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Creink. Hiss – Clackclack thunk. “Shàng chē! Shàng chē!” Kkrrrum, Vroom thunk k k, hiss. Bunk bunk. MEEEP.This is the song of the Chinese public transportation system. Usually, this is the soundtrack of my daily thirty-minute trip to and from Ocean University of China in the Fushan district of Qingdao.

One day, though, it wasn’t.

After an hour of poring through A Chinese Discourse on Sino-American Relation with my tutor, I was sinking. My brain was sweating and making heavy puddles on my spirits – and it was raining outside. Great. I thought. A nice, slippery, wet, muddy, humid, smelly, crowded bus ride home is just what I need.

     Grouchy, I paid my 2¥ and pushed to the back of the bus, sliding my pack around front for safe-keeping. Fog covered the windows and blurred my view of the street, but I could tell from the chorus of car horns: we were in slow-moving traffic.

Sigh. I took out my iPod and pressed play.

*Cheery accordion, smooth clarinet and lazy guitar waltzed in my ears and sang melodies like warm Nutella on French toast, stripes of black and white and red, gentle sunshine on the Seine and the slight smell of oil paint.

Wait, no, it didn’t sing of those things. Where was I? Bumping noisily down the packed streets of Qingdao, in the fog, by the sea. Outside, women in wide-brimmed hats and fancy heels tapping down the sidewalk, gently splashing mud. A flock of brightly-colored umbrellas hovering around each bus stop. Look! There’s that shop with taro- and melon-flavored ice cream! Underneath a tattered, dripping tent, older gentleman huddled intensely around a game Mahjong. Salesmen with their carts of peaches, others selling kites or clam shells or bird-whistles or patterned socks. People living in Qingdao, in all of their different styles and circumstances – beautifully.

Elbow-to-elbow between two damp strangers and an umbrella dripping at my feet, I suddenly grinned. We were picturesque.

*”Under Paris Skies,” by The Paris Musette. Album: The Music of France.

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