Later today we board a flight from Hong Kong to Toronto for our fifteen hour journey home. The past nineteen days have been spectacular and even life changing. I will write about the personal impact of this tour in a future article so keep checking in.
This is the second time I have taken a pre-packaged guided extended tour with a group of Canadians. Despite differences in age, status and where we grew up; when Canadians come together it usually results in a great experience. It always leaves me appreciating how lucky I am to come from this wonderful place called Canada.
Nineteen days ago we boarded a bus at the Beijing airport as 23 random strangers and nineteen days later we are 23 friends who not only took something from our journey but also shared and left something of ourselves with those we met along the way.
There were times when I’m sure we got on each other’s nerves. But if we did it never resulted is harsh words or unkind gestures. If fact the opposite experience was true. The ability of our group to practice tolerance, patience, respect, compassion, cooperation and genuine caring in the interest of others fills me with pride and unqualified satisfaction. It seems when we travel abroad, it brings out the best of who we are as country. On this occasion, travelling with a group enhanced the experience through sharing past travel experiences, personal stories along with observations and opinions. I have very fond memories of my friends on bus number one.
During our trip, we met others and observed others from all over the Western world. Without calling any one group out, let me say that our Canadian virtues are not a world wide phenomenon. Sadly a lack of tolerance or condescending attitudes towards others including our host are still more prevalent than one would like believe. It is unbelievable how anyone could even spend two days in in China with the amazing Chinese people and still feel superior and entitled rather than gracious and humbled.
Along the way we were privileged to share time with local guides or specialist. Their ability to speak English or French varied from capable to fluent but their ability communicate with pride and genuine concern for our vacation experience could never be questioned.
Throughout our tour, the resilience of the Chinese people became self evident through and through. One of my favourite things is to listen to people’s personal stories. This is especially when I meet people from distant lands. Although to the Western observer the story of the Chinese is one of hardship and struggle, it is not the whole story. The remarkable thing about the Chinese , that we often fail to see, is that they don’t seem to view any kind of past pain and suffering as a hardship. Or as we say in the west ” they are not whiners.” On a personal level, where you come from or what your past is does not define you. It only seems to serve as motivation or strength to keep striving for a better life. Self pity and victimization seems to be rare amongst the Chinese people living in China.
The first person we met in China exemplifies the Chinese spirit of resilience. She has left a lasting impression on me. She was our first local guide, an energized women of about 28 years named Cherry. She immediately the self-disclosed that she knew her name was weird and that it was given to her by an English teacher who handed out names on the basis of academic standing. Because she claimed to a poor student, by the time the teacher got to her all the good names were taken. (FYI. Most Chinese working in tourism have an English name). She could have changed her name and no one would be the wiser but instead she embraced it as it also serves a funny ice breaker for any new group she meets.
Cherry also shared with us that she was abandoned as a child by her birth parents because she was a girl. Sadly this practice was not unusual in China at one time especially amongst the poor. This seemed to be no more than an historical fact to her because she was eventually adopted by another family whom she spoke about with great affection and reverence. Nobody can question this young ladies devotion and unconditional love for her adopted family as she even left school to care for her mother when she became ill. Once again no self pity or regrets. She just moved to the next challenge.
Interestingly Cherry then disclosed that she had become what is known in China as a “leftover woman” or a woman who is unmarried after the age of 22. Again she wore this label as a badge of honour as she is one of a growing number of young Chinese women who choose to be independent and focused on their career. She is free to travel the world as as guide/translator and explore other paths.
She said she is actively dating but in in no way ready to settle down just yet. She recently purchased her own apartment. A huge accomplishment for a woman in China. Truly an amazing and strong young woman. We all appreciated her openness and infectious spirit.
I met many wonderful people during our Chinese adventure. Language was often a barrier but the universal language of smiles, laughter, warm gestures were sufficient to demonstrate that kindness and compassion are still at the heart of the human spirit in China. For example, Cherry told us that a simple wave and a smile from a foreigner, who was on a passing train, when she was a young child instilled a dream in her to explore the outside world. By being tour guide she is living that dream. Now she wants everyone to smile and wave at children when they are in a foreign land.
My Canadian style tour was personally fulfilling and enriching because of having a chance to share the journey. To my new Canadian friends on bus number one, thank you for being representative of all that is good about our country. I not only learned much about China on this trip, I was also reminded of what Canadians can give the world when we put our best selves forward and that is really really awesome, especially when we smile and wave….