Last weekend I went for a three-hour walk in Beijing and got lost.
I started from my home and headed east. The walk included a couple of dodgy underpasses, some creaky bridges over filthy rivers and three very lively underdeveloped villages. At some points there were crowds of people and at others I could have been in the middle of a deserted forest, except for the highway on my left and a high-speed train track on my right. I felt I was seeing more of real China than I had seen in my previous 11 months here.
At the three-hour mark I had just walked through a narrow alley lined with produce vendors, food carts and rusty kitchen utensils being sold out of barrels. My sense of direction was gone and the heights of the surrounding buildings were just tall enough that I could not see any familiar landmarks. I was lost.
Being lost did not bother me until I stopped. Then I remembered how many times I have been lost in my life and all the interesting things that happened—not unlike what I had experienced in the past three hours. Being lost was okay. In fact, it was exactly what I had been craving.
On Friday we took our kindergarten students to the aquarium. It is an enormous building full of dark rooms, strange animals and odd smells. None of my students had been there before. Did they hide behind me and cower? Not at all. They ran far ahead ready to take in whatever wondrous sights and experiences they somehow knew awaited them. While my parent/teacher instincts wanted to yell at them to slow down, I remembered that they have very few chances to get lost, so I let them go. It was the best field trip of the year.
I need to go for a walk.