“Where you from?”, the girl suddenly asks me.
She must be about 15 and she and her friend can’t stop giggling every time they look at me.
I’m on my way from the Great Wall of China to Beijing. The bus is packed and people are standing in the aisle. I’ve waited for almost 3 hours to get on it, because there were so many people and not enough busses. The space between seats is too short for my long European legs and my knees are starting to hurt. Trying to put at least one leg in the aisle, I accidentally kick her.
I apologize, she smiles, and instantly pops the question, almost as if she’s been waiting for an excuse to talk to me. It seems like the most basic question ever, those 3 words simply asking where I come from.
But it’s not. Not for her.
“From Belgium”, I say.
Silence… Knowing Belgium fits about 300 times into China, I can’t blame her for not knowing it.
“It’s next to Germany.”
“France? … Paris? … United Kingdom? …”
Her eyes keep getting bigger and bigger.
Suddenly, a spark of hope in her eyes. She starts to smile, moving her arms from excitement.
She nearly screams: “America?!?” She sounds as if she’s won the lottery… I can’t bring myself to breaking her heart.
“Yeeeeaaaaah, that’s it!!!”, I reply, trying to be as excited as she is…
From earlier conversations with Chinese people during my trip, I know there’s not much use in trying to explain. Somehow I know she won’t believe me. It’ll be too hard for her to grasp. Belgium, France, Germany and even Europe don’t exist in the world she’s learned about and the last thing her teachers try to teach her is asking questions. The only thing she gets to see on the front page of the paper or what’s left of the internet are stories about the greatness of the party and how ‘traitors’ are immediately taken care of.
So why tell her? She’ll just keep on staring at me with those big eyes that make me feel so uncomfortable. And probably her, too. But my discomfort is not the only reason. My enthousiastic me wants to try, but I don’t even know if I have the right. What’s the point in presenting the world to someone who’ll never ever have the chance to discover it?
What’s the use in creating a dream that can never become a reality? And who am I to do that to her?
It’s at that moment that I realize how damn lucky I am. At her age, I started discovering my own dreams and I’ve realized so many of them by now. It wasn’t always easy but I did it, and I still have so many that I know will come true one day. My dreams, no matter how big, have always been within my reach. And that’s exactly what makes me keep on chasing them. It’s not having dreams that makes me happy, it’s knowing I can realize them. Would I chase them as hard if I knew they were an utopia? Wouldn’t it just make me unhappy in the end?
So I let it be, I let her believe Belgium is right next to America…
Her world might be so much smaller than mine, but at least it stays within her reach…
How about you? Would you have told her? And what are your dreams? Let’s talk about it in the comments!