over. “Xie, xie!” with a deep bow he thanked me, sincere joy and admiration in his voice. That made me stumble for a second. I remember how surprised I was, the depth of the acknowledgement almost made me drown. I was so impressed I left him only with a brief smile and walked on, not thinking about it anymore. It was an ordinary balloon catch for me by then, nothing special.
A few steps further I caught a glimpse of a young-looking woman up on the top of the stairs, right next to the railway station entrance. She was dressed in rough clothes, the sun has already sucked out its colors but it was still clear how vibrant had it once been. She had a broad sincere smile watching me, showing her dark yellow, even black in times, teeth. Her skin was darker than the one of town folk, that made me think of her being a member of a tribe somewhere from the mountain area nearby Taishan. Her load was far too heavy even for a man, but she would not complain, you could tell. Her gaze was overwhelming, she could not stop watching me, waiting for an eye contact to grasp and not let go. It was so deep and sincere it made me look away, approaching slowly almost with a fear that once she catches my eyesight I would be exposed forever.
I could not resist, though, and just a few meters away I looked up. She said something in Chinese, normally non-decodable for me, however this time I understood her clearly. “Thank you very much strange mister for catching the balloon for my son” she said with genuine joy in her voice while picking up the load and waving her son to come by. Once again I was speechless, nodding slightly “with pleasure, don’t mention it” and smiling shyly. Never have I known how to receive a thank you.
After getting trough the annoying, ever-present, security check and sitting down in waiting room, outside of the stares of all the people there, I had to come back to the event once again in thoughts. What was so strange about the boy’s and the mother’s behavior that made me so surprised, I wondered. Is it the fact of unfeigned politeness, so rare in today’s China? Probably. I got too accustomed to the rudeness of the world we live in, which made me appreciate the most simple act of acknowledgement all the more. So it is true, there is always something good in the bad. A simple good deed, a courtesy, a sincere smile and joy, all that shines out amidst the frowns of the power-hungry modern society.
random photography by Pete Rosos
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