Leaving China

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Chapter 9

Happiness is a subjective thing. People feel happy for different reasons and in different places. I found happiness among friends and people in Suzhou. When I left Singapore, I was convinced that I had lost the ability to make friends. It came as a pleasant surprise in Suzhou that I had not.

I found friends with no effort. People were appreciative of what I had to offer. China started out as a country which for me was shrouded in mysteries. The people who mingled with me had all come from different countries, including China. Perhaps, I got in touch with the positive energy within me. I do not know why and how it happened. Did it happen because I had started doing pranayama five days a week? Or, was it because I had no expectation from the people around me? Whereas, in Singapore, I did?

Perhaps, when we travel, we learn to accept things as they come. We become more open about people, cultural rituals, things and places. By cultural rituals, I mean social norms as well as the cultural heritage of a people brought up in a particular way. Imagine, when Marco Polo crossed over the Pamirs, through the Uzbek territory into China, how many different varieties of people, languages and cultures had he experienced? In those days you had no electronic translators. How did he grapple with the languages? His father, Nicolo Polo, could talk the language of Tartars, the account says. He had picked it up as he travelled across the continents! When we travel nowadays, we have our electronic equipment or little books with translated phrases to cope with foreign languages, cultures and people. We have our pre-conceived notions too and try to fit the country and people in that. For instance, in Singapore and Malaysia, often Indians are associated with vegetarianism and Bollywood. There are many in India who eat all kinds of meat, fish and non-vegetarian food and are not appreciative of the song, dance and culture of Bollywood, just as there are many Americans who may be vegetarians and non-representative of Hollywood! Pre-judging a person by the norms of a country or a race, I have learnt, is always inaccurate. Putting people into boxes of nationality and culture is an error I would not like to be guilty of. Can you factory produce people in pre-conceived groups with labels? Aldous Huxley actually wrote a whole book about it… Brave New World. He based the boxing, or rather the bottling of embryos, on intelligence levels and economic needs. Schools were set up and the products were educated to suit their stations and cultural needs in life. It was rather a bleak scenario he painted.

In contrast, I prefer Marco Polo’s outlook. He took life as it came. He travelled half way around the world and made his own conclusions and lived and roamed as an free individual. In Saba, Persia, he looked for the grave of the three Magi who blessed the newborn Christ with gold, frankincense and myrrh. He never saw the grave but, because he believed in it, he narrated with conviction.

What has come down to us is an interesting read, chronicling customs and history in a way no historian can emulate. It is an individual perspective, beyond borders, beyond nations, beyond space though mapping an era. Ruminating over world history, I feel after the national borders had been drawn by the power brokers of the world, we lost out on our ingenuity and wonder for the world around us. We spent our time worrying about acquiring wealth, exhibiting money and power and warring over property and boundary lines. That has led us nowhere because, for most common people, it does not matter. What does matter is we have food to eat, education for children, a fruitful and happy life. When has warring over borders ever made any common person happy? Yet, people are willing to sacrifice their lives for a concept that was an outcome of industrial revolution, a nation. It is, as TED speaker Taiye Selasi pointed out, not even a real thing. Why is it we cannot rise above these concepts and live in a world where our introduction is that of a good human being?

Most of the friends I made in China were just good human beings to me. The countries didnot matter. Something clicked for us in a way it didnot click for me when I looked for friends within the confines of the borders of my country of origin, my motherland. I had very less in common with the representatives of my country of birth that I came across in my journey through the world. And, yet, most people try to tie me down to a region. I have moved so often since I got married that if I kept looking for roots, I would feel bereft. I look for what I gathered within me from different places I lived in, travelled to, from people who impacted my thinking, from ideas that help me look for a more positive future…

Some of my friends, like Donatella and Heidi, pointed out to me that what was most important for being friends was that our heart remained in sync. Recently, I had an interesting discussion by email on education with Heidi and Joanna, a Chilean friend married to a Finnish. Joanna, a mother to two sons, one of them being a good friend of Aditya, had lived in Australia for eight years and now she is living in Suzhou. We could discuss the systems from Finland, India, China, Singapore, Canada and Australia. The outcome of the discussion showed that every country had strengths and weaknesses in it’s systems. I would have liked to pick the best of each for my kids. They cannot study in each of these countries but I have at least put them in a system which aims at bringing out the best in the child. It does have it’s hiccups but I would say that I cannot think of a better alternative.

I would like my children to think mankind and not nations. I would like them to be like sunshine, open, free and bright. And luckily for me, they and many of their friends do not think borders atall. Aditya in his English essay in the eighth grade called himself a citizen of the world. My sons speak five languages and have friends from all over the world. They know bad words in probably ten to twenty languages, including Korean and Finnish! That is a start!

In China, pasta is called Yi Da Li mian. The direct translation is Italian noodle. In China, we eat mian and in Italy, pasta, the difference in flavour is from the herbs, garnish and oil used. But, the staple is the same…Historically, there are number of theories about the origin of pasta. Some say Marco Polo carried it back from China to Italy. Some say it was Arabic and some even say, Greek. In China, noodles were eaten 4000 years ago, according to a National Geographic report in 2005. Either ways, the stuff remains most popular through the ages served in an Italian or Chinese way.

I started figuring out all this after moving to China. However, I had to leave China to figure out some more stuff… I had to be in Singapore, missing my friends and my life in China to write this book. I had to think and reflect on why I felt lonely and irritable after moving back and then find the answers.

I missed the vibrancy of life, happiness and the feeling of being a traveller through time…like Marco Polo. I wanted to continue in the society of optimists who made things happen with their positive outlook and enthusiasm for living! I wanted to live perpetually in a world without borders…

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