Finally, we’re surrounded by mountains, not by a sea of Chinese people. We have some room to breathe, lie down under the open sky and talk about home.
Christian comes from a little town in East Germany. We both grew up during the fall of the Communist regime, when our countries were opening up to the world.
This openness is ingrained in our DNA. The more someone is different from us, the happier we get when we discover the ways in which we are, after all, the same. We only really live when we explore and make connections.
But many of the people Christian grew up with are now neo-nazis. Some of them put bombs in places where Muslims go. His neighbours killed ten people because they didn’t think they deserved to breathe the same air.
I start noticing weird stuff as well; people I know since we were kids suddenly feel assaulted and want to fight back. Foreigners, gypsies and gays need to be chased away, or at least re-educated. The ”other” has to disappear, God forbid we learn something from them.
In our journey through China, we are “the other.” People turn their heads on the street. They point fingers at us. Some laugh, others frown. One mother covered her child’s face with her hand, as if her eyes were at risk of becoming round if she looked at us. Others are simply running away from us.
Yet China is opening up, and people are friendly; they’re eager to practice with us their three English words. And we have learned how to guide their curiosity through gestures – yes, we are humans, we won’t hurt you, come on, tell us something about yourself.
If we had arrived 50 years ago we would have been flogged. Back then, even the Chinese who studied at prestigious Western universities and returned to help rebuild their country were thrown into jail. It didn’t matter who they were, all that mattered was that they fraternized with “the other.”
But those who bullied them were themselves persecuted when the political tide changed. There’s always a reason to persecute once you start a witch hunt.
“The other” keeps shifting; if you build walls, one day you might also wake up being cast away.