Being ethnic Chinese and having gone through my elementary school education in Chinese, I have always been fascinated by China, her history, her geography, her people and their way of life.
Both my parents hailed from China, the southern provinces specifically, in the early part of the 20th century when the exodus to Southeast Asia was in vogue. When I came along they have already settled down in their adopted country for good and their memories of Tangshan (an endearing term for China used by her erstwhile inhabitants) could have faded to such an extent that I was never told any tall tales of their experiences in China.
So my perception of China has been formed from second hand accounts from books, movies, and magazines in the 1960s and 1970s. Then when travel restrictions to China were lifted in the 1980s, I began to learn more from relatives and friends who have visited China.
The Internet explosion of the 1990s added another new source of information on China. At the same time, I also began to have personal friends from China when I started Grad school in US.
Still, due to a variety of reasons, visiting China remains elusive. The best opportunity presented itself in 2001 when the biennial Congress of the International Association for Hydraulic Research (IAHR) was slated to be held in Beijing, China around mid-September. However, as a result of personal exigency, I had to forego the trip.
By now, friends and relatives alike are making a beeline to China, and have come back with fascinating accounts to share. Two of my brothers-in-law are now doing business in China, no doubt drawn by the tremendous business opportunity afforded by the large clientele base there and boosted by their own fluency in the Chinese language that helps bridge the communication barrier.
A few days ago my wife received some photos from a friend who has just returned from a scenic trip to China. Her shots capture some of the rustic beauty of Jiangnan that is beyond mere words.
The pagoda-like architecture provides the perfect backdrop to the placid lake water, casting a near-perfect reflection of the above-water scene.
The next shot is an evening scene of a water village: a canal plied by covered boats ferrying tourists and locals alike, houses adorned with brightly lit lanterns built right up the water edge, and a pedestrian bridge at the far end providing a land link for the two banks.
It's almost as if I was there, completely blended in with the scenes that I've just described, sight-wise of course. The only things missing from this virtual tour are the sound and the scent of the place, which I shall endeavor to rectify in the not too distant future.