Novel Excerpt: In China, an Indian Girl

Srishti Sharma

- Srishti Sharma

Chapter 1

China calling!
The land of dragon.
I, Aariana Malhotra heading to a land not many can make to.
Lucky me.
Coming from suburban Mumbai.
A familiar world receding behind.
Another looming up.
21-year-old traditional girl braving for new encounters of different kind.
Spielberg, where are you?
Mountains rushing up.
Hong Kong is mesmerizing---seas; high-rises; cable cars; neat airport; international tourists---majority of the inland Chinese.
Different lingo; dresses; food.
My journey to China to begin soon.
In-between space.
India-Hong Kong-China.
Here I come, the Middle Kingdom.
A land of the ancient silk route.
Of Hsuan Tsang, the traveler.
Of Buddhism.
Of communism.
Of mixed markets.
The world is fascinated with Shanghai.
China is now a Market.
Markets fascinate.
Globalised culture. Wearing varied brands, all of us.
China is the country of manufacturers…and of more than that.
“China is a strange story,” my Chinese teacher told me in the Chinese class in suburban Kalyan. “It hooks you by the nape of the neck.”
A strange journey!
On the cusp of an adventure.
Bye-bye dear India.
Mom, miss you.
Sights, sounds, colors of Mumbai.
When you leave your country, it beckons---like an old mother.
I cry.
Hide my tears.
“Please board for the Peking flight.” The announcement, clipped English.
I gather up my meager belongings and join the line.
Few more minute.  I enter the wide-bodied plane.
A sea of the Chinese travelers swamps me.
Few more minutes. We take off. Rise above the mountains, the sea.
The adventure…started.


An exceptionally good start

Sunday 3rd October

And so landed my plane in China, finally.

Getting down, clearing all the formalities that an international tourist has to. Finally, reaching the ‘Arrivals’ spilling with thousands of people. Mixed feelings: excitement, happiness, sadness, anxiety, weariness. Jet lag.

Bit tensed!

As I don’t know the language and new to this alien land, I find myself alone, remembering the beautiful days spent comfortably with my family. Sadness because there was no one to protect me from the major hurdles to be coming along my way during my entire stay in China. Happiness, because I was out of my own country for the first time and was about to have a taste of living alone. Excitement was building up imagining the opportunities and teachings the journey will be offering me.

After, a real tiring journey, I heaved a sigh of relief by finally picking my entire luggage and reaching the exit point.

Here, my next challenge was to hunt the teacher, famously called ‘Laoshi’ in Chinese who was to be my escort during my entire road journey from Beijing to Tianjin.

I reached at a point of realization where I understood the true meaning of the great available 24 hours technologies in mobile phones which actually make you ‘LIVE’ your life, in the real sense. I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted due to the journey and to make things more interesting (I can’t be negative because it was a real exciting journey-to-be, how could I spoil it just by using a negative word, huh?) there was no working sim card and an active number of China with me.

After a few queries in English and Chinese (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑ I could finally find the way to my final exit and yeah, there she was (Laoshi, for whom I awaited with baited breath). A very proud moment for me as if I had conquered the world or maybe even climbed the summit of Mount Everest.

Wishing her confidently in Chinese that made her extremely elated. Here, started my adventurous, new journey to explore China.

To make my day a little more exciting and to make my experience a little more enriching, there entered a posh chauffeur-driven car led by a real handsome man clad in a white well-fit shirt and trousers.  (I know, my girls are chuckling within...well, that’s alright). That welcome with a slight paused smile was the greatest welcome I received. And, my journey started.

We Asians, especially Indians have these thoughts running in our minds over and over again given the fact that Chinese  people eat almost everything on this planet, so the country would lack the required greenery in the surroundings’. And, me along with my pals was proved wrong because throught from Beijing (The very famous capital which my intelligent readers would definitely be knowing) till Tianjin, there was a lot of greenery around. A few patches, with sprinklers at a distance of few kilometers. I had requested them to put off the AC for sometime so as to really enjoy the natural habitat.

The road seemed to be one of those in fairy tales leading me to heaven and that’s when I heard the chirping  sound of birds. That was a real ‘Wow’ moment. I was in awe of it.

Finally, reaching my hotel after a ride of 2.5 hours.

