Isn’t it amazing that my first trip abroad is to China? That far-off land, with winged dragons, large rice fields and wind chimes, that land I often dreamed of, as a child, my imagination giving birth to nomadic desires. In my mind, China smells of jasmine tea served in delicate porcelain cups and has the color of the red silk road; it is a country of contrasts, where civilization and tradition intertwine, in a song too subtle for the ears of the Europeans; its incredible progress resembles pure alchemy; the speed with which China adapts to modern times overwhelms us, and yet it is the same country where the rickshaw is pulled by one man carrying another, the same country where families have 3 members or less, the only child, as dictated by law, the one who does not know the meaning of brother, nor sister, being either a solitary child, or having the whole world as its family – hard to tell…
I see China as being drowned in the present, but feeding on a past that does not pass.
These are my thoughts on that evening of December 5, 2000, holding the ticket of certainty in my hand, a blue ticket, winged with the Tarom logo. I am exalted at the thought that tomorrow I will sip my coffee in China; animated by the natural enthusiasm of my just turned twenty-two years, I reflect near the packed luggage. It seems like I have everything I could desire, I tell myself and I recap: a relationship of about two years with a handsome young man who loves me – Denis Dumitru by his full name -, a comfortable and relaxing life, I’m young and I’m about to head out to China! I also have a collection of CDs from the 60’s-70’s, a dressing room packed with clothes and shoes, a dog, which, theoretically, is more Denis’s than mine, a crystal globe, where it snows if you give it a good giggle, a library with old books, bought from fairs, which I love with all my heart and… a wooden spoon, with strawberries painted on it, which my grandmother gave me, before leaving and never coming back.
But am I what I have? Am I happy or do I just think I am? There was no cloud on my sky, undisturbed by world`s turmoil; there is nothing missing from the peaceful happiness landscape in which I live. What else is there to find in this world that I hold in my hands?
Enough about me, let’s talk about Denis, my boyfriend, a practical and organized young man, dedicated to tangible things, a guy who does not let himself be dragged into sentimental outbursts, these being my exclusive concern. Denis has an innate sense of measure, doubled by common sense, acquired through the severe education given by his parents. Denis always knows what he wants, and two years ago he told me he wanted me, and I was happy because I never imagined a better partner. He is now twenty-six, four years older than me, though his seriousness makes him seem more mature than he is. Denis may at times seem a bit demanding in his expectations, in general, but to me he shows a great deal of indulgence. Over time I tested his patience, like those times when I was taking money from home and going out to buy something for dinner, coming back with a poetry book or a painting that inspired me at the time.
“Food for the soul, Denis!” I used to tell him and jump in his arms, thus avoiding being lectured for my ignorance.
Denis manages various businesses inherited from his parents, including a chain of clothing stores, and, for the first time, sends me to China instead of going himself, to supply the stores with new merchandise, especially as December is a very productive month, and what he had bought was quickly selling out. Anyone working in the field of trade knows that this is the most prosperous time of the year. Of course, this trip is not very creative, because I have the route already set by Denis. I took note of the places where I need to go, the people I need to contact, the phone numbers I will need and so on. In conclusion, I have everything planned in advance. The plane ride will go directly to Beijing and will take about nine and a half hours. Once there, I will stay at Jing Lun hotel, where I have a room booked, and I will get in touch with Mr. Li Hua Chen, also known to the Romanians as Max, so it’s a bit easier to pronounce and remember. Like when you’re an artist and you get a stage name, even though Mr. Li is not an artist, at least not from the information in my notes. I check my agenda again, taking my responsibility of a blonde Bucharest-Beijing and Beijing-Bucharest emissary very seriously.
“Did you memorize everything I told you?” Denis asks me. He seems a little worried. “Anyway, if you have any questions, call me on Luana’s phone, as I still haven’t been able to understand what’s wrong with your roaming service.”
I hug Denis instead of nodding, still holding the agenda with black covers.
“It’s time to go, right? I can’t wait to get on the plane, Denis! I will miss you so much!” I exclaim and open the door to the cold outside, which immediately whips our faces.
We both leave the house, and Rex, noticing the agitation going on, jumps with its big paws on my white coat.
“Rex, sit, Rex!” I shout at the dog who refuses to get down. Although well trained, he still does not accept directions other than the ones given by its big heart, as he weighs a lot for his size, I worry. “Denis, I think you should start running through the park with Rex, isn’t he a bit chubby?” I ask him without actually waiting for an answer.
“Alina, let’s get in the car!” laughs Denis. “We’ll talk about Rex’s increased cholesterol when you come back.” We both laugh and Denis gets behind the wheel, while I sit on the right seat, which is slowly starting to warm up. I never liked leather seats, they are freezing during winter and too hot in summer. Yes, this is what I do whenever I have a task to fulfill; this trip had blocked me, so I clung to all the useless details like Rex’s weight, the buttons on my white coat which I now count for the first time, the texture of the car seats, even the weather in Guatemala, although I don’t intend to go there. Some people that are faced with a concrete fact mobilize quickly and become efficient; not me though, on the contrary, I spread my attention in all directions with great care. I am super excited, like a bow that has little more to burst from its most vulnerable spot. I can’t wait to take off. With all the thoughts going on in my head, I do not focus on the journey itself, but on the emotion of the important event about to happen in my life…
A novel by Natasha Alina Culea
The novel can be bought on: