For the Spring Festival, I went to Tianjin, Beijing, and Harbin.
In Tianjin, I met family members that I’ve never met before – descendants of my grandmother’s cousin. I celebrated the new year with them in their apartment in the suburbs. In Beijing, I spent time in the art district, wandered around Tiananmen Square and the surrounding area, and visited the great wall. In Harbin, I walked in the glorious freeze along the ice river, through the ice statues, and among the Russian-inspired architecture.
Below are some photos, a fragment of a poem, and a scene from a China-based fiction piece about a young woman from the Zhejiang countryside moving to the city. You can read more of the fiction piece in entry nine and entry seven.
This entry is inspired by my time walking around the suburb in Tianjin where my family lived – but other entries to come will be inspired by other parts of my Spring Festival travels, stay tuned! I also will be posting Instagram stories and photos from the trip.
^^ It is incredible how well these people took care of me when I am a distant relation they have never met before. But I am still family – by name and by history – and that means something.
A large stuffed yellow cat. Saucer eyes, a goofy bucktooth grin.
It looked up at Ann from the pile of trash. Slant Mandarin characters scratched up the cement gate behind it, but she couldn’t make out what they said. Chicken scratch. The AQI that morning had been a purple “hazardous” at 387, but she didn’t feel it or smell it. Was it because of the cold? Could freezing weather freeze pollution particles too? Or was she just getting used to it all finally – the drenched, explosive city air?
Zao’s skin still burned on her. The scratch of his cheek on her chest. She wanted his hand around hers again. She wanted the assurance and reality of his presence rather than the dizzying anxiety of his memory.
A dog barked.
Missing an eye, matted hair.
It stood in a haze of gold against the blurred grey of the sky.
She knew his voice, but she couldn’t reply.
Why, why, why was she here?
“What are you doing here?”
Reluctantly, she lifted her face to look at him directly.
“Shouldn’t you be back home with your family?”
Ann shivered at the thought of her mother’s cement kitchen in the euphoric early spring light – the orange plastic stools – the wheat pancakes – her brother chopping scallions – her father smoking his finest cigarettes – her mother forcing a smile, humiliated as neighbor after neighbor stopped by and asked, “Where’s little Ann?”
What sort of heartless daughter didn’t return home for Spring Festival?
But how could she? How could she face them, knowing what she knew?
“I need your help,” Ann said.
A long silence.
A still construction crane behind her creaked in a gust of cold wind.
Ann turned on her heel and started to walk away.
She was jerked back by a hand wrapped around her wrist. The knuckles were chapped. Ann stilled and Zao walked next to her. They stood side by side. Black bubble jackets, bare hands. The sea of cement apartment buildings scraped and howled behind them.
Two young people in a country of 1.3 billion, alone, an empty construction lot on one side, a pile of trash and a filthy yellow stuffed cat on the other. Ann wanted to turn and hug Zao – wanted to consume as much of his body heat into her pores as possible from inside their black coats – but a great sad ice fell over both their bodies and kept them still in those positions.
A single morning firework battered the smog to their east.