- Boarding a bus on the motorway – driving the wrong way on an exit lane, parking, trying to estimate if it’s safer to stay in the car, watching army airplanes doing loops and worrying the drivers might get distracted, feeling the breeze every time a car passed by, mistaking lorries for buses, stopping a bus on the exit lane, 4 people circling the bus with suitcases, saying goodbye in a hurry, how on earth did we get back on the motorway?
- snowy mountains over the Malian Gulf
- passing Thermopylae without even realising it
- the amazing grill and fireplace
- the τσίπουρο and tasty seafood
- sunken Argo and the ghostly cloud
- “Just a little!”
- Pilion and Makrinitsa
- oranges fallen from trees, pretty much as plums in grandma’s garden
- realising the Parthenon was destroyed by stupidity in 1687
- sunny mornings with fresh orange juice and raisin biscuits
- babysitting Iorghia
- the grandmother sleeping in the hotel
- the lake and the frogs
- George’s people
- “It’s special! Maybe you want to keep it!” and “I don’t think it’s kosher…”
[This is older than a thousand-year egg...]
I’ve found my hotel in Beijing through booking.com which meant it was safe and we shouldn’t have any problems. The single review warned about the receptionist’s lack of English skills. I picked the place because it was close to Clau’s accommodation and I assumed it’s across the street from him. It turned out our “hotels” were in the same enormous building. In fact, I’m grateful it wasn’t across the street, I’ve seen some pretty dodgy places around there.
He checked-in at the reception on the ground floor. Mine was on the 2nd floor, in a room. We arrived around noon, peeked through the open door and noticed something that resembled a reception desk. Reluctantly, I entered, followed by Clau. And now that I think of it, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but I’m sure nothing could’ve prepared me at that time for what I found there. On the opposite side of the room, a Chinese family – mom, dad, kids and grandma - were having lunch. They stopped and stared as if we shouldn’t have been there. At that point I didn’t know whether I should run or laugh. For a second I imagined my dad amused by our story – “Si unde v-ati dus voi, mai copii?”. I could see their bedroom with a giant Buddha wallpaper above the bed. To the left, the kitchen and bathroom doors were open. Some laundry was drying on a rack. Our presence felt intrusive and offensive.
The man realised we’re customers and stood up hastily. I gave him my printed reservation and my ID. It soon became clear that he didn’t speak English AT ALL!! He didn’t understand any of check-in, reservation, passport, money, pay at check-out, receipt. Luckily, Clau knew all of these in Chinese. I wouldn’t have survived without him. Seriously, if you ever go to China, learn how to say “fapiao”. It means receipt and it will save your life. The guy insisted that we pay at check-in. We couldn’t argue much, he kept using his phone to translate his requests. The thought that they might terribly need the money crossed my mind so I gave up and paid for everything. Then he told us something about electricity. The phone app was useless, we had to call Shu, our Chinese friend, and ask him to translate it for us. Apparently, we had an allowance of 10 degrees of electricity for the whole stay. Up to now, I still don’t know what that means. We didn’t go over the amount, though, as we didn’t have to pay extra. In the following days any interaction with the hotel staff felt inappropriate. Most of the time we would find them in their pajamas, doing laundry or other chores in their unusual household.
My room was right above Clau’s, although, technically, we were in different hotels. Overall, it was functional and had all the basic fittings. I couldn’t get the TV to work, but the AC was, thankfully, in good condition. They never entered the room to clean or take the trash. In fact, I don’t think they ever cleaned the place, just changed the bedsheets when we left. It looked like a hotel, but it was nothing like it.
I was extremely tired and all I wanted was to sleep, but we were in Beijing and I had only 10 days and it was all exciting, so I couldn’t rest. We walked two subway stops to his workplace – my chance to get a closer look at Beijing streets. The heat, the pungent smell, the people rushing around, the dust, the old communist architecture contrasting the modern sky-scrapers – it all screamed at me and I was tired and found it difficult to cope. Clau was already accustomed with all of it, but I felt entirely overwhelmed. As a bonus, I somehow managed to get blisters on my feet on the way to Beijing. I’m not sure how that was possible, but I was already up for a rough start.
We had lunch in a deserted mall food court. His favourite restaurants were all closed. It simply wasn’t lunch time anymore. I ordered duck and the cook chopped it – bones included – in front of me. I ended up eating with my hands. My skills in handling chopsticks did not cover removing tiny pieces of bones from my food.
