Pakistan Through Chinese Eyes

“Pakistan and China are good friends,” said a Pakistani lad in Chinese to me at the entrance to Badshahi Mosque in Lahore . I thanked him with smile and continued my way to visit the sublime Mogul architecture which was completed in 1674. From Karachi to Lahore and to Islamabad , I often heard local people telling me how friendly China was to Pakistan during my one-week visit. A carved stone tablet, saying “Long Live the Friendship between Pakistan and China ” in Chinese characters was standing conspicuously on the way to Taxila, one of the most important archaeological sites in Asia . More and more Chinese restaurants could be seen in major cities like Islamabad , Lahore and Karachi . I must attribute this good warm-welcome sign to the strong ties of both nations.
 
Contrary to the peaceful relationship between China and Pakistan , the domestic affairs in Pakistan are boiling up. The intensity of the current political situation in the country and the urgency of its homeland security are beyond my expectation. I wonder if the death rate in Pakistan has outnumbered the birth rate since a number of innocent people die every day. Gunshots, protests, strikes and parliamentary feuds occur continuously around the clock in this country. Pakistan is no doubt one of the most overheated news machines in the world. I assume the news reporters in Pakistan must be too hectic to have a good night sleep. Bad news is up in the air non-stop. Lo and behold! The Sri Lanka cricket team players were shot in Lahore on March 3rd. And I was right in the same city on the very same day. What are the odds of that? Three days later, Lahore was on strike which was led by the PML-N political party. For that reason, I could not go sightseeing but instead, stayed indoors quietly and safely before my flight to Islamabad .
 
Visiting Pakistan was certainly the boldest oversea trip I had ever taken. As I said jokingly to my friends before the trip, this journey to Pakistan would be the closest I could get to Osama bin Laden. As a matter of fact, I was fortunate to step over the border alive of the North-West Frontier Province, whose capital city, Peshawar , was invaded by the frantic Taliban extremists. Ordinary Jane as I consider myself, I was rather excited that I could be this close to witness the news headlines in Pakistan and to be introduced to big wheels of the country. No other country so far in my experience like Pakistan can give me such a sensation.
 
As a courtesy to AZ and his Pakistani friends, I had a fruitful visit in this terrorists-ridden yet beautiful country. Without their protection and hospitality, I would not have been able to see so much of Pakistan at this critical moment of the country. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
Karachi Offers the Best Seafood
My first stop was the southern seaport city, Karachi. I heard so much about this city before my arrival as many of my business acquaintances were from Karachi as were my Pakistani cyber-friends. I was welcomed by dozens of staring eyes at the airport. Pakistan is a male-dominant society. Whether it is out of curiosity or friendliness, men usually gaze intently at foreigners like me, particularly women, I presume. At first I was intimidated by their eagle-eyed observation. But later on I was used to that and in fact, as I looked at those who stared at me in return long enough, they would just walk away.
 
In Karachi , you must be aware of power shortage and water shortage. In my experience, the electricity blackout would happen several times a day without warning. And the water supply was unstable too. For the first time of my entire life, water was cut off in the midst of washing my hair in Karachi . However, the delicious seafood in Karachi would clear away the downside of my stay here. I tasted lobster, crabs, prawns, fish and squid, both at a restaurant and at home. Umm…the scrumptious meals just hit the spot and quenched my appetite for something fishy from the ocean.
 
Our hosts in Karachi took us to the Arabian seashore which was not too far away from their house. Chinese land agents would be happy to invest overseas if they see such large area of vacant land waiting to be developed by the seashore. We were taken to a golf club which showed what a posh life you could live in Karachi . Beautiful one-storey bungalows were lined up by the peaceful creek. These bungalows with fantastic indoor facilities, such as Jacuzzi tub, swimming pool and modern kitchen, were for the well-to-do club members. What an eye-opener! I really could not believe this upscale lifestyle would be in one of the poorest countries in the world.
 
It happened to be on Sunday when I was in Karachi . Our host took us to the Sunday market in his neighborhood. The Sunday market is the tradition in Pakistan . Vendors gather together to sell all kinds of products in a temporary enclosure on Sundays. I saw many goodies in the market, from daily necessities like food and clothes to entertainment products like books and toys, as many as you can name. Occasionally I saw a “big shot” with bodyguards who carried guns. That scared the hell of me when I first saw their weapons. On another occasion, I saw guns when our host drove us to downtown and we passed by some gun shops which were hidden in the narrow backstreets. It was my first time to see weapons which were so accessible to ordinary people. Passing by a couple of Bhutto’s family houses, which were guarded by heavy army force, and the popular worship shrine of Ziarat of Qazi Abdullah Shah, I also visited the Mohatta Palace, the Clifton beach, the Mausoleum of the Quaid-e-Azam and the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum. Karachi is indeed a sprawling huge city in Pakistan.
Lahore Showcases the Fantastic Culture
Undoubtedly, Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan . There is so much to savor in this city. My three-day foray in town seemed to be not enough. I was fairly impressed by its historic architectures. Most of the old buildings were constructed with red bricks. Therefore I could recognize them easily from a distance.
 
We were greeted at the airport by a thick-dark-bearded driver sent by the prestigious novelist of Pakistan , Bapsy Sidhwa. I was honored to meet Bapsy and to stay at her house with a beautiful garden. Other than visiting the usual attractions like the Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort, Delhi Gate, Kashmiri Bazaar, Wazir Khan’s Mosque, Tomb of Jahangir and Shalimar Gardens , the highlight of my visit in Lahore was seeing the flag-lowering ceremony at the Pakistan-India border at Wagah.
 
