Today, a slightly chilly day but temperature is still touching the twenties. China has had the warmest autumn in 55 years. Some of my students tell me it should have been snowing by now. Instead, it is T-Shirt weather still except for the odd day when the sun disappears. I also read on the local news that China has 60 million obese people, that is equal to the population of France. Yet, the funny thing is that I don't see the obese people! Most people I have seen in China seem to be remarkably fit. They cycle everywhere. If they are not cycling, they are walking. The food comes loaded with oil. Everything, even a simple potato dish comes floating in a sea of oil. But I don't see the fat ones anywhere! Not as many as I see in India, at least! Chubby Chinese? Where are they? It is something that puzzled my mind for a while today. Might not be a life-pondering question but I have pondered so much about life for now that I thought it is a good change that my mind is occupied with something else rather than life. Things like the weather and fitness seem to calm my mind better than the meaning of life.
In English class, I watched the movie "Lassie" with my students. I sat at the back, and in the dark, I saw that many of my students had their notebooks open. Each time they didn't understand something, they would write that word down. Somehow, that touched me. This desire to learn a language. These little things we do to learn something. Like looking up the dictionary each time you don't understand a word. I learned something from my students. The humility to learn. Always.
In the evening, one of my students and I were walking after having an ice cream. The students name is Sunshine. Normally quiet in my first few classes, she has become more effusive, and talks freely with me although she insists that her "English is not so good." As we walk through, I can feel the crunch of the pavement. Red and gray tiles interlocked. The smell of street food wafts through the air. People walking. Cycling. Taxis whirring past. Babies in prams. Children. Mothers. Businessmen. Restaurants hum with diners, their roofs brightly lit with the statutory lion guarding their entrance. Life hums. The ice cream melts slowly. I ask Sunshine "Are you happy here in this college?" She pauses a while, then hesitantly says, "No." "Why not?" I ask. "Because I wanted to go to another college in Zhengzhou. Most of my friends are there," she says. "So why didn't you go there?" I ask stupidly. She pauses. Big pause. "Because I did not get top score," she says softly. Student pressure in China is excruciatingly high. Only a handful of the most brilliant manage to gain admission to the elite colleges and the rest languish in lower-grade colleges. Lower-grade colleges mean low-paying jobs. And we all know what low-paying jobs do to life. I swallow a big chunk of ice cream. "Oh," is all I can say. I wished I could tell her that it was all right, that life is not about colleges, about "top scores", that it is important to be happy elsewhere. But "Oh," is all I could say. And watch the ice cream melt. In a way, symbolic. Of lost hopes. Wishes discarded. And happiness uncared for. Melted in the sunshine.
And my quote of the day came from Anais Nin.
"I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic —in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself."
It seems so powerful, those words. And she has expressed perfectly what I have always wanted to shout to the world.
words: Smitha Murthy, India
photo: Francis Raven, Pennsylvania (Raven's Aesthetica)