I returned last night, feeling a bit sick after the very long day (flight plus trip back from Heathrow landed me at home at 2:30 am China time after having been up since 6 am China time). The trip was amazing and I don’t really know where to begin. I have over 1500 digital photographs to sort through, not to mention souvenirs, laundry, and oh yes a full-time job to return to. There are so many stories I could fill pages and pages, but I’m going to skip the blow-by-blow travelogue and try and report a few snippets in the form of scenes that captured for me the essence of my China experience.
The scene: The back of a Beijing taxi-cab. My sister and I had just left our hotel for the night (sleeper) train from Beijing to Nanjing. The cab driver spoke no English, but my sister was chatting with him in Chinese. He seemed to like her, given the views I had of his crinkled up smiling eyes in the rearview mirror. (NB this was about a 50-50 crapshoot with cab drivers, some seemed happy to have us in their vehicles and chatted with my sister in Chinese in a very friendly fashion, and some seemed very resentful–perhaps at us being foreigners? Hard to tell.) After some small talk he asked if we minded if he put some music on. My sister said “no, of course not” and some Italian opera started to play. The cab driver sang along a bit, and asked my sister why she was not singing and she responded that she didn’t know the words. The song ended and “Unchained Melody” came on. Bingo. This one we could do, and we started to sing along, timidly at first but growing in volume as we heard the driver singing along too. At one point, we were stopped at a red light and my sister and I looked over into the cab sitting at the light next to us, and we were being stared at by the driver and passengers alike. Music, the universal language, had brought together three people with no single common spoken language, and we were all animatedly singing at the top of our lungs. I could not look at my sister or I would have busted out laughing. I will also never be able to hear that song again with a straight face. The song ended and the three of us–my sister, me and the Chinese cab driver–burst into a round of spontaneous applause. He turned to my sister and said “Our time together is too short, we are nearly at the station.” We arrived at the station all singing Celine Dion’s “My Heart will Go On” from Titanic.