And, here I am, standing right below the tall well-lit building just to move my eyes and finding many such beautiful buildings lined up to make me fill with extreme glee. Different shops, well-furnished with real good decor restaurants serving Chinese cuisines.  There was a silence of a few minutes as I was in complete awe of the beautiful China that was passing right in front of my eyes. But, the teacher had to bother me to let me in. The doors were swift, the sofas were really beautiful, a beautiful piece of light well-studded was hanging to make the room a prettier place to sit in.  A well-planned library for the students, coffee vending machine, fish-tanks, landlines (doesn’t it sound like a scene from a Hollywood film?).To me, yes it does. A much prettier place to live in.

After a few introductions and handshakes, signing on a few documents I was led to my room. It was an exciting day. Now, I was awaiting to start the next day, impatiently.

Little settled. I made a few arrangements in the night so that I won’t be a nerve-wrecked the next day. It was a beautiful morning though; I was missing my parents back home. Tried to settle everything. From my household chores till making my phone work in Chinese language. Yes, it was all done by me.

Tired. Settled. The next challenge in the other half of the day was my ‘FOOD’. The very important thing for us all. I tried exploring Chinese market. Yes, a little stinky but not too bad.

I could get the veggies which I wished for (Unlike, what we Indians think that there won’t be many vegetables available in China.)

Finally back home, cooking with Indian authentic masalas. Missing my mom who, very lovingly packed all the spices just a day before.

As a slight jet-lag still persisted hence I thought of having nap and waking the day after to attend the very first class and soon after that exploring the city in which I lived.                                                                     

Monday, 4th October 

Ah! It was great thinking of going to the morning Chinese-Mandarin class.

Mmmm. It was my first day.  I was both excited and nervous at the same time. The class started with total 17 students.

 This was exciting as there were people from Cuba, Komollo, Turkey, Czech, Georgia, Nepal and India. It was really very great to make new friends from so different countries. Class started. Everyone gave their introductions. A few, excellent in English and a few others tried breaking all the barriers by speaking it. The class went on, first day was exciting.

Soon after, we were relieved by the teacher so that we could go out and explore the city.

The afternoon was amazing. Me with a group of my new-made girlies left for touring the city. We didn’t care of being lost. Because we wanted to lose ourselves just to be found again.

The bus ride was terrific. It did have a lot of challenges which we faced but it made us finer.

We all returned safely. The bus ride made our day. A day which we won’t ever, ever forget.

Came the night and we were off to our beds.

Tuesday, 5th October

Then, came the beautiful morning promising to be exciting, as always. Wanted to be there for learning new things in the class. The class was vibrant. Full of interested students very keen on learning the new language. The class went on with everyone questioning and answering each other in basic Chinese.  The class proceeded with a lot of games and challenges. And finally it ended after 2.5 hours.

 The whole class decided to go out for a tour of the city.

We were amazed by the beautiful exotic surroundings full of greenery.  Though a little hot, but still there was a cool breeze which lightened the stress of the students, a feeling like home. The streets seemed to be as full of energy, colors and people as they are in Mumbai. It reminded me of those shopping sprees with my best friend that is my mom. Icing on the cake was the cold ice tea which was enjoyed by everyone.

There were different kinds of teas, mock-tail drinks.  Though, there were fewer options of food while in China, but a great melange of mocktails was readily available. A one to try on. After a long and a fascinating break with my pals, we decided to end our pretty tour for the day and continue it some other day. Back to our dormitory, everyone went back to their rooms and decided on to meet during dinner, a pot-luck dinner. Yes, this sounded interesting. As a pot-luck meant to be everyone bringing one dish which is extremely famous back in their countries. So, we gathered back in our rooms respectively. I and my friend’s hands moved swiftly to churn out the best of Indian food. After exact one hour, dressing up to show the best of us, we both assembled in the lounge area to see a few of our friend’s waiting there already and a few others about to arrive. The aroma of the food filled the air. A few crisp talks, and then came the rest of our buddies. The challenge we all faced was the question whether to make a vegetarian dish or a non vegetarian (because we all rushed back to our rooms and just didn’t bother to ask our companions that are they eggetarians, vegetarians or non-vegetarians?) So, everyone cleverly made everything pure vegetarian (And, yes I was elated as I was an eggetarian). Finally, the most awaited part of the day was to open the containers and start having the sumptuous meal. Believe me, this was for the first time in my life I was trying foods from countries like Africa, Europe, Turkey,Cuba,Japan,China and yeah I really liked the different types of stunning salads. A few with ripe tomatoes and doused with olive oil and a few others sliced with lettuce and drizzling cherries giving it a sweet and sour taste and making it a tangy salad. There were sweet, fresh fruits drenched in cream which melted in our mouths. And of course, our very own Indian food (We made lentils, famously called dal, keeping in mind that Non-Indians don’t like spicy food. But, to my surprise they absolutely loved the dal, demanding more.) I was happy. With a soft music playing in the background, all of us talked about our countries, how we reached here, our aims, our economies, our interests, our beliefs, our culture, Gods etc etc. An amazing night which I miss even now.  Bidding good nights to everyone. Off to our beds.

