Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Third evening in Beijing

Nobody told me that Google maps is unreliable in China. On this blustery cold evening in Beijing I decided to ditch the cab and walk back home, guided by Google maps. Three times after the map had insisted that the fountain in front of a mall was my hotel I decided to give up and ask for help. I steeled up for all the translation issues that I was sure would ensue. The very first person I stopped on the street surprised me when he spoke fairly good English. He had no idea where Marriott was, though. This is when he surprised me again. Instead of just walking away he fished out his cellphone from his coat pocket, looked up the number for that hotel and was in conversation with the front desk person, asking for directions. "Come with me, he said" already walking purposefully while still orienting himself to the landmarks that he must have just learned about. While I followed him I apologized if this was taking him away from his destination. He decided that that didn't merit a response and instead asked me where I was from. When I told him he mentioned that there are not too many Indians who come to Beijing during winter. I explained why I was there and he heard me out passively.

Meanwhile we probably approached the last landmark that he was familiar with so he picked up the phone and was on the call with the hotel personnel again. He again gestured me to follow him and went on his way, seemingly more eager to get there than I was. I trundled along still looking for the best way to express my gratitude. He finally stopped when we spotted the Marriott logo and he nodded as if to say "my job here is done". I told him how much I appreciated his help and then added "Xièxiè". By now, I had said that greeting enough times to know that my pronunciation was horrible. He still didn't break into a smile. He nodded again turned around and left. I said thanks one more time, in English this time to make up for the botched mandarin one but he was busy running away.

There should be a name for this moment during a travel to a new city when, after receiving kindness from a random stranger, you abruptly stop judging said place.
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