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Clenched Teeth & Baby Faces

6 Dec

English: Beijing subway system Dawanglu statio...

China. Beijing. The land of many many people. They’ve got pulses. Hearts that feel.

So do I.

There’s a soft and steady tap as I walk under the bridge near Guomao (国贸); Dawanglu specifically. My only thought is getting home. “Gotta get home. Gotta get home.”


I can’t lie, I’m excited about the 50 kuai bottle of wine I’m carrying in my right hand. It’s from Chile, Cabernet Sauvignon, specifically La Cara. Not my favourite, it’s not the best, but it’s a red and I always enjoy hongjiu (紅酒) . Let’s be honest here, it’s a $8 CAD bottle of wine. Ha!  Definitely not the best. But I like drinking wine…what can I say?

I’m content. Happy. And things are seeming to go my way. Maybe work is not as great, maybe now there are problems and my boss isn’t the best. Maybe the fellow I like isn’t answering my texts, or whatever. Let’s be clear:

I don’t care. Meh…

I come walking at my jet speed; I learned it from my mother, and then I see them. I’m crossing the Dawanglu bridge and I see them. A tall Chinese man, very thin, chasing a shorter man around a small three-wheeled tuk-tuk so to speak.  Another man comes, he’s holding something. Staring is something I’m good at. So I do. I grit my teeth and I stare.

The third man holds a hammer and he starts hitting the shorter man with it. The tuk-tuk belongs to the shorter man. How do I know? He’s wearing knee-pads and his coat barely fits. He’s barely living. He’s surviving.

Soon there are ten short Chinese men running at him and then the short tuk-tuk driver is on the ground and they’re hitting him.  Crow-bars appear from no where, lead pipes seem to pop into their hands. They’re punching him. Kicking him. I’m still staring and they see me.

They say ” Foreigner, she doesn’t understand.” (她不明白.)

I do. I understand. But what can I do? What can I say?

Now these thoughts are floating in my head. After-all I am foreign. I am a woman. I speak Chinese but only on a basic level. Are these excuses?  What should I do? Dear Lord what should I do? I stare. I stare and I stare.

I stare as they carry this man to a van. I turn away and I hear screams. That’s all and there are a few others who are staring with me. They are native speakers. A man and I exchange a long look. But he looks down and continues to walk. There are people who can do something, but it’s not their job. “Why do something that you’re not paid for?” Why stick out your neck for someone who potentially did something wrong? Justice. It’s lacking.

So what’s worse? A land full of people who won’t take a chance? Or a person who could have stuck out her neck and didn’t? I continue to walk. Damn. DAMN. I am so angry.

Subway: Line 1 to Xidan. Subway transfer: Line 4. Renmin University (人民大學). At the Wangfujing stop a baby runs on. His smile is as big as his pudgy face. Soon he’s crying to his mom, stretching his arms up, he wants to be held. Carried.

His eyes meet mine and we begin to make faces, well I do at least. I puff out my cheeks, make a fish face.  Yeah that’s right. I went from witnessing a gang beating, to making a little child laugh.

The cuteness of the situation dissipates and that adorable baby becomes the annoying baby. Spoiled, loud, crying. I transfer to line 4 and then I see a mother and daughter. They are cold to each other. Uncommunicative. They don’t even talk. I think of my family.  I consider my father, my mother, my older sisters and my younger one. How on earth could I not talk to them?

I’m plagued with what I saw. I care. I care a ton. But it’s not enough that I simply care. It’s not enough that I’m crying on the subway home. It’s not enough. My compassion without understanding, doesn’t help at all.

I’m overwhelmed with a feeling. Shame. Shame is all I feel now. Shame then, shame now. Shame at being obsessed with my damn romantic life, with damn money and damn materialism, with my damn happiness. Happiness. I am desperate for it and that short tuk tuk man most likely…won’t know it for a while. That baby’s got boat loads of it, and that mother and daughter will have it but won’t know what to do with it.

Shocked at my nativity, astounded at how ruthless and heartless humanity can be, I won’t pass judgement. I don’t know.  My uncertainty about life is heightened and my humility has deepened. I can decide to be better, but I can’t hide the simple truth; I am humbled.

Die ahead?

Die ahead? (Photo credit: cobblucas)

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Uncovering Needed Beauty

19 Sep
Fishing boat, Koh Samui, Thailand

Fishing boat, Koh Samui, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently went for a little travel. Down to the lovely Thailand and lovely (more or less) India. I thought I’d look for beauty in completely opposite countries. Both are a culture shock.

