The Search

Lately, I’ve been searching for spring.  In April, the temperatures in northern China have moved from a down-coat-boot-wearing high of 15F to a lovely sweater-trench-wearing 50F.  Today, the sign on the street outside our window proposes a whopping high of 60F.  Of course, that temp is probably happening outside while I sit here and type this.  When the sand storm inducing wind picks up this afternoon, I’ll be glad I’m still wearing a sweater.

Two weeks ago, I had blue skies and no wind for my walk to the post office and around the block.  But the only evidence of spring was a few green blades of grass seen as I walked back into our neighborhood at the end of 3.5km.

Yesterday, I walked from the doctor’s office to the Imperial Palace along Dadong Road, also about 3.5km.  Lo and behold, spring has arrived in that part of the city.  The trees are beginning to bloom and I have photographic evidence, obtained much to the delight of the 20 or so people staring at me and my camera.

So, while thoughts of friends going through difficult times weigh on my mind, I can at least find some comfort and smile at the signs of spring.

My (Almost) Daily Walk

I like to walk places.  I like taking a taxi from here to there.  Don’t get me wrong – I miss driving, a lot.  But we’ve never lived in a city like this before; where walking 15 minutes to a meeting, or taking a taxi to and from dinner is an option.  It’s fun.  And part of the experience.  When we moved to Shenyang, we had the choice taxis or a car and driver.  Friends of ours have children, and there really isn’t a choice.  If you want to use a car seat, then you have to choose your own car.  But as a child-free couple, we were thoughtful in our decision.  Why not take this opportunity to be city walkers and taxi takers?

One of my favorite walks is the one I take almost every day going to class or the gym.  I get my crap together, trying not to forget a tissue and sunglasses, say goodbye to the sleeping kitties, unlock the apartment door, and enter the sometimes smelly, always warm lobby on the 10th floor.  I usually push the elevator button before I lock the door, just for good timing.  The elevators have mirror-like walls, so depending on how good I think my hair looks, I might look up or I might not.  I exit on the 1st floor, then through the inner security door, say Ni hao! (hello) to pair of guys working the door of our building, turn up my ipod and I’m off.  There are three main people who work the door. These three men are on rotating shifts of about 48 hours each.  Plus there is sometimes a security guard, in uniform, who works with them.  I should mention that it took a while for these men and guards to warm up to the wai guo ren (foreigner).  I just kept saying Ni hao, waving and smiling.  Now, they smile when they see me coming, and respond to my hello.

I walk out the front door and across the parking lot.  I cut through the gazebo/garden area, and there are usually two or three older women sitting on a bench who look at me.  I imagine they are like most older women who gather; they are talking about their husbands or inlaws.  Across another parking lot, then through the vine-covered walkway.  By this point, I have found the perfect song in the shuffle, and I’m lost to the world.  Coming out from under the vines, I’m still in our neighborhood, so I watch out for cars, but there aren’t any big streets to cross yet.  I take shortcuts behind houses and through the stone walkways.  To be honest, I also avoid some staring this way.  Sometimes, I see the Riverside Garden neighborhood workers doing their daily tasks.  I like that they don’t notice me, and I can watch them for a moment of real life. 

I cross over a stone bridge over the once-filled neighborhood pond.  There is no more water though, and I’m not sure why.  I come up to the main gate, through the turn style, and I am facing Qing nian da jie, one of Shenyang’s main streets with six lanes transecting the city north-south.  The music muffles the horns and traffic sounds, and the staring begins.  In our neighborhood, I think people are used to seeing foreigners.  Just outside the gate, it’s a different story.  I walk along the sidewalk for 25m or so, then down the stairs into the tunnel that crosses under this huge street.  On the day I was thinking about writing this, I took two pictures inside the tunnel; one where I was alone, and on the trip back home, it was full.  Also when I took the photos, there were doing some work on the tunnel entrances, adding covers to protect the stairs and walkers from the rain. 

When I come out of the stairwell on the other side of Qing nian Street, I walk another 25m.  If I have class, I enter the China Agricultural Bank building, go to the 20th floor and see Wendy for another dose of humility and small success.  If I’m going to the gym, that’s next door at the Sheraton Hotel building.  The experiences in Chinese class and at the gym are for another day. This is about the walk, after all.

Leaving class, there is usually a man selling fruit from a decorated basket just outside the building entrance.  His sales go with the season, so I might see berries or grapes, something small that he can carry and sell easily from his post in front of the bank.  Leaving these buildings is also where I see some of the best cars.  Last week, it was Bentley convertible one day, and a Porsche 911 with a rear spoiler a few days later.  I adjust my ipod and head back to the stairwell and the tunnel.  Most days, there is a young man playing guitar and singing for coins down below, but not this day. 

As I climb the stairs on the east side of the street, I feel a bit of anticipation.  I exit the stairwell and come face to window with Louis Vuitton himself.  Well, his creations at least.  On any given day, I don’t know if I’ll see the patent leather clutch or the traditional brown leather.  Next door to LV is Ferragamo, and then Prada.  I don’t ever want to get used to the fact that I walk by these beautiful stores every day.  I should note that I haven’t, nor will I (probably) buy anything in these stores, but I am a woman who appreciates beauty in all forms, and a handbag is no exception.  Luxury abounds in China.  It is a fascinating thing.

Still smiling from the aubergine patent leather display, I am through the turnstyle and back in the neighborhood.  It is busier now, midday.  I like seeing the grandparents out walking with grandchildren.  More workers working.  People watching.  Sometimes on the way home, I stop in at our little Riverside store.  It is a little supermarket near the apartment where you can find fresh vegetables and fruits, many imported products and other necessities.  It’s like the Cabana store Gail and I used to walk to on the weekends; you never know what you’ll find, but there is always something you need.  I take my goodies and walk about 75m to our apartment building.  Ni hao!  I check the mailbox, hoping for another of Mom’s letters, shrugging if it is just something from the bank.  Then upstairs to the wake the cats, eat lunch, look out the windows and figure out the rest of the day.  I can’t complain.