Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Happy 4th of July
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Well, there's nothing like being far from home to make you a tad patriotic . . . Lara decided that we should celebrate the Fourth in good ol' 'Murkin fashion - with a picnic at the beach.

So today we headed out to Sun Island with our Chinese friends, Michael and Wencui. After making preparations for the picnic, we took the bus downtown, where we wandered for a while in Zhaolin Park:


See those balls? They're like hamster balls; you can rent them and then run around inside them, paddling yourself around that canal.


Yup, I think those are menorahs. This city was partly settled by Russians, many of whom were Jews.

Zhaolin Park is one of those places that I've seen on the map, but never had time to explore. Like all Chinese parks, it was full of people getting together to do the things that you can do with others, but don't usually do alone, like make music:


After a short stroll, we headed to the river and to the Sun Island boats. Once we arrived on the island, we searched and searched for a place to picnic. Here we are, roaming around on what the Chinese have labeled the "Sun-Roaming Dyke":




Finally we landed a spot in the shade of the gondola, and Wencui and Michael set about starting the fire for our barbecue:




After our meal, I achieved my dream: I went swimming in the Songhua River. Michael went, too; he's only recently learned to swim, and this was his first time in the river as well. I was really proud of him, and really happy that I could get yet another person to understand why it's fun to swim on a hot day.


Next year (if I don't manage yet this year) I'm swimming across the river.

When we were ready to go, I took advantage of the Dyke's smooth surface to rollerblade back to the boat dock:


After we returned back to the city, Michael and Wencui went home, but Lara and I stayed until sunset, watching the boats on the river, watching the moon rise and then set, and, blowing bubbles (well, she did, anyway, and so did some Chinese folks).





One of the things that charms me about this country is that adults here do things like blowing bubbles . . . it's just sweet and open and unguarded. People here have a lot less image to protect, and it makes life feel much more human, somehow.

When the sun set, we lit sparklers, while singing patriotic songs:




Then we came back to campus, went out for a drink, and finished the night with some more barbecue, this time from a street vendor:


This woman was happy to talk to us - while our food was cooking she asked where we were from, how long we'd been here, how we liked Harbin, and on and on. And then she was just thrilled to death that her picture was going to America . . .

It was an interesting day. It was completely ordinary by American standards, but everywhere we went we drew comments. Lara gets 'em all the time because she's good-looking and speaks Chinese well, and I get my share because I'm usually doing something that the Chinese don't expect a woman of my age to be doing. People were amazed that I could swim. They were amazed that I could rollerblade. I always seem to be doing something out-of-the-ordinary, by Chinese standards.

Yesterday my friend Tang Sai said, after I rode my bike to hell and back and then to her house, and was about to set out on my bike, after dark, for my dorm, that she was beginning maybe to understand the American spirit. Being here makes me understand it a little bit, too. For all our country's faults (and I do believe they are legion), we do encourage people to take chances, to explore, to seek their own answers to life's questions. Chinese people hedge their bets and worry; Americans dive in head first and ask questions later. And for that reason, I truly am glad to be an American.

Happy Fourth, my American friends. And happy day to everyone, wherever you are . . .

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