Monday, June 11, 2007

The Perfect Strangers

I sit and look dreamily out the window taking in the landscape mildly aware of the train's incessant bumpy hum along the track. It feels good to finally be out of the city. There is no air conditioning, but the window is slightly ajar blowing a warm breeze through my hair. I feel as if I must pinch myself to prove that I'm actually here. The countryside whizzes past: gentle hillsides dressed with corn fields and a few sparse trees. A river meanders lazily below the track and occasionally I see some poor soul hauling a load along the road. It is much greener here, but still very much a dust bowl.

A cute little boy with a wide toothy grin approaches and sits down opposite me. He can't be any older than 12. "Ni hao," he says nodding in my direction. "Ni hao," I reply back. he immediately launches in and asks another question. I shrug my shoulders and smile to indicate my lack of comprehension. He persists. I try to play anlong with the few phrases I've picked up in the past couple of days. Within the next 20 seconds I've exhausted the extent of my Mandarin. I have to give the boy an A for his determination, but eventually he realizes that the conversation has reached a dead end. Soon he gets up and ambles back into the neighbouring car. I return my attention back to the scenery.

Ten minutes pass and the little boy is back, this time with and adult in tow. Again he sits down opposite me and smiles. The adult explains that the boy was looking for someone who knows English so that he could have a conversation with me. He sits down as well. The boy launches in with a deluge of questions. I sit patiently and wait for the translation so that I can respond. He listens intently, hanging on my every word. I am struck by his curiosity as I doubt that children back home would be so outgoing with an unknown adult and ask such poignant questions. And thus I pass the next hour in the company of these perfect strangers.


PortraitofPeter said...

What a wonderful insight and interesting analysis of the young boy's enthusiasm for learning and from a perfect stranger too.

Your train ride was indeed productive and knowledgeable along the way with equally impressive photos.

thailandchani said...

That is always the best, meeting someone we don't know and sharing substantial conversation.

It would be interesting to know the sorts of questions he had for you.



Carla said...

Peter, If I had to choose one adjective to describe the people I met in China, it would have to be curious. They had a genuine intrigue of the world around them and they actively sought comprehension.

Chani, Indeed it is the impromptu and serendipitous that often creates treasured moments. The boy had so many questions...from where I was from, to what I had seen, what I thought of China, what life is like here. He was genuinely curious. To him, I was an eye to a world that he had never seen and perhaps would never see.

Debbie said...

It is wonderful how you captured that interlude. It sounds like you had a lovely conversation.

Carla said...

Debbie, it really was a very delightful experience. It was one of those events that makes the whole situation memorable.

dawn said...

I really enjoyed this post, well written, it captured the essence of the situation well. I am enjoying your travels. Thanks for taking us on the trip.

Carla said...

Dawn, I am glad that you are joining us on this journey. Adventures are always more fun with friends.

Sirdar said...

That is great. The Chinese boy was just a curious as we are about China.

Fede said...

When reading the comments I suddenly recalled when I was a kid and we would go to camping during the summer. At that age it was very intriguing to meet someone from an other place. And the curiosity was natural: how is your school in your town? How long did you take to get here? How big is your car? And many others.
Good night and good luck.

Carla said...

Sirdar, Indeed he was, indeed he was.

Fede, I agree with you, but it was most often other children we were drawn too. At that age I didn't usually approach unknown adults. But perhaps this situation was different as the further into the country I went, the more of an anomaly I became.

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

I am loveing every moment of your and our journey with you.
What a delight to hear such a wonderful story about the boy.

Wishing you a safe journey and looking forward to hearing about your next adventure.


Steffi said...

Very nice pictures and it´s really interesting to read!Thanks,Carla!