I decided to write down some more stories from people I met during my trip.
1. Chengdu taxi driver
I may have spoken to this man for about an hour in Chinese, but most of it I can barely remember. At that time I could hardly grasp the Sichuan dialect. The man had three children, all adolescents, and he had not been to university. He couldn’t speak Putonghua (standard Mandarin), and had been to Beijing just once or twice. He asked me what I liked most about China, and I said that I like how people talk to each other, and spend time together in parks. He said that this was also something he liked about China, but insisted that the old ladies in the parks in Chengdu were better dancers than the ones in Beijing!
2. Between jobs
He was about as old as me, but had not been to university. He said that he had recently quit his job stocking vending machines, because his boss had treated him unfairly. He was expected to stock one thousand vending machines a day with just two other colleagues, so they had asked for some compensation, but it wasn’t possible. So he and the other two colleagues refused to carry on the work and all left the job. He also told me that his Putonghua was fluent, but he usually spoke Sichuan dialect instead. He refrained from speaking Putonghua around his friends because they made fun of him for it.
3. Hostel worker
He was going to follow his dreams and go to work in Africa, start his new life there and do some good. He would go to teach Chinese just as soon as his visa was sorted. For now, he worked the night shift at the hostel, because he was facing many problems with his visa. Maybe this anecdote is not so interesting, but it is somewhat personal to me – together we stayed up all night talking in broken Chinese and English, perhaps the beginning of a lasting friendship.
4. New girl
She was twenty years old, and it was the first time she had set foot out of her hometown in Sichuan, in order to visit the next province over with a friend. Her parents had been worried about letting her travel before her 20th birthday. She couldn’t believe that I had come all the way from England to travel around China alone.
5. The eccentric Argentinos…and his long-suffering son
These two travellers were the most unusual pair I met during my travels. I spoke to them both separately, and found that they had both been working in Kunming for four months. The father, 65, would ask about my childhood, family, and boyfriends , usually preceded by “Do you mind if I ask you a very personal question?” He spoke as an observer, discussing in depth how his Chinese students would answer his questions about European history. At first he seemed to see deeper meaning in every word, every syllable, every response, but one begins to feel it is all just an ‘act’. Everything he said he said with an air of either great intelligence, or barely disguised stupidity-it was very hard to tell!
Later, I spoke to his son. He affectionately described his father as ‘a liar, and a fraud’, admitted that they had travelled to many countries together, and noted Dad would find a girlfriend in every new place. He declared himself a narcissist, fundamentally different from others, and decided this were the reason he could not find a job in Kunming. At the same time, he was engaging, interesting, and knowledgeable, but one begins to feel it is also an act… I remember a book about a narcissistic painter, Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Moon and Sixpence’, who cares for nothing except the pursuit of art and beauty. He discards all persons along the way and revels in his own single minded adorations. These two seemed such deep thinkers that they forgot real life along the way. I didn’t realise people like that existed except in books!