There is a constant bubble of sound that seems to follow you wherever you go in India. Sometimes it felt as if I couldn’t turn around without someone staring, touching, yelling, crying…anything really. There is no such thing as personal space only the relentless look of derision and judgment at having white skin. To the people on the street; white skin means money and stupidity. Street vendors, tuk-tuk drivers, “guides”, are automatically allowed an attempt at cheating you, you’ve risked coming here and what happens in India, stays in India.


But what am I saying? That all of my experiences there were on the negative side of the spectrum of perception? Not in the slightest. It simply became more of a challenge to discover the “beautiful.” In many countries they put their lovely aspects on display, not India, nothing is hidden. It’s all there for you to see, and that is why you should go, because it helps you realize that there is power in having to work at loving something. Let me tell you that while I loved Thailand, I loved India more, simply because I had to toil to love it. Thailand laid all of its beauty out there for me to see, India hid it from me and I was on a hunt to find it. And I did.

Take a breath, the next bit will be a tad cliché.

Dear India. I found its beauty in the holy towns where women washed in the brown waters that met the steps. It was in the smiling faces of those children in the school at the Jaisiyaram Ashram. In the smiles of the happy Ashram workers; they’re always singing, laughing at something. Beauty and love in the kiss that Nanniji lay upon my forehead when I left the Ashram. “Goodbye,” she said and smiled.

There was beauty in the way that families are so connected there, just a tight support group. In the face of Ankit, a little boy who stated decisively “I will be the Leader of India, and clean it up.” I saw a beautiful monkey, who then stole my crackers and stared at me defiantly, challenging me to take them back. I threw my head back and laughed.

Where else? Let me tell you.

In the forts and temples, the mosques. But of course that is a given.

I saw it in the priest who blessed me in the name of Krishna, and then demanded a donation. When I cried in frustration at his incessant urges, he fell over, almost landing in the mucky water that is called “holy”. He said, “Now see, you are crying and I fell over. Everything is connected.” I gave him some money. Yes there was beauty in that. Its small but it’s there. Oh! I saw it in the family I stayed with in Varanasi. How the father adored his mother, and loved his children, he was a lighthearted fellow, very quick to help and tell a joke. I saw beauty in the willingness of our driver, Lucky, (who doesn’t earn much), to give twenty rupees here and there to the children who pleaded to him with hungry eyes. He put me to shame, and there is small beauty in shame; it reminds me of my humanity.

Need I go on?

The beauty I discovered in Thailand, was precious, albeit at times more superficial. I stayed on an island, in a bungalow. Met a beautiful Chinese woman named Eva. She’d grown up in Italy and had an Italian accent. In fact the only thing Chinese about her was her appearance. But she smoked and drank like tomorrow didn’t matter. I’ve never met someone so free and uncaring. There was beauty in that. Before I left she said to me “Tricia you are only here for one night. I just met you, but I know you like to talk, and I know you like to live.”

“Thank you Eva.”

I saw beauty in Bangkok, in the different markets, the different senses of “need”. There, the rush is not a rush, but an ambling sense of the word “go”. what I mean is that, stress doesn’t seem to exist here in the outskirts of Bangkok. The same goes for India, there is a relaxed atmosphere despite the noise. There was beauty in what I call the “train market”, a market set on the train tracks. 10 times a day they move their produce and fresh meats from the track to make way for the train. But when the train comes, it’s not a big deal, it rolls through at a slow lull of a pace. Everyone is relaxed and calm. Nothing to see here.

Where was I?

Right, beauty. There was beauty in Thailand, in the elderly woman with leathery creases in her face, when she gave me this tiny apple-star fruit. She smiled a toothless smile and made a motion to eat it with her leathery hands. Ah such a precious sight. Perhaps I didn’t have to look as hard in Thailand. Oh well, beauty is beauty.

I have written that word quite a bit. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, read it again and tell me which words seems to appear in each paragraph or sentence. After you do that, tell me how hard you search for it wherever you are. Because I can guarantee that if you’re depressed/angry, and you challenge yourself to search for it. Your outlook and attitude are sure to change.

Recently went for a bit of travel. Down to the lovely Thailand, and the lovely (more or less) India. And while I was there I sought out beauty.

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