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e quindi uscimmo

(The last two overdue National Day entries will be coming soon.)

I hate cold weather. That’s part of the reason I decided to come to Harbin, I guess: some perverse desire to see what one of the famously cold Manchurian winters would feel like.

Truth be told, the cold isn’t really the worst part; it’s cold, sure, but that’s easy enough to get around; all you need is three sweaters, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, heavy boots, a ski mask, and thick gloves. You’ll be both immobile and toasty warm – until the wind starts.
The wind somehow manages to blow from every direction. It cuts through your coat, your sweaters, and your boots, penetrating the two-inch thick layer of insulation around your body and flaying you with cold. At this point, if you are anything like me, you will start to convulse with shivers. If you go inside immediately, you’ll still shiver for about 10 or 15 minutes. If you stay outside, you will get so cold that you eventually stop shivering.

This, even, isn’t so bad, because the wind at least clears the air a little.

They burn coal for everything here – every single apartment complex, every factory, every school, every cornerstore and noodleshop. The smoke pours into the air, and the soot settles on the city, turning it a dull grey to match the sky. Visibility is about 200 metres; anything further than that will be an indistinct grey blur that barely stands out against the smoke in the air. When it snows, you will see that the snowflakes are a greyish-yellow colour. They fall to earth and are immediately trod underfoot and compressed into a half-inch thick layer of dark grey ice.

When I think of Harbin in January, right before I left for vacation, I get a monochromatic mental image: grey danyuan apartment buildings, grey streets, grey sky, grey snow, grey ground.

The sun rises late in the morning, around 7:30, and sets early in the afternoon, around 3:30. This was initially fine with me, but over time, the short days and long nights tapped into something at the lizard level of my brain, and I began to be constantly tired. This, combined with a lung infection that came and went, put me in a crappy mood that didn’t lift until I got back home to Philadelphia, a city which its locals sometimes refer to as ‘Filthydelphia.’
I walked out of the airport with my parents, and stared out the car window on the way home, marvelling at the cleanliness of the pavement, and the clarity of the air, and above that, the sky, and the final canto from Dante’s Inferno popped into my head:

salimmo sú, el primo e io secondo,
tanto ch’i’ vidi de le cose belle
che porta ‘l ciel, per un pertugio tondo.
E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

We went, he first and I following,
until we saw the things of beauty Heaven bears,
through a round opening,
whence came we forth, and once more saw the stars.

9 Comments

  1. leylop wrote:

    I hate cold weather too. But I don’t have much desire to live in some cold place experiencing the weather there.
    Even in Hangzhou, the temperture is aroud 0 C in winter, I wear three sweaters and a coat, two(or three) pairs of pants, three pairs of socks, two pairs of thick gloves, a scarf, and carry a hot water bottle when handy.
    I’ve been thinking that how much more could I wear? I can’t imagine how to survive in harbin.

    Sunday, March 16, 2003 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  2. yoshio wrote:

    i love Dante, and i find it interesting that this canto came to your mind as soon as you came back home. hope you’re hanging in there in Harbin dude.

    Monday, March 17, 2003 at 6:07 am | Permalink
  3. megan wrote:

    last summer as i got off my plane after arriving in beijing, i could smell the polution in the air. it was overwhelming, and i didn’t remember ever noticing it that much before, which is strange. it felt like i was breathing tangible soot into my lungs. i had commented on the polution, to which i was told that the air was better than it had been for a long time since it had just rained. after a week or so, i got used to it. i wonder if that’s a good thing….

    Monday, March 17, 2003 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  4. Prince Roy wrote:

    I always wanted to get up to Harbin during the winter when I lived in China but never made it. I’d like to experience one of those winters too.
    Once I seriously considered teaching English over in Daqing but my application arrived too late. I kind of wonder how that would have turned out.

    Hopefully one of these days I’ll make it up there. One of my favorite Chinese authors from the 1930s, Xiao Hong, was from Heilongjiang so I need to make the pilgramage at some point.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2003 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  5. Zang wrote:

    I have a good time in this evening.And I hope that you ‘ll come to my home when you’ll be free.

    Thursday, April 3, 2003 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  6. Brendan wrote:

    Yosh – I didn’t mean to imply that Harbin is hell, if that’s what you mean. I like it here; not really enough to stay another year, but enough to come back and visit, certainly, and more than enough to enjoy the time I have left here

    Megan – it’s probably not a good thing, but I’m almost beyond the point of caring about what Chinese cities do to my lungs. (The infection is currently back; there were a few moments of panic where I thought it was SARS.)

    Prince Roy – from what I’ve heard about Daqing, I’ve decided that nobody could not get me to live there, not for all the tea in China.

    Lili – for no particular reason. “Color,” if it bothers you that much. And yes, although I’ve gotten used to squatters.

    Your Trollness – you know, I was looking for a title. Thanks.

    Saturday, April 5, 2003 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  7. Lili wrote:

    You spell color like “colour” why?
    I always thoroughly enjoy SITTING while doing my business each time I g0et back to the states.
    ahhh… simple pleasures =

    Saturday, April 5, 2003 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  8. Troll Man wrote:

    I tip my hat to you sir, you did not delete. I will grant thee dual citezenship in my kingdom of the Trolls. Long live Bokane!!!!!!!!!

    Saturday, April 5, 2003 at 7:14 am | Permalink
  9. Troll Net wrote:

    Wow, you hate cold weather. Exciting! You are living in the fast lane, there is definately a travel book here. ‘Cold China, how I lived in the Middle Kingdom and complained about the weather.’

    Kilroy was here.

    Saturday, April 5, 2003 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

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