Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Lara, and the trains
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I've told you about my friend Lara, who is my chief partner in crime these days. Her mother is Hungarian (and spoke Hungarian to Lara all her life, which makes her genuinely bilingual) and her father is second-generation Swedish. In addition to Hungarian, she knows a smattering of Swedish and a heckuva lot more Chinese than I do, having studied it for six years.

We hit it off immediately because we each recognized that we have very similar feelings and motivations for being here, and we both want to learn as much about the culture as we can. I've introduced her to some of my Chinese friends, and she helps me translate things and takes the lion's share of the speaking responsibilities when we're out (although not all of them, I must note). Many of the other expats are content to move in familiar circles (which can be very small here, as you can get literally everything you need in about five city blocks). But Lara's always up for an adventure.

Here she is, crossing the street on the way to the fabric market in early March. Perhaps you can pick her out?


And here she is, pretending to be a mannequin.


Needless to say, among predominantly black heads of hair, she stands out.

I think we make a good team; two heads are always better than one if you want to move outside your comfort zone. I'm so-ooo happy to have a compatriot in adventures, too. There are just some things you can't get very many Chinese people to do: usually the things North Americans jump at.

Tonight we went out on the town for a bit. I almost backed out, because I'm still recovering from my sand-and-smoke-induced bronchial distress from Wednesday. I finally managed to go swimming tonight, though, after an unacceptably long hiatus (short story: I lost my dining card - which is what we use to pay for swimming - and to get it replaced I need my passport, which I don't have, because the office that issues Foreign Experts' Certificates has it . . . still waiting for my visa . . . ), and my lungs were feeling pretty good. So, after I got back from the pool, I put on my hat with the ear flaps, and we hopped on a bus for downtown.

First stop was McDonald's. I had a terrific taste for a Big Mac; I haven't eaten American fast food since I got here, and the weather has been making me homesick this week, so I thought, what the hell. Lara didn't eat - she'd brought some street-vendor bread with her. (Somehow, during the meal we began singing girl scout camp songs, the oeuvre of which overlaps the Methodist camp song oeuvre in not inconsequential amounts . . . of course people stared at us, but, gee, it's not like they weren't staring before we began to sing . . . )

Afterwards we went down to the river, the favorite place in town for both of us. We went to the Flood Control Monument, where things are starting to pick up after the long winter. The sparkler-sellers were out in force, and so were the buyers:


Then, instead of walking west, as I usually do, we walked east. And we made a wonderful discovery: The railroad bridge, complete with pedestrian walkway. We climbed the stairs up to the bridge and discovered a guard tower, populated by two guards. (One of them came out and spoke to us; I assumed he was telling us not to take pictures, but actually, he was telling us that it was much better to take pictures in the daytime because you could see more.) Unpersuaded, we continued along the walkway and I got some nice shots of Harbin from the middle of the river:


And here's Sun Island:


We initially thought we might just go and have a look around at the town from that vantage point, but heck. It's a bridge. We decided to cross it. We soon discovered that the middle of the river was Windy (with a capital W, hehe), but once you're in the middle of a bridge, you might as well keep going.

And. about ten minutes into our walk, we discovered the real point of walking on the railroad bridge:


The trains.

This is China, where there are a gazillion trains to everywhere. We were on the bridge for about an hour, and we saw six of them, three going each way. (That's pretty astonishing since the bridge takes the trains north to Vladivostok; who knew there would be so much traffic in that direction?)

So I had a lot of chances to consider how to show this spectacle to you. Here's my best shot, as it were:

Hope you can see that. (And I hope you can hear it; the wind was absolutely fierce.)

I'm inordinately glad that I didn't bail out on tonight's outing, because you never know where life will take you . . .

Now life's taking me to sleep. I have to pamper my bronchial passages, which did not exactly benefit from being on the bridge in the wind (with wet hair to boot), but tomorrow's another day and another adventure, and I'll be ready.

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