I went to the Forbidden City because it's one of those places you must see--and it was everything I'd ever dreamed and far more. But I am a bad sightseer and in a place with a scope as huge as this I go for the micro-details. So I was snapping pictures of decorative tiles and lovely color swatches and paws of bronze lions and the sweep of roofs when I noticed a woman standing beside me. She was alone, which was unusual in a place engulfed by couples, if not groups, and she was staring as intently as I was through my camera lens. She was around my age, wearing clothes without style and a haircut to match, but there was something about her face that claimed me. I stared at her and wondered what she was thinking.
She was old enough to have been born during the Famine, young during the Cultural Revolution, and beginning to age as China decided that being rich was glorious and frivolity was good for the economy. She could remember when the Forbidden City was truly forbidden and knew that Zhou Enlai had saved it from being destroyed by Red Guards bent on eradicating all traces of ancient decadence. I yearned to talk to her but since I couldn't, I stalked her with my little digital camera.
And suddenly I realized she knew what I was doing and wasn't turning her face away. We entered the exit at the same time and were separated by a burst of crowd. And then I saw her spreading out a discarded tour map on the sidewalk to sit on. Her back was turned to me and I started to move away, but then realized there had to be a moment when we could be together in some way.
I pulled a visa picture from my passport holder, went to her side and squatted beside her. "This is for you, " I said, holding it out," I have your picture here," and I showed the image of her looking into my camera. "Now you have mine."
I put the picture in her hand and walked away. When I turned to look back, she was staring at something in her hand, then looked up and saw me. I waved to her, she moved her hand in response, and we both were smiling.