Celebrating life with Xinyi Li

She loves the camera

I had every right to panic. My debit cards, student ID card, my two-month old oyster card and the note from my girlfriend would be gone, forever!

We had called the museum but had received no positive response. The friends we had there also said they could not find the cardholder. I was late for soccer training and had nothing but two pounds left in my wallet.

Xinyi Li repositioned her bike, swung her feet over the top tube of her bicycle and said to me, “I will do you a favour.” She set off for the museum, determined to return triumphantly with my cards. I was stunned.

Two hours prior, I would have never imagined that this 22 year old, Xujing native who possessed an International Economics and Trade degree from East China University of Political Science and law, possessed such a kind spirit and a personality so radiant and refreshing.

As I approached the massive iron gates run of the national museum that Wednesday morning; 30 minutes late for our scheduled meeting, I remembered our previous encounters and the number of times I had complained to my housemate. “She does not smile, Carla! Her answers are short and non-expressive.” How was I going to write a piece about someone I could not hold a conversation with?

Gloria, as she so quickly pointed out to me to address her by, had a demeanour that gave nothing away when she saw me. My moments as an awestruck tourist walking past the security details through one of the finest museums in the world was cut short when she said, “ You are late!”

As we walked through the corridors of the decades-old museum, I came to understand why those words were the first uttered to me. “I like it when things are repetitive and have structure,” she pointed out to me as we stared at the collection of cups from the Alexandria ages.

For an economist, i wondered why she spoke ever so fondly of art and history. Why she took such lovely photos on her Canon (I love Canon too). Why she found Greek mythology so intriguing.

She loves life.

She loves the essence of it all. The expression. The emotion. The connections that existed between expressionist art, contemporary art and modern art. The grace with which she describes The Gift of the Artists by Edith Dowing from 1930 for example showed clearly why she had chosen the course she had.

She comes from Shangai where the population is on average, 23 million. She is the only child of a banker father and housewife mother. She grew up on a farm. She remains till date one of the only Chinese people I have met with such an immense sense of the natural world and loves life.

In the natural history section for example, she tells me she will not stand in the sea because of the level of pollution of the waters in China. She says you will find plastics, boxes, batteries and complains about how pollution is so serious. She loves life.


We spend over 45 minutes in the natural history section of the museum peering into bottles and through glasses containing organisms long ago forgotten about by mankind. However not once does she show a sign of exhaustion or boredom. She is fascinated.

The animals seem to bring her some level of joy and satisfaction though as she pointed out, she hates dead animals because they are smelly. She loves the birds, the red fox with its eyes so realistic. She loves the animals with four feet – they seem more alive. She truly loves life.

A writer, a believer in fine art, a Tchaikovsky loving Chinese lady, a lover of life.

Not bad.

It’s not everyday i get this lucky.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: