June 15, 2002

In Nanjing

From Shanghai I took the train to Nanjing, passing the three-hour journey playing with the little kid sitting next to me, amusing her with my origami dragons. I had read about Nanjing in Vikram Seth’s From Heaven Lake”. In the early 80s, He studied at the Nanjing University and hitchhiked to Delhi via Tibet and Nepal.

One day, I went up the local tourist attraction called the purple hill. There is an observatory up the hill with some bronze instruments from the Ming dynasty. Nanjing served as the capital during the Ming dynasty and several Ming tombs are located here. I visited the tomb of the founding emperor and his empress. To reach the tomb, I had to climb a huge stone stairway. On the way back, I sat on the steps and wrote some postcards.

Another afternoon, I went to the Nanjing Museum. Soldiers were practising martial arts on the museum grounds. The museum was having an exhibition of Tibetan relics and gems. At the entrance was a huge bronze of a goddess. Each room had two armed security guards. There were trying very hard to seem strict but they smiled easily. A Tibetan girl was selling some trinkets. I wished her tashey delek” — hello in Tibetan. She was happy and she gifted me a poster featuring a goddess.

I stayed on the university campus, many Chinese institutions allow travellers to rent a room or bed. A lot of foreign students study here. I met some interesting people like the formidable Misiba from Togo. Mesaba addressed everyone as xiao pengyou (little friend - the Chinese term for kids). Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province. Yet, It feels like a small university town. The street markets Vikram Seth wrote about, continue to thrive. and sell interesting stuff.


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