哈尔滨，中国 Hā’ěrbīn, Zhōngguó Harbin, China has been my home for the past four days.
I can only begin to describe all of the wonder and surprise and utter confusion I have felt since – well, since even before the plane landed in Beijing at 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon.
The whole flight had no date or time, really. It was just unusually long, unbroken, motionless daylight for anyone who noticed past the movie screens.*
*I say that, but truthfully I love watching out the window during flights. This one was a bit unfortunate because between me and my main source of entertainment were a Chinese woman and her daughter who didn’t seem as excited that we were zooming over Alaska, then Russia, or that you could kind of see the curvature of the Earth.
I did politely ask them to open the window for the descent to Beijing, however. (Landing is scary if you can’t see what is going on!) I remember seeing a lot of blue rooftops, and shadows of creases in mountains a ways off.
And smog. That, too.
We hit the ground running.
Visa check. Security. Find a friend. Grab luggage. Race to meet CET directors. Coffee break – first concrete realization that we are in a new country: 月饼 for sale at Starbucks, and I have no yuan.
Bus ride – second realization that we are in a new country: traffic laws are not a thing. Friend is bumped by a taxi on the way to the bus. He’s okay, though.
Hotel check-in. Street names, what? Ordering dinner. Yes, my classmates are all better at this than me. “Is this your first time?” Why, yes, it is. My first time outside the United States.
There are moments when I sort of just ponder that, weigh the feeling of being through-the-Earth away from my family. It doesn’t seem real.
And since that crystal, autumn-chilly Friday morning when we disembarked the train and were whisked into the crowded streets of downtown Harbin, everything has seemed too real, almost. There was so much daydreaming on the plane – of snowy mountains, the Great Wall, instant friends and immediate, noticeable improvement in my Chinese – and the biggest realization that I’ve encountered so far is that
this is life, too.
The crooked, paved walkways and sidewalk traffic, willow trees lining the road, fruit stands and barbeque pits, surprise rain, eggplant and potatoes with sweet sauce and rice, spicy milk tea at a Cantonese restaurant, lukewarm showers and one electric fan, broken Chinese, hand gestures, smiles, embarrassed laughing – this is life, here. Everyday, normal, foreign-exchange-student life.
Life is always an adventure.