Once you get out of the city and the smog dissipates, China becomes something else. It no longer resembles a place where the towering buildings leer accusingly at you and those crushing journeys on the metro and the distant sound of spit being hocked up into the gutter are all but a faint memory.
The people even lose their harsh exterior and that look of disdain I have grown so use to. Things become simpler and slower. Even the food takes longer to cook, which I feel has something to do with it being more fresh, or at least not broiling in a vat of reused oil ready to be served immediately.
The further out of the big cities we went, the less English is spoken and the more we had to rely on the little Chinese that we had picked up in classes. It bothered me a little that I had not tried harder, and the small amount I had retained was broken and messy. Although I could communicate what I needed, or wanted, I never got to know the people. After bumbling my way through my standard ‘Yes, my father is Chinese, he is from Fujian Province and I am sorry I only speak a very little amount of Chinese..’ speech I could not ask any questions of the other person.
I was unable to learn about who they were, what they did and where they came from. Instead I had to imagine what their lives were like, what decorated the walls of their houses, if they had children or a partner, whether they grew up in this town or if they had moved here from a different province.
Although you can learn a lot from a person’s face, you can’t understand. Time and words are needed. But in lieu of this, a short encounter and a photograph would have to suffice, leaving me with a wondering mind that would never know exactly hid behind each pair of eyes.