Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Frosted Summer Day in the Park

California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain/Honolulu starbright—the song remains the same. Led Zeppelin

The path remained the same. But nearly everything else had changed in Zizhuyuan Park. Gone were the ice skaters and the toboggans. Absent were the laobeijingren decked out in every conceivable form of protection from the frost of January in Beijing. And hidden away in my mind was the lone boy who I had once seen with hockey stick in hand, skating across the lake as if he were on any frozen pond back in Minnesota. Nothing was the same, in fact, but the thrill of running amidst crowds of old timers performing every form of callisthenic—loosely defined—one can and cannot imagine. It was great to be back, great to return to the same park whose every curve I had grown close to over this past January, and great to now run without several layers of clothing weighing me down.

In other news the sixty or so classmates sharing my digs arrived tonight (June 11, 2008). In a few days time a language pledge will come into effect and we will be prohibited from speaking English. So the next few days are in some ways the best and only chance to establish friendships built on conversations that are not limited to the size of one’s Chinese vocabulary. I have immediately been pegged as a lao xuesheng, a veteran student, courtesy of my previous experience on the program for thirty days in January. Apparently that means I am supposed to know everything about Beijing. While I certainly have a few tips I can share with my new classmates, most of whom have just arrived in China for the first time, my advisory capacity is mostly a helpful means of meeting a wide range of classmates. Most attend various universities in Texas and a large contingent hail from Yale. Among the more memorable folks are two Mexican redhead sisters who run their own flower shop out of Austin Texas; an Indian guy who attends college in Minnesota and previously lived most of his life in Dubai (the most materialistic place in the world, he insists); and a Haverford student of Chinese descent who confided to me, after we shared our travel stories in Tiger Leaping Gorge in China’s Yunnan Province, that I really looked Chinese. I am going to attribute the remark to the comparative expertise I have within a sea of fresh off the boat Americans. Minus my The Last Samurai look courtesy of the ponytail I no longer have, I am not convinced that his remarks carries much weight in the physical resemblance department.

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