Telšiai. A name I bet no one in Hong Kong has ever heard of. For 4 years my letters, parcels and postcards to Auksė have all been delivered to this little county in the west of Lithuania, so have Auksė’s been sent from this little county in the west of Lithuania. I was extremely excited to finally see what the place is like. Does her house look exactly like the photo she sent me? Will her family like me? In what environment did Auksė grow up? I had all these questions in my mind. When we were at Brussels, Auksė already told me that if I ever visit Telšiai, the people on the streets will stare at me because they very rarely see Asians. I was even more excited and decided I would pay a visit.
Telšiai is extremely calm. Most of the people are Lithuanian and there aren’t even that many people. Auksė’s mother Jurgita even joked that her friends and neighbours would start to call her and ask what happened to her daughter walking on the streets with an Asian.
I did have very interesting experiences in Telšiai town centre. The town square is a little square with a clock tower, a statue and a city map metal sculpture. While we were walking around, a young man sitting on a circular bench turned his head 180° to stare at us with a shocked face. Some older people also paid us a lot of attention while having a drink with friends. Needless to say, people on the bikes always look because the cost of staring into strangers’ eyes were so low.
The lake is also a giant public recreational facility. The tracks are so well designed and constructed and correspond nicely with the waters. I felt like I was in a summer camp with the scouts and I could spend my entire summer here doing all the adventures around the little “island” on the lake, like camping with the kids and treasure hunts. Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom could be set here too actually. Of course in reality people bike, walk, run and do all kinds of things on the land and you could even rent a boat for travelling on the lake. It was really relaxing but funny and I guess Auksė developed a bit of her sense of adventure in this lake park.
Of course Auksė brought me to all the places I need to visit in Telšiai, like the town centre, the lake, the good bakery, the second hand shops, the post office, her old school etc. My main objective though was to visit her family. One day we went to visit her grandma with Auksė’s sister Milda, but it turned out to be much more sentimental than I thought.
It was the moment when I was awaken by the greatness of “time”. Many old towns in Europe can bring visitors “back in time” but the effect was only to such a little extent we feel the same no matter which old town we visit and how long the old towns have been since. Frankly, Grandma is still very young as a grandma, but meeting her has struck me a lot harder to think of the matter “time” than visiting a UNESCO recognised city.
Grandma gave me a very tight hug after holding for it for a few seconds as she answered the door and saw me. Through Auksė I knew that she was really happy to see me because she didn’t expect to meet a foreigner in the little town of Telšiai in her life time, and not because I befriended with Auksė in the old-school way of exchange letters. I suddenly realised that without “time” and the things she has gone through, Grandma wouldn’t be as pleasantly surprised of our encounter. However we, me, Auksė and Milda, are also in the never-stopping stream of “time” that all the present moments of pleasant surprise will soon be incomprehensible because it has already become nothing special to meet people from the world and no one will take a pen and write letters to penfriends anymore.
And what if we all move forward in “time” and preview our retirement, even old age? Is that actually difficult, as whatever we do today will affect our tomorrow? Then why does it seem most people live basically the same way when retired? Does “time” past faster when we are young, or when we are old? These are the questions I still have no answer for, but it was meeting Auksė’s grandma that have struck me into having these questions.
Anyways, Auksė’s grandma is a lovely, sweet, delicate lady who has devoted her life to her family. Also, need not her insisting I would finish all the banana pancakes on the plate. In my opinion, she has passed the sweet character and cooking talent to Auksė’s mother (maybe to Auksė too but it is yet to find out). At first, I was afraid that Jurgita would think I am bad influence to her daughter because when we were in Paris, I made some adventurous decisions when Auksė’s flight was cancelled. Also, I am not a very good care-taker compared to Auksė (I can’t read the map, I don’t bring food in my bag, I sometimes miss calls etc). Fortunately, I think she forgot those things and worried more if I am hungry (when I arrived). Auksė’s father, Victoras, also cared a lot about food. He is the master of the grill (a skill my dad is yet to acquire, sorry dad) and he likes to multiply quantities on the shopping list for three times (maybe so he could shop for fewer times? lol).
It wouldn’t be complete if I don’t mention Milda, a 5 year old girl much smarter than Auksė and me. When I was 5, I couldn’t play tennis or any musical instrument, and I would beg for the same toys over and over again. Milda is different, according to Auksė she would ask for something else if she already has a barbie doll. When she attends the group tennis class, she doesn’t get frustrated easily because the older kids are better. On her table she has many things of life recorded in various forms and she does all of those by her own motivation. She is one of the extremely few children I have seen who is not corrupted by technology. (Many HK kids tend to be retarded because they spend too much time on their iPads). Only that is impressive enough (but of course, it is also a question of how the parents raise their children).
Ever since I received Auksė’s first letter, I have been impressed by her neat and elegant handwriting. Our trips in Belgium and Paris confirmed my positive assumptions on her personality. After visiting Telšiai, I had an idea of the making of the modern Auksė. I am really grateful I connected with her family as well in this visit, and that I have enjoyed every moment when I was with them. We were all a bit sad when I had to go and I hope I could visit again soon. Auksė once sent me photos of her home and her family when we first write to each other. 4 years later when I received her letter again after I am back in Hong Kong, I found a pack of photos. I flip through and I found myself. I happily cried.