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I love Zhongguo
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I often heard that destiny plays an important role in one's life. Never did I believe it till "China" happened to me, and my lifelong relationship with the country began. My first "encounter" with Zhongguo (China) was in 2006 when I studied in detail the Chinese economy, history, geography, polity, society and culture as part of my Master's degree in International Relations at Nihelu Dashue (Jawaharlal Nehru University) in New Delhi, India. That phase of my relationship with Zhongguo seemed like 'internet dating' when I knew all about my love but I never met or saw my love.

Sriparna Pathak [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Sriparna Pathak [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

My knowledge about my love increased over the years and reached its peak when I met Chinese citizens working in the same think tank as me. My interest grew as my Chinese friends told me more about the culture of the country, and I made up my mind that one day I will be with my love - Zhongguo! In March 2011, I first came to China as part of the delegation from India for the BRICS Think Tanks' Symposium in Beijing. It was love at first sight and my heart ached when I had to part ways with Zhongguo and take the flight back to India. Destiny waved her magic wand yet again and I cleared hundred percent scholarships from the Chinese government and the Indian government respectively to study in Beijing for two years.

When I landed at the Beijing Airport again on August 31, I felt butterflies in my stomach, and it felt like I left my parents' house (India) to be with my love (Zhongguo). But my relationship with Zhongguo was such that we did not speak each other's languages. My first language - i.e. English is not widely spoken in China and I could not speak hanyu (Chinese), my love's first language. Destiny waved her magic wand yet again and gave me enough powers to grasp the language quickly, and today I can speak about 1500 characters and write about 800 characters. Picking up a foreign language is never easy, but it has to be the power of destiny that I grasped the language quickly.

My experience so far in Beijing deserves a ten out of ten. Whenever people hear 'Wo shi Indu ren' (I am an India) they speak excitedly about Indian films and songs and praise my guo jia (country) and fill me with a sense of satisfaction that I have never felt in my life. In fact an old man in the subway even sang 'Aawara Hoon' (a Bollywood film song) for me when he heard I am from India.

India and China have a long history, and now I am experiencing every facet of this long historical relation, first hand. At the Great Bell Temple, the Yongle Bell has numerous Sanskrit sutras engraved. At the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution, a small statue of Nataraj stands as a gift from India. The Five Pagodas Temple is the sign of an Indian monk's sojourns.

Beijing seems very similar to New Delhi. The shopping malls, the roads, the subway, and the kind of vehicles are similar in the two places. The peoples of the two countries are also similar. Unlike many Western countries, the cultures of the peoples in these two Asian countries are not individualistic. I have not experienced a single case when people have turned away when I say "Qing ni bang wo" (Please help me).

There is a great interest among the peoples of the two countries to know more about each other. Sadly enough the number of Indians in Beijing at least, is very low, especially when compared to foreigners from other parts of the world. Track-two level exchanges are often cited as being an efficient method of improving relations among countries, and academic exchanges form an important component of track-two. Increasing the number of students' exchanges between these two Asian powers can help in solidifying the bases of the relationship between the two countries.

Having travelled to Inner Mongolia I realised that the common people there have almost no knowledge about Indians or India. However the most pleasing experience in Inner Mongolia was when an old lady felt young Indian women like me are similar to young Chinese girls in the way they show respect for the elders. The similarity between the cultures of our countries stated in words by the old lady made my day.

At the micro and the macro level the two countries share many similarities, be it levels of growth or urbanisation or energy consumption. But not all the similarities have been studied in great detail, and there is a lot of scope in such kind of explorations.

In terms of differences - food and language stand at the forefront. But for non-vegetarians like me, Zhongguo is like heaven, as I can eat almost any kind of meat. Nevertheless a few more Indian restaurants would be welcome - not just to satisfy the food needs of Indians in Zhongguo but also to increase knowledge among Chinese citizens regarding the food culture of India.

India and China are the new poles of growth, they are the largest countries in Asia and together they herald the Asian century in international relations, and solidifying the bases of the relationship between the two will lead to a win-win outcome for both and yield a more mutually beneficial relationship. As for me, I am completely in love with Zhongguo and always will be since my love seems to love me back in return.

The author is an Advanced Research Scholar under scholarship from the Chinese and the Indian governments at the Beijing Language and Culture University. She also is a Doctoral Candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. She has worked extensively on China's Manufacturing Sector and other aspects of the Chinese economy. Prior to her arrival in Beijing, she was a Junior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and worked on the Chinese Economy and was the editor for the China Weekly Report there.

(China Daily October 27, 2011)

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