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Cambodia - Angkor Wat - historical Site, Myanmar (Burma), India - Taj Mahal, China - ‘The Great Wall’ - Forbidden City & Fragrance Hill, Finland - Northern Lights

 

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There was a shock on her face when she saw the message appear on her screen. She knew this was prevalent, but never to the extent that she would be ‘invited’ into this so-called mafia. The message was belligerent, blatantly daring, and dangerous – White Power, we’ve got to bond. She was pretty acquainted with the hidden self-motivated movement in the neighborhood. You could see it glaring at your face silently, either beckoning you or traumatizing you…and for Julianne, it could only be the former.

Amongst many that she had, she could count fingers for mixed or different race friends, and they have always lived in harmony. There were only two Asian friends whom she was close to, one of them she met while at college. Life threw them together to become best of friends, and so when Seth left for his country, he sent her an invitation to visit his land. Years took its course, they got busy with their lives, but this time, she decided to take a short break from her business to visit him and also ‘explore’ the eastern world which would have otherwise been an unfulfilled task on her resolution list, which she makes diligently at the beginning of every year, slowly becoming a little sheet of paper kept aside for a clearer escritoire.

More than a month passed by, but it seemed like it was just a week ago since she returned from her refreshing trip...the one that has left an indelible mark in her life. Her D drive was nearly full with the pictures…each had so much to say…so much to evoke whenever she paused to reminisce those times. As the pictures downloaded slowly on her laptop, the scenes flashed across her mind.

 

Cambodia was the first place she visited. Her best friend had always invited her there and year after year until today, she set foot in his land. Seth and Julianne have been best friends since college days. Though life moved on differently for them (Seth was married with a quiet homely wife and a lovely daughter named Sue), they never let their paths steer far away from each other. Their mutual delight was apparent from the moment they met at the airport. Julianne, unable to contain her joy, hugged him while he greeted her with a ‘Satu’, admonishing her that it is not in their custom for opposite sex to have close contact, but it is common to have the same sex holding hands or walking together arm in arm.

With adept dexterity, he swerved his car out of the serpentine traffic maze and within minutes, they reached the guest house. Her room faced a tranquil sea stretching far and wide. The palm tree a little away from her room balcony bent over to play with the mild waves and she could hear it gurgle. The sundown was stupendous. It was like a copper sheet spread over the sea, glimmering in the amber lights. She remembered, in college he shared his earnest desire of owning a moderate beach guest house and a private boat; today he has both. Seeing the picture of the boat he owned, she began to have pensive thoughts about them sailing away on the undisturbed waters, drifting to another world of just them like yesteryears, talking about everything under the sun or just sitting silently and still feeling inertly peaceful. She flipped back the scenes in her mind of them having long walks on the shore, exchanging their recent progressive life or sitting on the low branch enjoying the waters rolling over their feet, laughing, giggling, absolutely occupied with no worries.

Seth showed her around Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most beautiful and supposedly mystical historical site. This temple dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu god, is considered the most supreme architectural masterpiece during the Khmer empire. The elaborate sculptures were so intriguingly beautiful. Multitude of pictures flowed, each capturing the mysterious charm. Seth had also informed that though centuries have lapsed with invasion and bloody civil war that rocked Cambodia, Angkor Wat was affected with little damage.

The sight of sumptuous Cambodian meal made Julianne hungry. She learnt to cook Chicken Samla from Seth’s wife. "I guess, I’m gonna cook that tonight," she said, shooting a gleeful hands-on trial and scrambling for the recipe that Seth’s wife wrote down for her. The last set of pictures in Cambodia was halfway downloaded. They were the beaches…boasting its natural beauty to an equally comparable group of lads sunbathing and strutting around as if they were models for FTV. There were also pictures of her with a few new friends that she made while at the beach – one of them with whom she has already started correspondence.

   

Myanmar (Burma) was her next trip. She enjoyed its scenic wonders, the pagodas, and the friendly people. She had known that it is synonymous to ‘Land of Gold’ and a visit to Bogyoke Aung San market reiterated this name. She had pictures of traders selling gold, rubies, jade, and many other precious stones apart from souvenirs and handicrafts. She bought for herself a lovely jade stone and wondered if she should carve her name on it. She learnt from her room service attendant that there are a stunning 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, each holding its unique culture and language. It was surprising and fascinating to her on how people coexisted so peacefully in its diverseness.

Like Cambodia, Myanmar had sacred shrines, the one she chiefly visited was the Shwedagon Pagoda. As pictures of breathtaking pagoda collects in the folder, Julianne adds a note to them – encased in gold and jewels are relics of The Buddha and 3 Buddhas preceeding him. She created another folder and named it India. While she did so, the pages fluttered back to the moment she entered this rich, vibrant, cultured land. It was a whole new experience for her. She heard so much about that place from her Indian friend here, Natasha. She was no novice to chicken tikka, biriyani, ethnic jewelry, bollywood, and chaat. So, the moment her flight landed in New Delhi, her feet were already pacing around. She had photos of herself indulging in food, snacks, ethnic wear (which will always look far more elegant on an Indian), and of course, her one and only place that brought her here – the magnificent Taj Mahal. It was, by no doubt, one of the most beautiful wonders the world has ever seen, and the more she dwelled on its history or rather on the surreal love, the more she loved that place. It consumed her. She strolled around the Taj multiple times, trying to enliven the medieval world, where kings fought and lived for glory, power, a! nd love. As the bus drove past back to the hotel, she looked at the Taj one last time…it was like a crown of gemstones beaming radiantly under the full moon shining above it, and the miniature Taj Mahal that she bought from there will always serve as an impressionable reminder of one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ for which she has had an opportune visit.

