Now that we’re halfway through our time in Xi’an I think it’s time to reflect on how my perspectives have changed since I’ve been here.
One thing that struck me from the moment I landed in this place is the sheer scale this country. The country itself is enormous and on that land is an unfathomable number of people. Everyone knows that China has the world’s biggest population of nearly 1.4 billion, but it’s impossible to truly wrap one’s head around a statistic like that. One of my first things I felt since I came here is that I feel truly anonymous. No one knows me and no one has any reason to know me. Because I am of Asian descent, I am not a visible minority here, and so when I walk through the streets, I feel truly hidden among the masses. In some ways, that was comforting because I can go about my business without anyone really caring about what I do. In other ways, it felt so distant and cold to be nothing more than another number. Adding to this was the fact that I am effectively illiterate in China and I can’t really strike up a conversation with anyone I’d like.
However, my perceptions on this were changed very suddenly this past week. Logan, Candace and I were touring Sichuan Province which is south of Xi’an and on Oct 2nd we had just hired a car to take us to a nearby village from where we were. That next town was around 70km away on the far side of a mountain and the trip would take two hours in good conditions. We met three Chinese students around our age who were also going to that same town so we decided to carpool. We set off in the car in good spirits and everything was going according to plan...
Then the blizzard hit.
The weather very suddenly turned on us and our progress began to slow. We decided that it would be too dangerous to continue so we turned the car around but traffic came to a complete halt soon thereafter. We were about 20 kms from our starting point when we realised that we would have to spend the night in the car. The next afternoon, we finally made it off the mountain when the local authorities cleared enough of the path to let traffic flow again. In total we had spent around 27 unforgettable hours on that mountain.
Cars stuck on the mountain
Thankfully, we had enough clothing, snacks, supplies, and morale to last us through the night. No one was hurt and everyone was in relatively good spirits by the time we were off the mountain.
This was a turning point for my perceptions of China as a cold anonymous place. Because we spent so long in a confined space with local Chinese students, we got to know each other very well out of necessity. At the end of that journey, the six of us had bonded and had become great friends. We were singing, laughing, smiling, and joking around for a long, long, long time. After we were off, they even invited us to a restaurant for dinner so that they could share some of China's rich culinary culture with us. I realized that although sometimes I feel anonymous and insignificant with so many people around me, every single person in this country is just as human as I am. Each one of them is complex and interesting and passionate.
I don’t think we will ever forget the friends that we made on that mountain. They welcomed us to their country and shared their stories and culture with us in a way that I would never have been able to experience otherwise. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m so glad we were stuck in a blizzard!