August 13, 2017 by readlisaread
It was with very little reluctance that I boarded the flight in Guangzhou that would take me to Singapore. As much as China draws me in, it is hard there. Life is just hard. It is especially hard if you only know three words and those you pronounce badly. But it wasn’t my difficulty in communicating that bothered me so much as just the stark presentation of life. For example. The area we stayed in was, I would say, a very sort of average, modest area. There was running water, electricity, city busses and normal sort of urban amenities close at hand. I don’t know where the children of this area attended school during the year, I never did see a “public” school, only the private one I was visiting and a private kindergarten. But whether too young for school or on holidays, the children of this neighbourhood were present. They spent their days in their parents’ business– be it a little shop or a restaurant, or they were with grandparents. Their days were long and hot, and while they may have been surrounded by the stimulation that is non-stop in Guangzhou of smells and sounds and constantly shifting activity, they were still days spent tethered to adults. Well into the nights we would see toddlers trotting down the street after their parents, the littlest boys with shorts or pants split thru the gusset from waistband to waistband to eliminate the need for diapers. Little girls hiked their skirts to squat near storm drains. Pop-up shops, dances and other gatherings appeared as if from nothing, but always there was an audience at hand.
I found Guangzhou held me by the face and made me look at life. I know, gentle reader, that this all sounds a little dramatic, given I was there for a mere two weeks, but I feel a shift deep within. It is not unlike the spicy food found in every restaurant– your intestines say “No more!”, but you can’t resist one more bite.
As I said good-bye to the rest of my tribe at the check-in desk, I navigated the rest of the Airport on my own. Exiting through Immigration was probably the most challenging. The young man who grimly took my passport and held it up to compare the woman in the photo with the woman standing in front if him seem to find one of us wanting. His stare was not like the ones I had become accustomed to on the streets and in the stores. His gaze was cold, calculating, bordering on hostile as he gesture for me to brush my hair out of my face. Still he stared. He stared and I stared back, thinking that was the best course of action, but still he stared, until I smiled, until I began to fidget, until I finally broke eye contact. Then I was allowed to pass.
Waiting at my gate, Guangzhou had a couple of parting gifts. I chatted with a young mother travelling with her toddler to Singapore, and discovered she was a physics teacher. We had a discussion on the universal truths about teenagers. I had one last meal that featured preserved vegetables, congee and that unknown but omnipresent flavour that seems as common as salt but is unfamiliar still to my North American palate. As I awaited my flight, again I could feel an internal shift. I was taking the four hour flight to visit my beloved daughter in Singapore. As my thoughts shifted to focus on her and our time together, some of the difficulties of Guangzhou slid away.
Taking one last look around the modern, immaculate airport, I made a final visit to the facilities, thinking how relieved I was to be leaving certain things behind. Opening the stall door, I had to laugh. “Not so fast”, said Guangzhou, “you aren’t in the land of fancy porcelain fixtures yet. Pop a squat, and try not to get your socks wet this time.”
You won this round, China….
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