I can’t believe that it nearly slipped my mind this year that today is Chinese New Year.
One year ago at this time I was “passportless” (my backpack was stolen, the passport was unfortunately inside), trying to sort out admin stuff, being a bit disappointed with the service provided by the Romanian embassies in China, cancelling my one month trip to Myanmar and north of Thailand, cancelling my 10 days mediation retreat (I still haven’t done that), but enjoying the fireworks and the empty Kunming.
Two years ago at this time, I was in a small and beautiful village in Guizhou, with a good friend of mine (the only friend who came visit me during the time I was in China!), celebrating Chinese New Year (and my friend’s memorable birthday) with the family of one of my students who eventually became a dear friend.
Three years ago at this time, I was pretty much ignorant about the beauty of Chinese New Year.
Today…today I’m in Rundu, north of Namibia, trying to stop over-thinking and just enjoy the moment, even if the moment is meant to pass-by and be left behind. I was reading somewhere that there’s no ”present” because when you start thinking about it, it has already past. Am I maybe over-thinking again?
Anyway, I woke up this morning and BBC World was telling the story of a Chinese young girl who chose not to be home for Chinese New Year, so that she can work three part-time jobs in Shanghai to be able to help her family financially. I thought about my former students. They are in their early 20s, they come from villages in Guizhou and it might as well have been one of them talking to the BBC News. Since they’ve either graduated last year or they are in their last year of studies, many of them will not go back home for Chinese New Year, but choose to work. Is it really a choice, though?
China is often misunderstood, Westerns who go there tend to either love it or hate it. Chinese people have a bad reputation in Africa: they don’t pay on time, they fire people for no reason, they kill rhinos and elephants, they sell expired products, they do a lot of fraud. It’s true, these kind of things happen, but it’s not all there is to China. There’re so many stereotypes related to China and Chinese culture in general, that one would need decades to break them all. Although there were things I didn’t like about China, I loved my time there and it was a wonderful learning opportunity for me. I wouldn’t give back my time in China for anything else.
Another thing that we always read in the news related to China is air pollution in big cities. But there’s also beautiful untouched nature, isolated villages surrounded by hills, forests and fresh air. Mountains. Clean rivers. After all, China’s big! One good example is Guizhou province. This is Guizhou, this is the campus I’ve spent one year of my life, this is the place where I’ve learnt a lot while being “the teacher”. Although I had my issues and disagreements with the management of the college regarding the way they treated the students and education in general, Guizhou will always have a special place in my heart.
And so will Kunming, my second year of China, when I’ve discovered a new dimension by being able to communicate with people who didn’t speak any English. Special people, like my dear friend 司令, a 40+ years old married man with a 14 years old daughter whose main objective is to inspire youth, to help them find their way, to encourage them to discover the world. I was taken aback when among the first questions he asked me when we first met were: “Do you believe in real love?”, “What’s your dream?”, “What does happiness mean for you?”, “What’s your biggest fear?”. Big questions! Somewhat cheesy, one could say. Yet things we should, maybe, stop and think about every now and then. Especially when we’re trying to define who we are.
I wish my Chinese was good enough for me to be able to translate all of these for those wonderful people I’ve met during my two years of China who can’t speak English. But I’ll just have to make my message short this time: