"What? It's gorgeous here!"
"It's Mansfield. People are going to think you're nuts, taking photos of this place."
I shrugged, trotting off for a better angle.
And so went our quick trip to the bank.
Just as everyone in China was returning home for Spring Festival, we did the same. It was time to bring in the Chinese New Year, us from the comfort of Manfriend's home in England.
And on this lazy afternoon, we were in a town a short train's ride away from his family's town. Manfriend was running errands. I was playing the role of awkward out-of-towner, embarrassing him at every turn. I gaped like a proper tourist, Manfriend rolling his eyes at my enthusiasm. Locals' (possible) judgments be damned, I snapped photos left and right. The sun was already on its way down, casting brilliant shades over rooftops and winding streets.
I'm telling you, it was beautiful.
But for Manfriend, personal history had cast a dark shadow over this place.
Now don't get me wrong — he loves this country. The U.K. is his home. It's holds his family and friends and some beautiful memories. But the U.K. is as imperfect as any other place. Racism had left cracks — in his childhood and in years after. It shaded things for him, and rightfully so.
And as we walked through the center of town, his face was strained. Just a little.
He wasn't seeing the same view I was.
Gabbing over coffee, we chatted about how perspectives were informed by history and by experiences.
My view of England — informed by literature, history classes and popular media — romanticized my perspective. I gazed up at the architecture, mentally overlaying historical tales on the modern cities I walked through. My fresh eyes soaked up everything — I was loving it. With each step, I imagined the centuries-old history that surrounded me.
With each step of his, Manfriend replayed his own, far more recent history.
Another photo opp ahead, I asked if we could stop. A few folks stared, probably wondering what was so fascinating to me. Happy with the shot, I showed the photo to Manfriend.
"Huh. ... It is sort of pretty, isn't it?" he said. "I guess I hadn't noticed."
He looked back up. Then he started to grin. "It really is beautiful," he said again, quietly.
Just as his fresh perspective had re-invigorated my last trip to America, so mine was chipping away at the shadows that hovered over him. It wasn't about erasing the past but adding positive memories to the story.
The light of that sunset, over that perfectly average British town, made us both smile. A new experience or not, it was one we were sharing together. And it was informing our own perspectives with each beautiful shade.