Before she arrived in India, Natasha had given her the contact number of her friend called Dhruv. When she met him she conceded her difficulty in saying his name and she did not want to end up addressing him atrociously, so he would have to settle for Mr. D. He replied, "Thankfully, my name doesn’t start with a P. I would have to put up with a lot." Her casual conversations revealed that she was looking forward to Bollywood movies, biriyani, kebabs, tikkas, chaats, sweet dish – everything she had heard of, a few she tasted, and the rest she wanted to try. Dhruv told her, "I can’t promise everything, but I will try to make your stay a pleasant one." Indeed, she got everything she hoped for – from the lip-smacking delicacy to movies. As she looks at the movie ticket, she remembers not understanding much but still liking it. After the show, they went to have chaat and some sweet savory dish.
 

Shortly after she got back to the hotel, which was quite far from his residence, she fell pathetically ill. When he came by the next day, he took her straight to a physician and also shifted her lodging to somewhere closer to his house because, like he assured her, he would be within her reach if she needed him. Her time in India would never be forgotten nor would the greatest expression of a mother’s love...it was during this time that Dhruv’s mother often inquired of her health, advising her on the age-old naturopathic treatment, and even sending her some home-cooked food. There was another aspect of India that she took along with her – as Dhruv rightly put it – we may change the way we dress, our way of eating and living, even our pronunciations, but values like kindness and respect, they follow us wherever we go. The following snap caused Julianne to give a brief shrill cry. It seemed a monolith in the middle of a dim lonely road, but she reminded herself emphatically, "that is a buffalo…and if I ever made that mistake of scrambling on it thinking it’s a rock…boy, I’d be a rodeo."

From India, she went on to tour China to see ‘The Great Wall.’ She found it quite painstaking to find her way about due to the fact that hardly anybody spoke English, but there two girls, beginners in English, who helped her out to the best of their ability. So, when their photos were downloading, she remembered them, Anna and Emily, names that were apparently given by their English teacher in school to facilitate better recognition or rather inhibition of any self embarrassment through inappropriate pronunciation of names.

A navy blue T-shirt that read ‘I climbed the Great Wall’ was next to her. In a flash, she recollected herself having trodden the path. It was an expeditious task which she and Emily undertook on an early September morning, and when she reached a considerable height, she could feel the cool winds wrap around her. A little later, it began to drizzle. She smelt the fresh wet ground and took a deep inspiration as if she would fill herself and fly away like a balloon to a higher altitude. There were many foreigners too, a few of them accompanied by a local whom they termed as ‘language partner,’ which means they would help out with Chinese and in return get help in English. Julianne managed to learn a few words from Emily and Anna, but the worthwhile lesson was the one that had no words.

Anna had planned Julianne’s weekend itinerary wherein after visiting the Forbidden City and Fragrance Hill, they would head for Anna’s home for the weekend. The season was just right to see Fragrance Hill. It was more than 500 feet above sea level. Huge blocks of stones were laid as steps. Julianne was sure that by the time she reached the top, her drained out energy would reduce her to Thumbelina. Anna told her to focus straight ahead and not look to the left or right until they were at the final point. On reaching there, after a tedious trek, Julianne looked around to witness an awesome sight she had ever come across…different shades of leaves covering the hill like a carpet and when the gentle wind swooped by, the leaves would flicker as if they had just been tickled. She stayed there for a long, long time before heading towards Anna’s house.

Apart from Anna, no one in her family knew English. In the kitchen, stood her fragile mother cooking a lavish meal. Julianne offered to help, but Anna’s father showed her back to the living room saying something which Anna translated. Apparently, he told her to sit back and relax. As per her custom, guests were honored people, and that special treatment was something Julianne would not forget. On the wall of her room hanged a caricature carved from bamboo shoot with intact roots. It was a mask of man ageing gracefully with his long beard and his defiant old age hidden beneath his youthful laugh. This was a parting gift from Emily. Julianne sniggered at the thought of her words to a youthful Emily – "This will always remind me of you."

Julianne wrapped up her final expedition with a short visit to Finland. The mesmerizing Northern Lights placed her soul to a transcendental state. Her voice mellowed, sounding poetic, "Imagine...the colors of the sky streaming down over the frozen glassy lake and there you are…alone. It captivates your soul, silently allures you...you feel the touch on your skin and you close your eyes letting yourself led away blindly to a celestial dance." The Northern Lights sprinkled on her face faintly as she looked up and gazed at the extravagant heaven. She loved every minute there. There was some kind of joy living in the unsophisticated world – a world where you are complete and nothing can possibly shake that or break that. There was a long pause. With her eyes closed and head slightly tilted, she thought of something, bringing a complacent smile on her face. She reflected on the stream of events wherever she had been. It was wonderful…made more wonderful because of people.

The message blinked on her screen again. Deep in her heart, she knew change is inevitable, but change for the better is Hope. We have to hope. No one can make anyone see how beautiful this world is. No one can convince anyone that it is because we look different that this world is colorful – God is the painter, we are His designs, and He has used different colors – us, just the way we are – to complete his canvas of humanity. Julianne’s fingers typed confidently in reply to that message. She sent across the web link. That same song played in the background as well. She increased the volume of the speaker and hummed along with John Lennon, "You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one; I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one."

Contributing Writer :  May Young is working in the healthcare sector in quality assurance. She has a keen interest in reading, writing, photography, trekking, and music and believes that all of us have talent, which, when used, can make a difference in the world, or at least, in someone's life. Her writings are usually from personal experiences. melodyyoung@lycos.com

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