Insh’Allah this reaches to find each and every single one of you in the best of health, spirits and the highest of emaan.
Firstly Jazak Allah Khairun for all of your kind words that I’ve received, sorry I cannot approve your comments (yep…the great firewall of china has got me blocked off) or reply to your emails right now, but I am appreciative of your love and support.
To proceed….since I wrote last, I have moved on some 400 miles north west to the city of Xuzhou, and just as I was getting used to a nice temperate climate, it has literally been raining cats and dogs (a phrase one of my chinese conterparts loves to use) coupled with a cold northerly wind it has been bitingly cold…close your eyes for a second, you could be in shepards bush on a typical winters day.
But bad weather and british people go together like china and rice, so it’s on with the cold clothes I packed…YES! I actually feel that my decision to lug around this huge suitcase is vindicated with the bad weather…a bit perverse being happy that it’s cold and rainy.
So now that my jitters have been well and truly exorcised, my trip to China has, Alhumdullilah, turned out better than I dared hope before I set out, and Insh’Allah it continues to do so. However an issue still niggles me, one that I should have vanquished by now.
So what is this great bugbear?
My incomprehensible inability to get to grips with the money.
How much does stuff really cost over here?
Is the guy who is trying to sell me something from the back of a bicycle outside the railway station attempting to rip me off, or is he an honest trader offering great value for money and a few seconds of warm friendship to a stranger in a strange land?
So I’m going through a challenging (for me it is) process of figuring out how much everything costs by converting RMB into a money I am familiar with.
It should be pretty simple…Sterling to RMB is just over 1:10, so you simply divide by ten, or knock off the unit.
But then I’m actually carrying Euro’s, so now whenever I’m buying something, I have to figure out Euro to Sterling to RMB.
It’s getting pointless.
As of today, I’ve stopped wasting time standing around with a pained expression on my face doing mental arithmetic…I look bad enough as it is…try doing this in a crowded rail station…and it takes on epic proportions of drawing attention to yourself.
The mantra now is, everything I need to buy, is great value for money!
The Chinese so far have been very honest in their pricing…I’ve been to some parts of the world, that as soon as they see a foreigner, they ramp the prices up…that hasn’t been the case thus far.
The train journey itself was another eye opener.
Before I left, a friend of mine was aghast when I told him I’d be travelling internally in China via rail and not by air. I stand by my decision, the greatest way you can judge a cross section of the popultation is to travel by rail, not only do you get to see the lay of the land, but the way that ordinary everyday people interact with one another.
So getting onto the train and finding my seat, which was very quickly vacated when I showed the young chap who was occupying it my ticket, was a doddle. The train was absolutely packed as it rolled out of the main terminal, its final destination some 2000km away…thankfully I wouldn’t be around until the end of the line…otherwise I would have got my self a private cabin, complete with fold out beds.
There was a family sat in the 5 seats around me, and they took notice of me. I was reading a magazine (it was a 3 hour journey) and the young lady sitting next to me seemed interested in my reading material.
Now what would you do back home, if you’re sitting on a train and someone’s trying to catch a sneaky peak at your reading material of choice.
I actually turned it towards her and asked if she could read English, which she replied in good English (good meaning, its better than my Mandarin Chinese) yes, and read out a few words, before I gave her the magazine.
So I struck up quite a conversation with her.
Pretty soon she was acting as a translator for the other 5 people in the imminent vicinity. They were all interested to know where I had come from, and what I thought of their country. Before I knew it people were peering over from neighbouring seats, joining in the discussion, even people in the aisle were getting words in…man I wish I spoke the language…I would have sold tickets!
Next thing I knew, the five people in my section of seats, all began to take out all manner of food, drink and snacks and offered them to me, and shared them out with one another.
Imagine being on the 1730 out of Paddington and having a bunch of complete strangers being so hospitable to you, this would never ever happen in England and even went to some lengths to explain this to her.
I asked the young lady to thank her family for being so kind towards me, what she said next was even more surprising.
“This is not my family, I’ve never met any of them before”
I had real trouble getting my head round this.
The collective good will they extend to one another and to me is something that we in the west cannot even begin to comprehend.
Most people in the UK will avoid eye contact with you, like you’re some kind of demented pedo, but over here its totally different, in fact she even offered one of her headphones to me to listen to music on her mp3 player on, something I used to do to my own mates when I used to ride the bus to school.
The other amusing anecdote I have to share is, the amount of props i’m getting for my appearance. Back home i’m accused of looking
aggressive, a borderline terrorist, to being accosted by an “uncle” for having the appearance of a “trendy-muslim”…because I rock a shaved head and a full beard.
But over here the Chinese seem to have trouble growing any kind of facial topiary, so to have a full beard, Subhan’Allah, gets you noticed in a positive way, so there is always Hikmah to holding onto the Sunnah, even if we don’t always see it.
It’s getting awfully close to me having to do a dinner working appointment (no chicken chow mein…you know who you are 😉 ) but before I leave you, I have to tell you that something happened today that left me like a 5 year old school girl….I met a full bonafide SHAOLIN MONK!
Now before you call the bida’h brigade on me, just hold tight, the monk was in full robes, and could speak broken english, abd carried a mobile phone, not the kind of Shaolin Monk i had seen in the shaolin kung fu flicks and all the Shaw Brothers productions i had watched down the years…you see “The Akh” is a huge Kung Fu flick fan, so to see a real life shaolin monk was unexpected to say the least.
He said he could see kindness in my face and that my trip to China would have much bounty, he then proceeded to take a golden card from his robe and give it to me, I think it’s some kind of blessing or good luck, and with a closed fist gesture and a nod of my head, which the smiling monk reciprocated, I walked off with a bounce.
Remember me in your duah’s as this traveller remembers his Ummah.
This is Akh the Angry Academic Activist
And I approve this message!