Margaret: 秋天 – qiūtiān – fall

November 11, 2011

Fall has finally arrived in Beijing, and the ginkgo trees on campus are nothing short of spectacular, lighting up the grounds like big golden suns.  In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d bring my camera to campus today to capture the colors before they’re gone in a week or so.  I figured my blond hair already attracts enough attention, so obnoxiously snapping photos on my own college campus wouldn’t really do all that much more damage in the staring department.  After class this afternoon, I set off to old campus for some photographic therapy.  To my surprise, every single other Chinese person on the north half of campus had a camera in their hands.  Students, frail old men, and even little kids were running around in pursuit of the angle that best captures the colors of the season.  It was like we were all paparazzi.  This was really one of the only times I’ve felt a sense of community on campus.

Apparently my photographing did attract the attention of one onlooker – Li Xizhuang, or Alec in English.  He tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you American?”  I then spent the next five hours with him in a coffee shop on campus helping him prepare for the TOEFL, the English exam foreign students have to take to go to school in America.  Li is 33 and holds two Master’s degrees, one from Harvard and the other from Tsinghua, Beida’s rival for the number one spot in China.  He lived for several years in Boston and then New York while studying and working.  He’s hoping to be admitted to a PhD program in executive business management in America so that he can become a professor and “have time to think and write a book.”  His spoken English is amazing, but, as usual with non-native speakers, he has many minute issues with writing.  I had never realized before tonight how many itty bitty English words like in, on, through, by, that, etc. are so interchangeable yet so not at the same time.  Li is perhaps the first Chinese person I’ve met here who’s really been able to stimulate me intellectually.  We discussed the role of Chinese parents in their child’s education, the differences between Chinese women and American women, why all Chinese people want to leave China, etc.  He was also very forward with me, talking about girlfriends and marriage and babies but then adding that I’m “too young,” and “just like his 15-year-old niece.”  I feel like I should start calling myself the Much-Older-Man Heartbreaker, as it’s unintentionally happened more times than I can count.  I probably jinxed myself somehow when that 30-year-old Hispanic janitor as my high school job proposed to me IN SPANISH when I was 16 and I said no…  Despite his restrained advances, I had a really great time with Li and left feeling totally refreshed from our conversation.  Although I said he didn’t have to, he paid me about $80 USD for my tutelage, which is a TON of money by Chinese standards.  I may go buy myself a $15 bag of Milanos tonight.  🙂

Growing up, during the peak of fall color my family would pack a picnic and go into to Chanhassen to Lake Ann one weekend each year.  There was never anything particularly special about this lake or this place.  I could go to it whenever I wanted and would frequently bike there in the summer to go to the beach.  Yet, I remember avidly looking forward to this one day each year, and my memories of it are vivid.  Somehow every time we’d go, the water, frigid by now, was always as still and reflective as glass.  Dad would prepare the charcoals for the hot dogs while mom unloaded the cooler filled with Pringles and green grapes and homemade cookies and if I had behaved that day, a caffeine-free Pepsi, my heart’s delight!  My brothers and I would play on the playground before all five of us would head into the woods.  The trail was probably no more than a mile, but it was perfect in every way.  The leaves in every shade of red and gold and brown would fall as if on cue like we were in a snowglobe of sorts.  When I was a bit older, puppy Bentley joined us, running like a cheetah up and down and all around and collecting a myriad of sticks and leaves and burrs in his fur that became the bane of mom’s existence.  The sun would set over the lake, and soon enough the fall chill permeated our sweatshirts, sending us home.

Feeling nostalgic and looking to recreate my fairytale fall memory, a few days ago I went to the Summer Palace in search of fall color and peace of mind.  Just two subway stops from Beida, the imperial gardens had once served as a summer resort for emperors of old.  To my dismay, I found neither color nor peace.  The ginkgos on campus had had me fooled.  They’d turned much earlier than anything else, and the Summer Palace hardly had any at all.  A bleak, heavy haze hung over the day and blotted out the sun almost completely.  What should have been beautiful was gray, and tourism had overrun the place with vendors attacking me around every corner in broken English.  I’ll have to go back in the spring or summer when everything is in bloom.

Despite being sick and poorly medicated on Chinese “herbal antibiotics,” my heart has honestly felt like it’s going to explode these past few days!  Brian Krause is coming to China in January, and I am soooooo excited!  Now that I’ve gone on a backpack trip and know how to not get ripped off while bargaining for a room in a hostel, he and I are going to set off together on an China epic adventure.  Trains and buses go everywhere in this country, and hostel rooms are like $10 a night, so basically we can hop a train and go anywhere.  The idea that the WHOLE country of China is available to us is giving me absolute chills.  We could go to the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains:

Or Hainan, China’s Hawaii:

But where I really want to go is here, here, and here:

Yunnan Province near Tibet.  One of the cities I hope to get to actually changed its name to Shangri La.  I’m absolutely itching to get out of the city and off the beaten path.  Tiger Leaping Gorge, here I come.  I just can’t wait to do some hiking again and breath actual air.  And I couldn’t have picked a better travel companion.  I absolutely cannot wait for him to get here.  It’s literally going to be the trip of a lifetime, and it can’t some soon enough.  And let’s be honest, we all remember where Marg ended up with a backpack and ten days to spare this past October:

Amazingly excited to see where two weeks takes Brian Krause and I.

And then mom and dad come on February 5th!  I simply could not be more overjoyed to have my family come to China.  I remember this past summer when my mom came to visit me in Ames, Iowa.  I mean, I know I’m comparing Ames to CHINA right now, but seriously, the prospect of her visiting was all that got me through the two sticky, strenuous week prior.  I remember being so excited to take her to the gelato shop and the Stomping Grounds and Hickory Park and around the Iowa State campus.  I showed her around Des Moines, my weekend escape, with pride and even drove her all the way out to the research farm, where I had her walk in the corn a bit just to see how lovely corn leaves scratching your face feels.  It meant so much to me to have her support me in such a way.  It’s easy to think that relationships within a family are stagnant, and it was her visit that made me really realize how ever changing each and every relationship with my family members are as we move through different stages of life.  I am so thrilled to reconnect with my family in China, and the prospect of their coming has made me feel completely renewed and incredibly lucky to be here.

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