I've boarded the train, scrutinized the numbers on my ticket amongst the the Chinese characters and meandered my way to what I hope is my hard sleeper. Next stop: Xian, the Terracotta Warriors with over 2000 years of history and an adventure in the making.
Shortly thereafter a couple arrives with a new born. The woman smiles and nods and then busies herself with the child. The man quickly engages in conversation as the train slowly begins to rattle its way along the tracks. I find the Chinese very curious and friendly. Canadians are well thought of in China due to Norman Bethune's participation in the Long March. "Canada and China...very good friends," the man tells me.
It hasn't taken me very many days to realize that our western sense of "taboo" is completely non-existent in this country. Just a day before, after a bout of food poisoning and looking incredibly jaundiced, a Chinese person came up to me and inquired, "so, is your skin white or is it yellow?" How does one explain that? Normally, if I feel good, not quite so yellow. One would never get away with pointing out skin colour in Canada...it just simply isn't politically correct. Here, however, absolutely nothing is off limits, except perhaps criticism of the government.
As the train creeps through the country side, We pass a series of your standard Chinese shanty shacks. Farmers toil the fields accompanied by mangy looking dogs. Eventually, up a dusty hill, I see an unusually luxurious looking residence. Officially the Chinese can't own land, or so I've been told, but the man is most obviously nervous about this topic and the sharp contrast of this house compared to those we saw previously.
The conversation turns back on the baby. With the one child rule, children are spoiled and doted on. These parents, like so many others, are beamingly proud. My mind keeps flitting to a particular fair haired, blue eyed "waspy" looking friend back home who had allegedly been born with a mysterious "Mongol spot", a dark spot at the base of the tailbone which I've been told is common place amongst almost all Asian children. The spot usually disappears when the child is anywhere between two and four years of age. For years, this girl's doctor teased her of being descended from Genghis Khan, for the spot is sure "proof" of Mongol blood. I wonder. It is not something that I had ever witnessed. Was it true?
Eventually curiosity overcomes my reserved, stoic upbringing. I have to know...so I ask, "is it true?" The father immediately flips the child over and whips off her bottoms and there it is. I'm stunned. I no longer remember what I had imagined, but it certainly wasn't this...a big dark blue, round spot that looks like a huge bruise. The father explains that there is a myth about a benevolent goddess...although looking at the size of the spot, I'm not quite sure how benevolent she could be. When the child is coming into the world, if the goddess decides to spare the child's life, she gives it a hard smack on the bottom right as it makes its way into the world leaving this big round blue spot. This young girl has been spared and apparently blessed.