Hold tight: Yuán Fèn!

Blog and photography by: Pol Rijnders, traveller, tour guide and teacher in Tourism & Leisure 

Hold Tight is a sixties song by a band with the amazing name Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. It has a wonderful hold-on-tight-‘cause-something-amazing’s-gonna-happen feel to it. By using this track in the movie Death Proof to score the most devastating car crash in movie-history, Quentin Tarantino added an eeriness to the song, that makes it the perfect soundtrack to your visit to New Delhi.

A while ago, I was there for about five days. Just to relax before I would move on to Ladakh in the north of India. I was warned to be careful: “You’re going to be scammed from the moment you step out of the plane…” (Actually, it had already started at the consulate.)

I laughed at the suggestion that I, Columbus to my family, Marco Polo to my students, was going to be scammed in any destination at all.

But indeed. Hold Tight. I left the airport in an unofficial taxi (not the one I paid for) and ended up in a so-called tourist office at Connaught Place at three in the morning. There, I was told about severe political unrest, incurable diseases and burnt down hotels. I was advised to get the hell out of New Delhi. I didn’t want to, but things became unfriendly to the point where I decided to hand over my credit card, just to make it out in one piece. Moments later, I was on an unplanned round trip in a little Suzuki Maruti, relieved of 450 of my hard-earned Euros. I was absolutely furious at India, at myself and at anyone involved in this blatant scam.

 

Eventually, I did make it to Ladakh and stayed there for four weeks, which was a fantastic and healing experience. When I went back to New Delhi, I was mentally armed and would annihilate any scam artist that was going to come anywhere near me. Hold tight.

I stayed in a hotel near Connaught Place. This colonial square is the epicentre of tourist scams. It is a place with raging traffic, with red spit on the white walls of colonial buildings and beggars sleeping all over the sidewalks. And of course, the touts, who descent on unsuspecting tourists like vultures.

In my hotel, I met a lovely Chinese family from Hubei. The head of the family - a doctor specialized in treating Hepatitis B – introduced himself as something that sounded like Teiwei. They had just been introduced to the fury that is Connaught Place and all their typical Chinese candidness had disappeared. They refused to leave the hotel.

But when the receptionist introduced me as someone who had already been defying the perils of New Delhi, Teiwei immediately confiscated me as the personal family guide. For the next three days, I was with Teiwei, his wife and their three children and family friend Sam. Sam was a big guy who was in Teiwei’s football team. Teiwei took him along as a personal bodyguard. Obviously, Teiwei was an exceptional organizer.

We saw some of New Delhi’s highlights and I was taken care of, in terms of food and drinks. I was impressed by Teiwei’s positivity. His children often seemed smothered by their fathers’ cheery character and enthusiasm – I certainly was overwhelmed - but in general, everyone had a great time.

Teiwei organized a beer party for our last night together in New Delhi. This meant that his wife and children were sent to the hotelroom and him, Sam and I sat in the hotel garden. Because organization had started too late, the beer party was limited to two bottles of beer for the three of us. Teiwei was the host and would translate Sam’s opinions about India to me and vice versa. We talked about China, about The Netherlands and about the three wonderful days we had spent together. Even though we were very thirsty, it really was a great night. It had been in the making for 500 years, as Teiwei – who kept calling me Bob, even though my name is Pol - explained to me. This was called Yuán Fèn. A Chinese religious concept which explains fortunate, personal coincidences. This was very important to Teiwei. Whenever he exclaimed the words ‘Yuán Fèn’ – at very high volume - he would lower his glasses and look me straight in the eye. A few times it provoked his wife into calling him upstairs and he would rush to their room in order to keep the peace.

 

The next morning, none of us were hungover and I had to catch my flight back to Holland. We said goodbye and Teiwei gave me a nice Chinese souvenir to thank me for the three lovely days. On the gift wrap he had written: Yuán Fèn – Fate. From David to Bob

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