Year 2009. “Jealousy, that dragon which slays love under the pretence of keeping it alive.” Havelock Ellis
Spring was approaching after a rough winter (whatever it means in Inner Mongolia!) that trailed under minus 20, in average, for at least a good month. On this Sunday 22nd of March the difference was visible on people’s mood. The day was sunny, fresh and bright. The city’s park was full of people wandering in family groups, young boys teasing young girls, elders walking with hands on their back, ladies gossiping the winter news and some solitaire lovers too.
The City’s park, like almost any park in China, it has to have bridges with some water stream underneath. Twisted, curved and sharp turn bridges in gardens are part of a superstition culture that defends the living souls against the spirits because spirits can only walk in straight line and flat surfaces…
Walking towards one of them, the one crossing the big water lake of the park, I could see a couple leaning against the stones side protection, chatting and giggling while the girl was blowing soapy liquid and make small balloons kept in suspension until they burst. Obviously I had the camera in my backpack and thought this it would make a great shot against the sunlight.
When I approached I apologised and asked if they would, by coincidence, speak english. As a customary of mine, before they answer I apologised for not speaking Chinese and that was the reason of my question. The girl faintly node a yes; “lille”, she said, while the boy kept quite and seemed suspicious by looking at me from the side with a distrust look. I then explained to her my intention, no photos of her face I said, which she happy to hear and then became very cooperative with my idea. She started to blow the water soap but the pictures coming out where not according to my expectations, I needed to change my settings to find the right light in order to see through and see the small balloons bursts be frozen like tears in my photos. She looked at me as I tried new settings and seems to understand what I was doing, she stopped at each time I changed my settings. Try again, please, I said.
I was getting to the point I wanted the photo to be and asked one more time when suddenly the boy pulled her elbow and started to shout at her. I got scared that a drama would develop in font of my eyes by my photographic fault. Sorry, I said loudly even if he did not understood english. I am sorry, is just a photo, nothing else! I can show you, she is not in it, only the balloons. While he kept pulling her elbow and talk loudly (the only word I could understand was “lowai” which means foreigner), she kept blowing with a smile and her blow was not making any effect, everything was coming very clumsy. What happen, what does he say, I asked? Stepping slowly away with the boy almost dragging her she said; he is jealous! Because you smile at me! He think you want something else!
I understood that during the cultural revolution (64-74) smile became a dangerous mood because it was a sign of mockery, the little red guards said and interpreted that way. That stigma had yet followed the generations thereafter and the further they live from the center (where culture happen and fade those wrong perceptions away) the longer that stigma last.
Alright, I said, sorry for the trouble and hope he will not cause you harm. He was dragging here like a potato bag but she kept looking in my direction and last think I saw was her making an iron’s arm motion which I interpreted; “I am strong than him!”.
I hope and I trust so because while in Inner Mongolia stories of women beating men were not rare…