I remember the first time I landed in China. Almost 10 years ago now, I stepped off the plane in Changchun airport to the sounds of construction and the mewling of oxcarts. “Dude,” I thought, “oxcarts”. You know nothing, Jon Snow.
The outskirts of Changchun were brown and arid, and like every Chinese city of a certain size and proximity to the Gobi, the city had a little traffic roundabout with a small CCP plinth in the middle. The guy who came to meet me was not so much excited at the prospect of picking me up as he was about the fact that the excursion put him right next to one of the province’s only KFC’s. We had to climb over a small mountain of rubble to get to the door. He ate a lot of wings.
“This place is in pieces,” I thought. And I didn’t get what was so great about KFC for another 4 months.
My first year, after the harvest, I sat on the wall at YeHe castle and watched the farmers burn the chaff on the fields, hundreds of tiny fires like holes in the universe. To be fair, YeHe was really only half a castle – a re-built model of a real fortress that used to sit there. The new wall didn’t encircle the whole compound – it seemed to get depressive after hugging a couple of doors and just petered out – and the lake below was filled with toxic fish, goat shit and abandoned children’s shoes. It was a gathering spot for the rural Chinese tourists on day trips up from SiPing city. But myself and the other students from the academy lived right next to it for a good 10 or so months, and it was our playground. Weekend BB gun wars, and firefly swarms in summer. Sometime around then, I realized that if I could spend my life surrounded by surreal experiences, it’d be a life well lived.
I had some wild times in Jilin Province, but the the real home of my heart is Beijing. I went and read some of my old travel posts from 2004, during my second stint in China, and it seems that though I was a young lass of 21, I realized then through a fog of roasting sweet potato smoke that Beijing is where my soul belongs. Somehow, in the intervening years, I forgot that. I’ve now remembered. So, I’m going to make a life there, and I’m taking The Pixellary with me. Before the end of the year, I’ll be moving back to Beijing. I really ought to think about packing.
At dawn on the fifth day, look to the East.