Friday, May 1, 2015

If You Don't Stop and Look Around Once in a While . . .

. . . you could miss it.

That's one of my favorite quotes from the pragmatic dreamer Ferris Bueller. He was talking about life, and it seems fitting for our trip as well. We were taking in so much on a daily basis that you could start to lose your sense of awe at the really big things and not even notice the little things. We were tourists in a foreign land but there was a flow of daily life happening all around us, all the time, whether we were there or not. For me, these are some of the most interesting and memorable moments of any trip. It reminds me a little of walking along a great sandy beach by an endless ocean, picking up one tiny shell from thousands scattered before you. Or in this case, maybe it's a tiny red wrapper from an exploded firecracker on a stone bridge over a river. Looking at something so small in a place that's so big can teach you a lot about where you are, or at least it can provide a connection between what you know and what you don't know at all.

A lot of these moments came unexpectedly, and a camera was either too slow or too much of an intrusion. I had to remind myself that a camera lens should not be a replacement for my own two eyes. It's a tool to capture what I see, not a monitor to capture for later, what I am overlooking now. There was a woman in the Hall of Clocks at the Forbidden City that went around taking a picture of every single clock on display with her ipad. It was annoying because it made a loud simulated clicking sound every time she took a picture, and for a while she was right behind or beside us. But as soon as she took a picture of one clock she immediately moved on to the next one, looking through the viewfinder the entire time so that she never really saw the clock, just the image of the clock on her screen. It occurred to me that if she wasn't even looking at the clocks when they were right in front of her, it seemed unlikely that she was ever going to go back and look at their pictures.

 So these are some glimpses into some of the sights you don't see in the travel guides or videos. These are the people who only know China as their home, and go about their business, often not noticing the curious visitors pausing to look. Sometimes everyday ordinary people are the most fascinating sight of all when you are in a place so new and different and strange and harsh yet beautiful too. These are the things that we didn't expect, but instantly recognized, and can never forget. I am thankful that we didn't miss it, because Ferris is right: Life moves pretty fast.














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