Monday, January 09, 2006

Real China

Our hike had only begun yesterday, but while eating with the Fangs I began to see some signs that I was slowly getting acclimated to this strange culture. Resting on that little stool next to a hut and a fish pond gave me time to relax and reflect on the journey so far, to take an outsider's look at the unorthodox course that God had charted for us.

For me, this was one of those "What the heck are we doing here?" moments. I was in a state of awe, not because I was uncomfortable, but because I was shocked that I was comfortable enjoying a watermelon on an overcast morning with a family that couldn't even speak my language in a country some 15,000 miles away from my own.

I had tackled China before, but never in this depth. I had never been immersed to the point of assimilation. I had been inside the borders, but had remained incubated from the daily grind of agrarian minority groups. I had been locked in a city, a special economic zone with bustling shopping malls boasting the tell-tale bastions of globalization like Wal-Mart and McDonald's. Until this trip, I had mingled with intellectuals and business people, those interested in learning my language. Now I was faced with people who knew no English and could care less. Their only interest was preserving authentic Chinese life. It was my job to get my hands dirty and my feet off the concrete sidewalks and go to them.

And when I did, I encountered a semblance of what it feels like to belong. Next to this hut, I was no longer a tourist, but a traveler who was allowed to take a glance at real China. While the cities seem to hide their true identities behind apartment buildings and billboards, the countryside felt ancient and unfabricated, like a soft whisper of truth that I could finally hear once I left behind the din of city life.

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