Like any Indian, I spend most of my time on a recent trip to China comparing our country to theirs. I had gone there – honestly – with many stereotypes and prejudices. Fortunately two weeks in the country was all it took to debunk these stereotypes and enjoy a country that shares with us a similar historic existence, a deep sense of culture and many of our societal norms.
In many ways China was impressive. Beijing and Shanghai were swanky. Crispy clean like freshly laundered shirts. The streets were free of dirt, beggars and garbage. In the early morning I’d find the streets wet and wonder whether it had rained at night. My host told me otherwise: there was no rain; the streets just got washed every morning! What a wonderful concept! And something Mumbai could really use.
At every street corner there were public toilets that were reasonably clean and free to use. Considering that as many people were using them, as they would in India, the maintenance and upkeep was impressive.
What I also found interesting was that the Chinese were always exercising and unabashedly so. In public – in the park, on the road, on the streets – it was difficult not to see someone doing Tai Chi, skipping, playing with a contraption that looked like two racquets with an attached ball between them, kicking around what looked like a shuttle cock or working out in one of their many outdoor gyms. No wonder their legs, that were the size of my arms, attracted much of my envy throughout the trip.
We didn’t speak a common language or share a common skin colour, but everywhere I went people would try to help, with directions (I was hugged by a girl who didn’t know how to respond to my ‘thank you’), affectionate smiles and overall niceness.
The Chinese also share our love for food as was evident in the burgeoning restaurants, both mom-and-shop and exclusive, with a comparatively small percentage of McDonald’s and KFC. I do not recall any of the dishes I tried, they were all written in Mandarin, but that did not prevent me from savouring their taste. However, they do not share our love for masala chai or sweet milky coffee, as most establishments serve only herbal tea and black coffee, explaining their slim figures.
Their TV shows were on a similar vein to many of ours, showing an affinity towards drama (My Rosy Life), slapstick comedy (Sunny Piggy) and – of course – reality shows (I Am A Singer). The funniest show was ‘Takes A Real Man’ where ordinary citizens compete with real life army people to comical results.
What most impressed me about China was the safety, of my belongings and of me as a woman. At The Great Wall Of China my sunglasses and iPhone 6 fell out of the ski lift. Any number of people could have stolen them but when I returned to collect them thirty minutes later, they were still there and handed over to me with big smiles.
For the love of the exotic, for the unknown and for the pleasantly surprising, a trip to China is a must for all of us who can now chant ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’.
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