The thing I love the most about travelling are of course the places you see and the people you meet. But it is more than that: all those places have a history and all those people have a story. And I love hearing the story.
When I was in China, my students told me about an old professor that taught Chinese history and culture. They spoke of him with great respect, but I also detected some fear, his subject was very hard apparently and a lot of students failed it. But I was intrigued. I asked a student if she could set up a meeting with him. I wasn’t sure if anything would come of it, but I was happily surprised to hear he took my request as a compliment and he would love to have a chat. So we agreed to meet.
Another volunteer that was there with me, Leo, heard about our appointment and he joined me. It was an extremely interesting evening. We had to work with a translator so the discussion was a bit tiring but it was extremely interesting. At a certain point, the professor decided he was going to send us on our way with our life motto. I had no idea what he meant and what he was going to do.. It was not as if he had asked us any questions or that we had introduced ourselves at length or anything..
He spoke to Leo first. He explained to Leo how he saw him: you are an honest man and you attach a lot of importance to being genuine – a sort of what you see is what you get attitude I guess. Leo was gobsmacked. He felt he had described him to a Tee. Leo makes his own wine and on his label he prints the text “klare wijn schenken” which probably translates into something along the lines of “be clear and open, use clear language”.
Leo’s reaction was so deep, that I became nervous.
He told me: you follow your own path, and you never chose the beaten path because you want to find your real self. You are a pupil of Taoism.
He proceeded to write my motto on some rice paper in beautiful ancient characters (not the modern ones). He wrote on the side “for Sofie” in modern Chinese characters, and put his personal stamp. I had that paper framed and I had it in every living room in every house I lived in after that, including this one I am sitting in right now. Needlessly to say I read up on Tao, and I try to be enlightened enough to get it but I admit it is not a walk in the park.
Many a moment in my life, I have wondered: am I doing the right thing? Am I following the right path? But I do not think I follow the less taken path because I look for it specifically, I think I just do not see the beaten path. It is not an option for me, I simply do not know where it is.