Light snow covers the grass at Hebei Financial College (Picture by Ryan Bettwy)
What facinating texture the Father has given to my voice through these bus rides! The sun rising off in the distance, behind field after field of corn (out of season) and other crops. Small brush fires rise to my view here and there, the smoke rising above the tree tops. I'm amazed at the tiny villages every few hundred meters: the schools, the playgrounds, and the one-strok brick-and-cement buildings/ homes. Many of my students come from places like this. My school is postedd up right next to a village not unlike these "shanty" towns. Even on this clear day with the sun presenting a bulbous orange-yellow hue against the green sky, there's still a strange haze that will not relent its hold over the landscape. Dawn versus haze... haze is winning by a hue.
It smells, in whaffs, of burn piles, the musty stale that could almost be mistaken for a Sunday barbecue, if not for the ever-present sense that "we're not in Kansas anymore". Todo would have enjoyed China's agricultural landscape, though: the dawn is starting to make headway over the haze, though it's a toss up to figure if the reflection I see off the window of the bus is from the haze or from the sunshine's growing prowess.
There's a thin layer of frost gripping tightly over the ground. It has its back to the sun, almost a defiant posture saying, "If I don't see you, you can't make me leave," like a child refusing to give up his position on the swings as his mommy pulls him away. As a child ultimately loses control, despite his cries of protest, so can will the frost find this battle to be in vain. There's also frost lining the power lines, erected not 100 meters away from the highway, standing tall between the shanty towns and the fields. Many of the building in these towns are dilapidated and no longer suitable for much beyond storage . It reminds me starkly of the school next to my apartment where I lived last year which, for the first six months of my life in China, was entirely abandoned. There were five or six buildings that held classrooms which, if you explored them curiously as, say, an unwelcome foreigner..., you felt like it was Armagedon had struck and you were among the final compatriots of the nnew age! I used to read the sparsely-strewn English words on the chalk boards, along with hundreds of Chinese characters which were just left drawn without any sign of leaving, a modern-day Rosetta Stone, if you will. The chairs of the classrooms were thrown about, as though construction or demolition workers had pondered the possibilities of knocking down these walls; perhaps they saw the remnants of the school teacher leading her class in learning economics, or geography, or calculus and thought better of it, but that's probably just my bias toward the essential value of the written word. Either way, they never tore down these buildings.
I can no longer stare at the son, as it has matured into a blinding sphere engulfing the Eastern sky, like a childhood friend who you meet some distant years down the road in a power tie and power suit, shouting power words in powerful ways. No more debate: both haze and frost lose by a long shot. There are no power ties on today's bus, though. Nor weere there any a few kilometers back when we eeked to a stop still quite a ways from our destination, stuck in a painful mass on the highway. The source? A 14-wheeer packed with cheap food-stuffs and ramen noodles had caught fire and, as it carcass torched on the shoulder of the road beyond the capacity of even the power-tied sun, dozens of people, likely from the neighboring shanty town, pilfered hundreds of packages of food from the now-hopelessly vulnerable truck. I saw two guys grinning ear-to-ear as they made their way past a policeman and carrying three boxes full of the truck's treats. the police were seemingly only present to keep order, not to prevent the theft-in-progress.
I guess that'd be me, too, if my nose was recovering from frostbite, only to grapple with the new prospects of severe sunburn.
People struggle to recover food from a burning truck on the highway. (Picture by Ryan Bettwy)