Sydney, 23rd of May 2014.
Do you sometimes wonder what would have happened if you had been born in another time or other place? If you had been born only a few hundred kilometers south or east or north – west is not relevant in my case, since it is not very likely I would have been born in the ocean – would you be a different person? Would you be better off? Happier? Or would you find your way through life, experiencing ups and downs, just like you are now? These are questions that I found some sort of answer to when I was shown a picture of my Chinese ‘twin’, by two complete strangers on the deck of a cruise boat on the Parramatta River, near Sydney.
Backpacking has led me to do many things I have not ever done before. Being on a plane for over 24 hours, sleeping in a room with 5 snoring Austrian women and spending my birthday crying at McDonalds are just a few examples. The story of my Chinese ‘twin’ also starts with having a new experience – going on an organized daytour on my own. The trip was to a national park just an hour outside of Sydney. I was picked up early in the morning by a van which was filled with a large Australian family that was busily talking to each other, and a Chinese couple who did not speak much English. There was one sad single seat for me in the back.
The tour was good. We drove to different viewpoints, stopped at a pretty little mountain town and were given the opportunity to hike. As the day went on, we took a break to enjoy some coffee and cookies. That’s when I noticed the Chinese couple looking at me. Already feeling awkward about being there on my own I ignored them, but soon the woman came up to me. ‘’Hello’’, she said. I was wrong about her English – she actually spoke it very well. ‘’What is your name?’’ she asked. ‘’Lotte’’, I answered. She told me her name, and the name of the man, who turned out not to be her boyfriend but her business associate. They both had difficult names I could not properly pronounce, but in my defense, they could not pronounce my name either. We had a laugh about that. ‘’From Holland?’’ she exclaimed enthusiastically when I told her where I was from. ‘’I was there for work only last year! Beautiful country. Amsterdam!’’ she said and put her thumbs up. I was impressed; some people I had met on my trip had no idea where my country was, let alone had they been there. I asked where they were from. She named a city I had not heard of, even though she said it had 8 million inhabitants. As I found out later, this city had to be Guangzhou, since she mentioned it was a few hours from Hong Kong. Unfortunately, we could not continue our conversation as our tour guide beckoned it was time to move on.
The tour ended with a boat trip back into the city. The sun was already setting, and the orange shades of the sky reflecting in the water made me want to buy one of those houses by the side of the river. When looking for a spot to sit on the deck, the Chinese woman beckoned me to come and sit with her and her business associate. This time the man started talking to me. His English was not as good as that of his colleague, but I understood he wanted to take a picture of the three of us. ‘’Why?’’ I asked hesitantly. The two looked at each other. ‘’You look exactly like a colleague in our company’’ the woman answered, ‘’like twins! We would like to show her a picture of you.’’ A surprising answer. Looking like a typical Dutch girl, I have a face covered in freckles, with blue eyes and blonde frizzy hair. I could not imagine I look anything like a Chinese girl, who I all imagine to have fair skin and beautiful dark smooth hair. Seeing the confused look on my face, the Chinese man got his phone out of his pocket and showed me the profile of my Chinese ‘twin’ on what I assumed was the Chinese equivalent of Facebook. The girl on the picture was posing with an expensive looking car, her face remaining a little vague. ‘’Wait’’, the man said and he showed me another picture. This time, my Chinese ‘twin’ was in a restaurant, smiling at the camera happily. To be honest, to call her my ‘twin’ is a bit of an overstatement but there was a certain similarity. She had dyed her hair, so it did look a bit like mine, and her facial features did slightly resemble my own. Mostly strikingly however, was her smile. That was exactly like mine. Would this have been me if I were born in China?
After taking a picture and saying goodbye to the two, I was left with questions about my Chinese look-a-like that were going to be unanswered. The woman had told me she was 24, a year older than I was at the time, and that she was a very funny girl. I like to think that I am a funny girl, so we (arguably) have that in common. But other than that, is she actually like me? Does she enjoy the same music, books and movies? Do they even have the same music, books and movies in China? What is it like to grow up in a city that has the population of half my country? And would we get along? Of course, I realize we might have not much more in common than our hair color, smile and the fact that we would make a good comical duo. But we are similar in at least those things. I think it should be enough to be friends.