Despite the disagreements over many issues between India and Pakistan , the guards of both countries at the border present a wonderful and cooperative show at sunset every day. As our driver said, the Indians were happy; we were happy; everyone was happy. On both sides of the border were grandstands filled with many cheering people. Although I did not understand what the audiences were cheering about, I assumed it was the moment to show one’s patriotism by shouting as loud as possible under the direction of two cheerleaders who were in green long shirts with the picture of the national flag, swinging the big Pakistani flag. In fact, the rhythm of slogans could be made into a very upbeat rap song, “Pakistan , zindabad.” The marching and kicking of the guards reminded of the Hong Kong army force. I guessed it must be the British tradition that the higher and the harder they kicked their legs, the better soldiers they could be. I remembered our officer in the military training once jested at the British way of kicking-leg marching, saying it was a big no-no to kick our legs so high in the Chinese way of army marching. I was really entertained by such a funny picture of the marching Pakistani guards. They kicked their legs high up to their face, striding arrogantly with swift steps towards the border gate. At times they showed off their pride by raising thumbs up before resting their arms on the waist. Their serious faces vividly expressed all their inner feelings: proud, stern, aggressive and maybe a bit angry. The friendliest moment was the martial handshake between the guards of Pakistan and India both at the beginning and at the end of the ceremony. Although the Indian side of the audience outnumbered the Pakistani side, the full-throated cheering from Pakistan definitely outcried the Indian side. After the flags were taken down, the border gates were slammed shut, seemingly the people of both countries would never see one another again. Yet crows in the sky were still flying freely over the Wagah Border. Which nationality do the birds belong to? Nobody really cares. Such a one-of-a-kind and fabulous live show at the border is absolutely worth many returns. Plus, the Pakistani guards were drop-dead gorgeous. If India is the hometown of beautiful Miss World bimbos, Pakistan must be the cradle of good-looking guys.
 
Lahore is the city in which I find more similarities to Northern India than in any other cities in Pakistan . The city is relatively clean and beautifully adorned with spring flowers and Victorian fountains. Mosques are everywhere and very noticeable. In the dusty suburb of Lahore amidst of blocks of congested houses, the most shining architecture belongs to the mosque. The dawn in Lahore was extremely unique. In the death of silence at dawn the prayer from the mosques appeared to be very loud and clear. Every mosque has several loudspeakers which broadcast the prayers at certain times of the day. So I often heard the prayer spreading around the town from one mosque to another. I was even awakened by the prayer several early mornings. The devotion of Muslims to their religion was admirable. At the airport, the TV screens played a praying video at certain hours of the day and a prayer for a safe journey was a must routine in the airplane before every flight took off.
Islamabad Houses the Beautiful Homes
Straight roads, wide streets, greenish boulevards and beautiful big houses—this was my overall impression of the capital city of Pakistan . The orderly layout of Islamabad seems to be only found in the virtual world where beautiful Utopian cities were built in a tidy manner. Big houses in Karachi and Lahore were sort of concentrated in one section for the wealthy or were hidden behind the high walls, while the beautiful low-rise houses in Islamabad were standing along street one after another, some guarded by weapon-equipped soldiers. I was very fortunate to be invited to the family house of Miangul Aurangzeb, who was the last ruler of Swat State as well as the former governor of Balchistan. His house was impressively big, while the history of his family was even more impressive. We had a wonderful home-made Pakistani dinner with several courses and ended with reviewing a couple of precious photo albums of the family’s official visits to the U.S. and China in the 1960s.
 
Islamabad was a new city built at the foot of the Margalla Hills. Our driver took us as far as to the NWFP border on the Margalla Hills where I took several snapshots with the guards there. From the hills I could overlook through the haze the entire city. After a little stop at the Faisal Masjid which was said to be the largest mosque in the world, I continued to visit Rawal Lake and the “white buildings section” where all the government offices were located. The security in Islamabad was certainly the tightest in the country. It took at least fifteen minutes to go through security check at the Serena Hotel, one of the few five-star hotels in Islamabad. Since the capital city was so new and there was not much to see, we visited the attractions outside of Islamabad. We went to Taxila Museum and the ruins of Jaulian monastery site, part of a 2000-year-old Buddhist settlement, for a closer understanding of Buddhist influence in South Asia. The exhibits at the museum were marvelous. It would be a great loss to the entire world if Muslim extremists ever reach here and destroy historic sites like Taxila. I saw many colorful decorated trucks running or parking along the Grand Trunk Road. These colorful trucks showed how artistic the truck painters were. The same truck and bus artwork could be found in Karachi and Lahore, too. On our way back we passed through the hustling and bustling Saddar Bazaar and Rajah Bazaar in Rawalpindi. Sunday seemed to be the busiest day to the bazaars as they were extremely crowded and congested.
 
On our last day in Pakistan, we also visited Murree, the used-to-be “Summer Capital” during the Victorian time. I was lucky to see a little snow coming down on me as I walked out of a chapel on the mountain. I even got a bird’s-eye-view of the mountains at Kashmir Point. It was quite spectacular scenery. We wrapped up our journey with a shopping craze at the Blue Area and at the Saeed Book Bank, the biggest bookshop in Islamabad where you could easily spend all your money and time.
 
 
In spite of the present shaking security of the country, Pakistan can be a charming touristy destination. People are friendly, food are delicious and the landscape is magnificent. Unfortunately, I only can see now the breathtaking scenery of Swat and other beautiful sites through postcards. But I really hope Pakistan will eventually find its way to get peace and open its door to tourists around the world someday. As a Chinese tourist, I was blessed to complete the whole journey safe and sound and brought home quite a few goodies from Pakistan. My first trip to Pakistan helps me understand Muslims better. A small number of Muslims, not all Muslims, is detrimental to the world but not all of them. We all can live in harmony with different races and different religions. And I pray this is not my last time to Pakistan. God bless for world peace!
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