Monday, 7 September 2009

To, My Dear Sworn Sister...

In China they have a term called as sworn sister/brother. The explanation goes this way - two people toast to their friendship forever. Just before that, they put a drop of their blood in the others glass and take a sip. This implies - "Even though we are not born to the same parents, we swear to be brothers/ sisters until death parts us. As a token of this oath, we drink each others blood."

Wu Shuang, my dear friend from China told me about this custom first and then called me her sworn sister. I ran out of words to reciprocate her love and affection for me! I miss you my dear Shuang Shuang!!! :-( This post is dedicated to you for everything you gave me and for making my stay at China so memorable! :-)

Sniggi :-)

p.s: Shuang Shuang is her pet name by me, and Sniggi is my pet name by her!

Ecological Literature and Environmental Education: Asian Forum for Cross-Cultural Dialogues (China 13 - 27 August 2009)

It is a fact that one’s life gets molded according to the situations she has been through. There is no telling what a circumstance might morph into; situations change faster than we can imagine. But in this breakneck pace of life, the only thing that lasts forever is the impression some situations have on us. For me the Asian forum at China this year has been an experience of a lifetime. My state after the event could be briefly summarized as a combination of being happy and awestruck having gained a wealth of knowledge and feeling a sense of fulfillment, but also feeling sad at the closure of the event having to leave everyone.

The first city we visited in China was Beijing. The days we were at the Peking University gave us a glimpse of the students’ lifestyle there. It was more or less similar to the Indian counterpart. There is something about all universities which make them a small self sustained township-like settlement. You are all alone away from home yet all around you are people just like you! Being in a place where there are countless people of your own age group and similar ambitions in life makes the stay so worth while! Anyone who has led such a lifestyle would claim that to be the best part of his/ her life. I have had that chance in my life and I am no exception to this statement. I was impressed with a feeling of nostalgia with my stay there! I personally feel that this period in life is better left to be experienced by oneself than explained by others!

Although the formal agenda of our visit started with a trip to know the Water systems of Yan Yuan Gardens in Peking University, my personal agenda began from the time I landed in China. The journey to the university is worth a mention here. The best way to know more of something only read about is to go there and see it yourself. And this applies equally to the development that China has made in this millennium. The airport, roads, infrastructure, and all that one can spot while on wheels just depicted technology, development and the speed with which it took place. Like the peak that comes with a deep valley, the realization of and solutions to water crises in China were briefly explained to us during the trip to the Yan Yuan Gardens. This was the first mark of ecological stay and the conference that followed.

For the next four days during these sessions, I came across many terminologies that I never imagined could be associated with the environment. To mention a few – nostalgia, drama characters, dance, music, pedagogy, theatre, etc. The presenters had done a wonderful task of compiling all the knowledge they had to share in as short as 20-25 minutes with wonderful visual aids. The paper presentations were profound as they even surpassed the necessity of visual aids. The most evident feature of the Chinese that was seen during the conference was their punctuality. The person who chaired these sessions had the task to monitor the time and lead the question and answer sessions. And this was rightfully one of the reasons for the success of the timely conclusion of this conference.

The Beijing stay had the climax of the eco-night where performances from five continents were made. I was one of the participants on the eco-night. I had an interesting observation about the performance rating from the audience. Indian costumes are very colorful and designed in an exceptionally unique form which is difficult to copy by just seeing it. On top of it, the traditional dance make-up is very loud and standardized. It can make two entirely different looking persons look similar to each other. Greeshma, my co-presenter and I made our first impressions with just the costumes and the make-up. Our performance was much appreciated and we were contented with the fact that our rigorous rehearsals had paid off well. A special appreciation came due to our item adhering to the theme of the conference. It was based on the food chain, called as “heal the world to make a better place”. It feels great that only the Indian contingent had performed in line with the theme of the conference.

By the time we recovered from the exhilaration of the eco-night, we were already in the high of the grandeur and wonders around us. A place that would take a marathon runner five months to cross on one side and three months on the other kept me awestruck for the whole time I was there. The most adventurous way to begin the eco-field trip was The Great Wall of China!! And I can’t thank the Chinese team enough to have chosen it! Leave alone the wonder of world; all the places selected for our visits were unique in their own way! The Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Yan Qing Museum, Deqin Gyuan Agriculture, Wetland Museum, Wild Duck Lake, Yu Yuan Pond Dock, Confucius Temple and Imperial Academy, Tiananmen Square, People’s great Hall, Jing Shang Park, Suzhou, Huizhou, etc… The faultless combination of wonder, rarity and association to the theme of the conference was evident very well.

Our next city was Shanghai – the perfect metropolitan city. I couldn’t stop myself from noticing the acceptance of western culture in China. Once known as a very conservative and traditional country, this city in China seems to have undergone a 180 degree change. It was amazing to see the new look and development of lifestyle and culture. The next generation seems to be extremely focused and ambitious in their own way. The participation of young ladies in the conference was as much as the gents. It is very encouraging to see the social progress when it goes beyond speeches and articles, be it in any part of the world. Shanghai, Suzhou and Huizhou had relatively short trips. The visits to the tea gardens, streets of the small cities were very interesting because that is the actual way one sees and understands the local lifestyles of any region/place. And only then the purpose of cross-cultural dialogue is served to the expected limit.

To add to this factor of the forum, the organizers had presentation on the water crises of China and up coming project of The Three Gorges dam for us. The actual magnificence of the project was sensed during this presentation. It highlighted the burning global issue of water crises. We also visited an exhibition of modern art in a museum. Luckily it had India portraying there at that time. A piece of art that depicted water crises was presented there. They called it Aquasorous. With every passing day, one realizes how important and hot issue the global water crisis is. During these visits I also marked that the places chosen were a brilliant mixture of history, development, agriculture and wonder! Every place we went, there was something beyond the texts one reads that we could take away.

The team of volunteers was very supportive and were like god sent saviors when it came to translating Chinese into English for us! Understanding and communication was smooth flowing only because of them! And I can’t thank them more for that! Especially in the markets where we couldn’t stop ourselves from choosing things to take back home! I never really realized to what extent uncommonness and originality captures someone’s attention! It was like a child in a toy store for us who were coming here for the first time! The markets that we visited were full of variety and in line with the local monuments or traditions. It got us in confusion while choosing the souvenirs to take back as memories!

Through the interactions with our volunteers and the guide, we got to know more about the traditions, short stories in history, and their customs and so on. To mention a few of them – the way of toasting when a large no. of people gather; they tap their glasses on the table together! Way of saying “Thank you” when the tea is poured. It goes by the story of an emperor in disguise with his followers. Once he poured tea for everyone. And as a token of bowing before drinking, two fingers were bent and tapped on the table! Also the Chinese custom of marriage that has importance of fire during the wedding ceremony was very attention-grabbing. It left me surprise struck for sometime with its resemblance of the use of fire in wedding ceremony in India. Indians treat it as God and the wedding wows are taken in front of it. As for the others, even though the short stories in India and traditions are different from China, but the trend of its origin is to a large extent similar. In Marathi (Indian Language) such stories are called as “Danta Katha”. And they also originate from the Rulers’ times. The best part of the visits was the way we got to know the history related to it. The impromptu touch was very interesting which allowed us to have discussions over supper!

Supper reminds me of food. With the experience related to food, I realized the secret of Chinese health and fitness. The early timings of consumption of food and the ingredients play a major role quite visibly! The elimination of sweets keeps them on their toes all the time and also so thin! All the food items are worth every bite. Eating with chop sticks is real fun and makes us try different ways of eating! I also tried eating with my left hand to make it more interesting. I have never seen so many meat dishes before. Being a non-vegetarian I am always on a look out for different ways of cooking some meat and I was thoroughly contented tasting the food here! During my stay here I have eaten almost every type of meat and the best that I liked was the Peking duck. I also liked the variety in which one can have it during supper. It can be put in a pan cake or bread or can be eaten along with sauce. Just too creative and tasty! I am by birth a foodie is what I can say after my China visit!

One thing I loved about the cities is that they are extremely clean and the waste management systems seem to be well in place. As for India, it is following suite but seems to lag far behind China at it. I felt as if cleanliness is deep rooted in every person who walks on the street. And that is what works wonders and shows the results evidently. Similarly, in case of the heritage buildings and places India needs to learn a lesson from China. The way the old temples and palaces are maintained in China is formidable! The places are still maintained the way they used to be for the visitors to take real impressions back home. Unfortunately in India even though the museums are well maintained and have a lot to offer, the heritage conservation is much poorer. It is rightfully a lesson to be taken back home.

As an ardent art lover, one thing that I would wish to take back to India from China is the public culture that I observed here through out my stay. The exercise and dancing in groups that happens in public meeting areas is simply desirable for me! They have loud music played and everyone gathers together to dance to the tunes. It was extremely fascinating to see old couples joining or better leading these groups for long hours! Art does bring people on a different level of enjoying life. They have their own wave lengths to make people find their soul mates and initiate friendships. The way they accept anyone and everyone in these groups, not only that, the way they appreciate anyone’s effort makes me want it even more in my country. My mind pushed me in one of the groups and I had people coming up to me and help me grasp it faster. Once I got their basic steps, they went to the extent of appreciating by actions because unfortunately I could not understand their language.

I feel sad to accept that in spite of having a culture of high socializing in India, we lack this form of exercise and fun get together back home. With such cultural interactions I only realize more as to how necessary it is to go beyond certain traditional norms for the betterment of next generations. As for the senior citizens, I personally feel that attitude makes a large difference. Even though there are few oldies who live a very interesting and healthy life, but it is still not a common feature in India. And it is very important that it comes to us as soon as possible – another lesson from China that I took during these 15 days. So to summarize what I wish to personally take back as values for my country would be punctuality, fitness, cleanliness and free public fine art gatherings.

During the stay there was so much to see and so less time for that that I only wished I had more time to let it sink in my mind. The friends I made during my stay taught me different ways to look at situations when you have big dreams! The informal interactions that I had with them got us so close that no one even realized how we actually became low on the last day while leaving. It took us a lot of time to accept that our time for now has come to an end. But to see the brighter side of it was the wish to meet next year during the same forum. It was at this time that I realized while inviting them back to India for next year, the words of Aughraha – to have any cultural dialogues one needs to be friends first! This statement never made so much sense till I saw them wave Greeshma and me off! The feeling was mutual; we long to see our friends again and again! They say a picture is worth 1000 words. And here I am back to India with 5, 00,000 words from the friends I made in China to make the most precious days never ending for me!

मेरे अपने

आज आसमान मुझे देख रहा है,  सितारें कुछ ज्यादा चमक रहे हैं,  मेरे अपने जो उनमें बसे  हैं! शायद वहां रहकर खुश है! पीछे रहना बड़...