Feeling At Home (In Nanjing, China)

From Shanghai I took the train to Nanjing , passed the three hour journey playing with the little kid sitting next to me, amusing her with my origami dragons. I had read about Nanjing in Vikram Seth ’s “From Heaven Lake”. In the early 80s, He studied at the Nanjing University and hitchhiked to Delhi via Tibet and Nepal .

A curious bird at the Ming tombs

One afternoon I went up the purple hill. There is an observatory up the hill with some bronze instruments from the Ming dynasty times. Nanjing served as the capital during the Ming dynasty and several Ming tombs are located here. I visited the tomb of the founding emperor and his empress. Sun Yat Sen’s (considered as the father of modern China ) mausoleum is also in Nanjing . To reach the tomb, I had to climb a huge stone stairway. On the way back, I sat on the steps and wrote some postcards. One afternoon, I went to the Nanjing Museum. Soldiers were practicing martial arts on the museum grounds. The museum was having an exhibition of Tibetan relics and gems. At the entrance was a huge bronze of a goddess. Each room had two armed security guards. There were trying very hard to seem strict but they smiled easily. A Tibetan girl was selling some trinkets. I wished her in “tashey dele ” - hello in Tibetan. She was happy and she gave me a poster featuring a goddess.

Sun Yat Sen’s Memorial

I stayed in the university campus. A lot of foreign students study at the university. I met some interesting people like the formidable Misiba from Togo . Misiba addressed everyone as xiao pengyou (little friend). Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province. Yet, It still feels like a small university town. The street markets Vikram Seth wrote about, continue to thrive. and sell interesting stuff. One of these days I will return to Nanjing and hopefully study there.

From Nanjing I went to Guangzhou . I had passed through Guangzhou last year, just spending a few hours. I decided to stay in an old part of the city called Shamien Dao. There are some interesting old buildings here and almost everyday you can spot some art students painting. 

The land of million smiles

I was in Luang Prabhang, the old capital of Lao. It was a cool December afternoon. I sat there in a temple, writing some thing in my note book. I fell asleep. I woke up hearing some voices. I opened my eyes, I saw a bunch of kids around me. As I sat up, they moved back a bit, and stared at me. It was like the Gulliver's Travel...all those little people, perhaps half scared, half curious. I turned to the last page in my notebook, and from my Laotian phrase book, I copied "hello" in Laotian script. I passed the page to the kid right in front of me. She took it, and read it aloud. There were a round of giggles. She borrowed my pen and wrote something in Laotian. I took back the notebook and I guessed it was her name. Next, I passed my book to the "littlest" kid. Everyone started laughing as she was too young to write. Someone else took the book and wrote the littlest kid's name. So we conversed, they would draw something, say it aloud in Laotian and and ask me to repeat it. I learnt some many new Laotian words. Lately, I seem to be forgetting the words. I think it is time, I go back.

Lao is one of the most bombed country in the history of warfare. During the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese supply routes used to run through Laos. US warplanes used to drop their bombs all across eastern Lao. Thirty years on, the Lao people have found an interesting use for the bomb casings. They cut them open, fill them up with soil and grow flowers in them.
In Lao people always seem to be smiling. They use to call Lao the land of million elephants. I named it "the land of million smiles."