While the leaders of India and China were in Sanya negotiating how to improve cross-border ties, a 30-year-old Chinese fan of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described to me his travels in Mumbai, Delhi and Agra.
"Your country is incredible! Magical!" said Woody, when we met at the airport of Sanya city, which is what Goa could look like after a Chinese highway makeover.
Our conversation moved on, as it usually does when the Chinese discuss India, to corrupt babus. "A post office employee gripped my envelope and demanded Rs 50 to return it," Woody said. "I gave him Rs 200."
He had plenty of questions. Why can't your government pay better salaries to stop bribery? Why do people still live in slums? Why do Indians eat so much on trains? Have you seen that billionaire's new house in Mumbai? What! Shilpa Shetty got married?
Two recent headlines from India, on the anti-corruption campaign and the meeting between Singh and President Hu Jintao, went nearly unnoticed in China. The Anna Hazare-led civil society movement stayed out of the state newspapers for obvious reasons, at a time when mass gatherings even of sections of churchgoers are being swiftly suppressed in Beijing.
The indication that the Kashmir stapled visa dispute is being patched up was splashed only in India. China continues to maintain that its Kashmir policy is unchanged and Beijing insiders dismiss the visa issue as a technicality. "It is wrong to play up the visa issue," Beijing-based strategist Rong Ying told HT after the announcement in Sanya.
The big breakthroughs in bilateral relations are still decades away in the eyes of government insiders and even optimistic young Chinese Indophiles. The buzz among Chinese thinkers from northern Beijing to southern Sanya is that major bilateral roadblocks like the border dispute should be shelved for the next generations of leaders to deal with.
Woody declared earnestly that he believed India is a friend to China, and asked why Indian netizens post ‘nationalist' comments perceiving China as a 'threat'. But as we drove down the highway, we completely disagreed over Arunachal Pradesh, a state that he calls Southern Tibet. So we temporarily shelved the argument and discussed Aamir Khan instead.