Then we walked around for a while, but I was so tired I couldn’t even stand. At every step I genuinely wondered whether I would be able to take the next one or not. We called the guys and decided to meet for dinner. Clau joined them in their office while I was resting on a couch in the lobby.
We had dinner at one of their favourite places – just me, Clau, George and our new friend Shu around a huge dish of spicy Kung Pao chicken. They also ordered some omelet and I felt relieved that I could find a simple dish to soothe my suffering. The chicken was amazingly good, but oh so very spicy. I was fishing around the dried chillies in vain. Not to mention that chopsticks are very difficult to use when you can barely lift your arms off the table.
Out of the blue Shu told me that I was pretty, that I looked even better than in the photos he had seen. I didn’t know how to respond to his sincere outburst. He was paying me a compliment and all I could think about was that I had just flown for 14 hours and I had a bad hair day, that my face was so sleepy it could’ve peeled off and left me and that, in spite all the showers, my skin was all sticky because of the heat and the dust on the streets. His convincing tone would’ve been mistaken as flirting in the Western world. I mumbled something about not being in the best shape and thanked him, then I quickly looked at Clau for an explanation. He confirmed – yes, Chinese people are that direct. They don’t hide behind words, they say what’s on their mind.
I remember vaguely the trip back to the hotel. We took the subway because I was exhausted. I slept soundly in spite of the trains going back and forth, the Amazon depot downstairs and the delivery guys beginning their shift at 6 am. Next day was fully booked and I was a wreck.
In no particular order…
Inca sunt uimita cum unii au reusit deja sa isi intemeieze o familie si sa faca un copil, dar inca nu inteleg acordul dintre subiect si predicat.
Life has its twisted ways.
I think I’m in phase 2, transitioning towards phase 3. If the insurance company doesn’t pay for my bike repairs I’ll be very very depressed.
As the train leaves the terminal, emerging from a glass and steel eggshell, I catch the first glimpse of China. Born and raised in a former communist country, I am somehow expecting this. However, no story, no remnants of a past era, no seeds of a similar background and mentality could have prepared me for the grandeur and the desolation that stretches now beneath my feet.
Vast boulevards, colossal buildings and our tracks, suspended above dusty patches of green and shy trees; they’re all showing their pale concrete glistening into the harsh sun and their rusty hinges seem to have been stuck for decades.
But the people… where are the people? The train is filled with tourists, mostly Asian, still, tourists carrying enormous suitcases. None of them seems to fit in this post-apocalyptic scenery.
20 min later and our first stop. We swap the train for the subway. Suddenly there’s some bustle, some proof of human inhabitance. They were hidden all along, away from the burning sunlight. Still, not as many people as I have expected. Beijing seems generous and spacious up to this point. For some reason they prefer to stick together, coalescing into huge pools of human flesh. There’s obviously enough space for everybody at this time of the day. They act regardless, as if the urban jungle constantly requires full time commitment and awareness. Keep pushing, don’t stop and you will succeed!
I don’t feel I’m in a particular hurry. I let them pass and calmly claim my spot on the train. The cool breeze of the AC system works wonders. I become more responsive to Clau’s attempts of teaching me Chinese characters. For the first time it becomes obvious that all those labels, all those names – the ones I’ve always assumed they’re some sort of misspelling – make perfect sense and have clear meanings. It’s the first time I hear about
中 (zhong) – middle
门 (men) – gate
口 (kou) – mouth
西 (xi) – west
北 (bei) – north
山 (shan) -mountain
出 (chu) – out
出口 – exit
人 (ren) – man
大 (da) – large
火 (huo) – fire
I’m tired from the long trip. I’ve grown accustomed to flights and airports and I did my best not to panic too much about this long journey. I didn’t tell many people where I was going, so I found a certain sick pleasure in casually saying to my neighbour that morning, over a pan of scrambled eggs:
- Oh, I have a plane to catch.
- Where are you going?
Or the taxy driver taking me to the train station:
- Where are you heading?
- Heh, China.
- Oh, that’s a long way!
I was playing it cool. I was actually terrified. Even from the gate at the Munich Airport it became clear that I was heading towards a different world. I felt unease surrounded by a bunch of strangers with squinty eyes that spoke funny sounds my ear could not even acquire. My self-preserving instincts kicked in as I withdrew in my anti-social protective cocoon.
Behind me in the queue there was a noisy group of British girls. I prayed that I get to sit next to a quiet person. I ended up sitting next to one of them. It turned out they were very nice, especially as they soon became one of the very few people that could understand what I was saying.
Inside the plane, a mother soothes her toddler in Romanian. Boy, we’re everywhere! I keep quiet and pick a movie to watch. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel… Something to channel my attention towards my new adventure and to prepare me for what is worse. The movie speaks about expectations and harsh realities, about thriving in a hostile environment, about accepting strangers and becoming part of their lives.
I watched the sunrise on the plane and wondered why Asia looks so flat. As we approached Beijing I realised it wasn’t flat at all, but the mountains were simply very different from what I knew and what I expected. The landscape would alternate between wide plateaus covered with grid cities, perfectly aligned and incredibly monotonous, and brown peaks with sharp ridges and deep valleys. It took me a while to distinguish it, but I have the proof:
I got to see the wall!
The airport in itself is spectacular. The tiled ceramic roof resembles the back of a dragon warming its scales into the sun. I’m slightly nervous at the security check. We queue for ages. I have a visa. They check my passport and check, and take photos, all in a perfect silence. I try to keep calm, this is how it will all be for the rest of my holiday. Just go with the flow, you won’t get any explanations, no one will address you in English, not even to say hi. Patience. I then must take a train to baggage claim. I don’t like trains in airports. I always panic that I get the wrong one and waste time being in the wrong place and this is truly not the place for mistakes.
At the exit I meet Clau and I feel safe again. “Hello there! I haven’t seen you in four months and you’re almost a stranger now. But I trust you and I’m glad you’re here. I’m experiencing a bit of sensorial overload and I have troubles in identifying and following the Exit signs. Also, I promise I’ll recover soon and be myself again. Some decent sleep would do the trick.” No, I didn’t say all that, I was too overwhelmed.
So, yes, I’m tired, but ready. A few more stops and we reach our destination. I’m not expecting to find Europe there. I just hope the experience will be enjoyable, as I am determined to make the most of it.
This is not the kind of post I wanted to write. This is not the kind of post you’d like to read. But lately I’ve been watching people around me falling in love, sweetly and desperately turning to me and asking the almost rhetorical “What should I do??” And although I’m no expert (I daresay nobody is), somehow my message, my poor wisdom, does not come across when I talk to them. So I’m writing this, whether you like it or not.
I thought that by my age I had everything more or less figured out. You know, about this falling in love business. (Please allow me to refer as “love” even that blurry incipient phase of a relationship.) I thought I knew when it happens, how it happens and, more or less, how to tell my heart when to leap with joy and when to stop. I kept telling people not to stress about it, love comes when least expected. I told them to focus on themselves, to shed all worries and walk confident into the world. I had moments when I left my house thinking that I’d just do whatever, didn’t matter how I looked that day, what my problems were, I was determined to enjoy the company of good people and that’s it. Well, actually, that’s when magic happens. And for a long time I was convinced it happens because we come across as confident and powerful when we are in the right frame of mind. And that should be attractive on the great scale of hunter-gatherer business, right? Bullshit!
It took love, someone else’s love, to teach me that being optimistic and cheerful is only part of the story and the matter is more subtle than I had imagined. To be honest, I don’t know if it was in his nature to speak up and discuss openly his feelings. I’m guessing not, because he was also amazed at some point that we were having too serious conversations when we barely knew each other. Somehow, intrigued by his sudden bursts of sincerity, I began encouraging him to express his emotions. Because it became quite clear to me – there is nothing wrong in having feelings for somebody, even if that person doesn’t necessarily feel the same way. There is no shame, there is no reason to hide it. After all, it’s love, not the end of the world. But we’re scared inefficient beings. We fear being ridiculed by our peers, we fear rejection and solitude. So we try to hide our feelings like they’re some sort of plague. We defend ourselves when confronted by our friends - “No, no! I don’t like the guy!!” We deny our true self and, as we bash our emotions into a corner of our soul, we usually end up in that very situation we so much feared. And wonder why it happened to us! The word “assertive” comes into my mind. How about if instead of acting like thieves we would actually stand up for our feelings? We cannot expect others to take us seriously when we’re incapable of being serious ourselves. We cannot expect love when we don’t show love. We cannot expect an honest answer when we are not asking a sincere question. And the reason things work out when we are less stressed about ourselves? It’s just because only then we show our true nature and take pride of our emotions and experiences. And that’s when we click with the right person.
Then comes the problem of “How do I make them love me?” We want to find the right time to express our feelings. We obsess over the right way to do it. We fear that awkward conversation, the rejection, the shame, the horror!!! The solution is pretty much the same. Be confident and honest about it! Ask her out! On a date!! I can’t stress this enough. Make it very clear it’s a date!! You think it may help to spend some time with the person beforehand. It will. It’s reassuring, you’ve made the right choice. But it will get you nowhere near her. Because being nice to somebody means you are a nice person in general and “Look at all those girls swarming around him!!” Plus, we all have that odd friend who flirts with everybody without meaning anything – or perhaps he just loves all the girls, I haven’t figured that one out yet. So nobody will assume you are interested in anything more than a friendship. They might wonder at some point, but they will generally dismiss it because people tend to be cautious about these things. So don’t waste too much time and ask him/her out. The more serious you are about it, the more thought that person will put into their reply. They will start seeing you as a potential partner and if you give it some time, you might be surprised by the outcome. And trust me, no friend or colleague will dare joke about it. You’d think I’m just talking but I’ve already tested this. I’ve encouraged a friend to state his intentions clearly and this got him further than any “nice guy” tricks could ever have. No, things didn’t work out in the end, because she was still thinking about her ex and he’s a gentleman, but for sure they would’ve missed some amazing time together if he kept quiet. And yes, the first date was awkward, but they survived it and everything went better than expected. So stop being shy and make yourself understood.
And even if you do get rejected, don’t despair over it. Leave some room for a “Hello!” from time to time. Keep things calm and decent. After all, you care about that person and you value their presence, their advice and their support. You want them to be a part of your life somehow. The best thing my crush has ever done for me was to keep in touch and be my friend. The worst thing my crush has ever done to me was to disappear from my life as if I meant nothing to him, as if my feelings were a pest. I still hate that guy. Of course, you shouldn’t turn into a stalker. You don’t want that person running away every time they see you. Ok, they might not want to be your friend, or even have the slightest connection to you, but I’m guessing you share some common interests with that person, you ‘clicked’, there’s some sort of buzz or vibe, some enjoyable time spent together, anything that could create a bond. You do know the person a bit, you didn’t just invent their traits and fell in love with them, you’re definitely not repulsive to them. So if they do run away, you’re just dealing with a childish fool. And I’m sorry for you, really, but it’s their problem and you shouldn’t worry about it.
I wish I could tell my friend stressing out about such things that she should enjoy being in love, even if it’s not a happy story. Because love is the sweetest drug we have and it stirs up our creativity and courage. Because it can bring positive experiences in spite of being shared or not. Because it teaches us important lessons about people, the world, but, mostly, about ourselves. And to that guy, too young to know how to respond… My dear boy, thread with care for you are being loved and this is how you will be remembered for the rest of your life. Your hysterical fits are disturbing the peace of the universe. Do not worry. Nobody expects anything from you and you won’t get the cooties. Show some respect, this is love we are talking about!
As of the guy that made all these things clear to me… I wish I could’ve taught him the lesson of friendship. I wish I could’ve told him that love takes many forms. I wish I made him understand that human relationships have many features, otherwise I could not explain the great time I’ve spent with all my amazing sexy friends I don’t intend to sleep with. I wish I thanked him for letting me catch a glimpse of his thoughts and emotions. Sharing a slice of one’s soul – it’s something that creates strong bonds which cannot be ignored. I’ve failed in my endeavours and ended up confusing everybody. I feel as if I’ve lost a friend for good. It’s a pain I cannot shout as it has no name. I’ve given up and I’ll be missing a lot of great moments and memories, but I have no idea how else to proceed.
There’s no such thing as “taking a break” or “moving on”. Feelings evolve, but they never disappear. It’s our duty to make the most of them, to channel our good thoughts into action. We can despair over a broken heart or take all the positive experiences this has brought to us and learn all the lessons. It’s truly a matter of choice.
“Means lowering the biscuit into the tea and letting it soak in there and trying to calculate the exact moment before the biscuit dissolves, when you whip it up into your mouth and enjoy the blissful union of biscuits and tea combined. It’s more relaxing than it sounds.”
“- Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.
- Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”
That lifetime that I spent without you… am I even allowed to miss it?