In one of China’s most beloved epics — immortalised in comic books, TV serials and children's school texts — a monk heads out on a 7th century Journey to the West to India, seeking ancient scriptures.
Zheng Xiao Wen made her own journey in 1995 — to Mumbai, with a Parsi man who was about to become her husband in a tradition-defying marriage. Zheng, 40, and Mehernosh Pastakia, 42, now run Taj Pavilion, three hugely popular Indian restaurants in Beijing of the same name.
Their eight-year-old son Kershasp — Kersie — straddles the two cultures. He grew up watching TV series based on the monk’s epic journey to India; he fluently speaks Mandarin and is now learning Hindi along with his mother.
Zheng moved to Beijing in 1990 from her small town 1,000 kilometres away to study at a university. She met Pastakia at a Beijing restaurant where they later worked, and they fell in love.
Animosity towards India — especially as a baggage of the 1962 war — is the last thing on the mind of average Chinese people today, Zheng said.
“People of my generation don’t even know that India and China fought a war — it is just not in our collective memory. Even our school history books have a very short reference to it,” Zheng said, seated at a table with her husband, as the restaurant buzzed with members of the Indian Olympics contingent, starved of home food.
“In terms of IT, there is grudging respect — we always see Indian people as very clever, very smart,” she said, as her husband looked on, smiling. “My friends say India is developing very fast.”
But there is certainly something that Zheng learnt in India that does not get her compliments.
“I learnt driving in India. People tell me even now — ‘you drive like crazy!’”