Wednesday, 6th October

The next morning was a holiday given to us, hence a little lying around was sure. This day was meant to explore the eateries of our town. Though getting ‘Vegetarian food’ was difficult, but then that is what they say, “Only if you explore will you find something great.” And I did absolutely that. The gals got all dolled up. And the boys seemed no less than Hollywood hunks, all, stepped out in style. Today was great, as we all met a lot of Chinese locals who were keen on communicating with the wide set of foreigners that were us. Trust me; they are all trying to explore our languages other than only Chinese as each of them tried speaking Westernized English.  A few spoke stunningly while a few other were not too bad at trying. They wanted to know more about our individual countries. India excited them. The Bollywood, its songs, varied colors and festivals of the country. They wanted to know all. As they were all new to us and vice versa. We took their numbers and decided to strengthen our friendship in that way. Zaijian (Chinese term for goodbye) displayed our emotions and a feeling of separating. And we began our journey towards the divine food alley. The day was full of fun, exciting adventures and many more experiences. We could finally find the way to one of the most famous food alleys of Tianjin. The aroma was some unusual one, as we were in China, we had always heard the food tastes different and hence the aroma. We got divided. Some went on to explore the crabs and ducks. And a few others-cookies and chocolates and a few to taste the divine salads-I was one of those. For the vegetarians the fruits and vegetables were the best of the available options. We were tourists for the Chinese people and hence everyone was keen on clicking pictures with us. We were elated and obliged. And soon after we headed home.  The day was wonderful with lots and lots of fun and of course good memories.

Thursday, 7th October

That time of the year had arrived when it would start snowing. I was feeling to dance all around in the snow.  As I had never really seen snow. What it feels like to be there and playing with those amazing snowflakes! There came the night and I was off to my bed. But the morning was no less than a surprise. As I heard screaming and shouting of a few of my classmates. I woke up immediately and opened the curtains just to watch flakes of snow looking no less than cotton dropping gently on the ground. People watching them, taking the snow in hands by making rolls of it and throwing onto each other. I took a quick bath and headed downstairs with my buddy. We waited no more and headed to walk, though slippery, but it was fun. We made snowman. We ran, we fell, got up just to run again in the white snow. We jumped in gardens which were full of snowflakes on trees, grass. We clicked beautiful pictures. We made drawings on cars with the snow collected on the top and the sides of the cars. Our noses turned red and cheeks pink. But that didn’t stop us from having fun of a lifetime. And finally, reached to drink a hot cuppa coffee. We felt relax. We sat for a while and again started back home performing the same playful acts all over again while returning. It was real fun. Believe me. Playing in snow is as good an adventure as flying an aero plane.

November started and the weather was proving to become cooler every passing day. It was very difficult to go the class every morning but there was one grace which saved us and that was that our class was in the same building. We started storing veggies as stepping out in windy snow was very difficult.  We used to spend our day by drinking hot tea, coffee and vegetable soups.

One day we all decided to light up a few woods and lit a bonfire shelving all our ecological concerns. Then there was barbeque and again a line of salads and barbequed onion, capsicum. It tasted heavenly. The night was great with soft music playing along with a bonfire burning and a bunch of extremely talented international students sitting to discuss ‘Hot’issues. This night gave us deep insights, different political views. It made us realize not all are same. We, human beings possess different energies which, if synergized would give the result of a world with intelligent people. As, we all were tired and stuffed up with too many ideas, POV’s we got up and headed to our rooms.

Now, that time of the year was about to arrive when we all were about to return to our countries (P.S-Just for mini vacations) or some going on tours. Yeah, December it was! It was all meant about dancing and studying. The initial few days were spent in practicing songs and dance. I, along with my buddy presented a Bollywood dance which was loved by all. The Indian costumes, the jewellery, the bright colors were very new to them. We were cheered and applauded. It was fun. Then we started to prepare for our deadly examinations. And a few days after we were all set to bid adieu to our beloved friends, teachers and university just to meet a bunch of impatient, excited  people waiting on the other side of the globe that was ‘India’ to meet us. We felt no less than Bollywood stars after landing on the soils of India.

And the adventure waited for us even here.

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