Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life
During the summer of 2011, I traveled to Beijing, China as an ESL teacher for the SMIC Private School. My camera died the first day of the trip somewhere in Narita, Japan. Luckily, a fellow teacher graciously allowed me the use of her grandmother’s camera. These are just a few of the 14,000 plus pictures accumulated and permanently housed in my digital photo journal.
The street life of Beijing through all the grime, grit, and smog brought about many opportunities to see the cultures’ greatest kept secrets of poverty-stricken citizens surviving on less than $3.00 USD a day. This particular pictures occurs somewhere in the third ring. The closer we moved into the inner rings the more the communist system revealed an age-old system of classism. The poor regulated to the outskirts of the world rarely ventured into the inner rings. Thus, their current predicament seemed normal. Only my fellow westerners recognized the disparity between the rings. Yet, many managed to refrain from imposing their western superiority complex over our new friends. However, there were a few comments about our unusually large suitcases. Considering our multiple suitcases outnumbered us, it all makes sense. I felt a little embarrassed the more the kind porters struggled to secure enough space for us to board the bus after loading our luggage. I digress.
As westerners, we longed for the remnants of home and would often venture into the second and third rings after class. A quick dash to our “hotel” situated next to our school for a shower, retrieval of our universal transportation pass, and off we went. The hotel was actually a compound housed between twenty-foot steel gates protected by some extremely friendly police officers. Friendly is loosely used here to denote the prison undertones of our environment.
On the bright side, our assigned teacher assistant (TAs)/babysitters were always in tow. Actually, our teacher assistants were our guides in an unfamiliar land. Their few moments of rest occurred during our few hours of sleep. Otherwise, they met us at sunrise and stayed by our sides until the wee hours of the morning. Even now, I appreciate the care shown by my TA.
The next picture features a community government-owned housing development deep within the third ring.
Now, the next picture holds a special place in my heart. I was extremely excited about visiting a Chinese Opera. The anticipation soared throughout me the entire day. I remember bubbling inside as I ready for the evening.
Decked out in my long flowing white skirt, perfectly pressed white buttoned-down shirt, affixed with a wide-loose-fitting white belt, and white sandals; I imagined an evening of indoctrination into this fine art of Chinese Opera. However, we arrived at an off-Broadway rendition of a Chinese Opera house. My shock hidden under a curt smile belied none of the disappointment within my heart. Although the reality failed to measure up entirely I managed to enjoy the experience wholeheartedly.
Our trip planners prepared an enlightening itinerary filled with the best of Beijing.
The following reveals a marker in an area surrounding the Forbidden City.
One of the best days occurred on July 24, 2011. En route to the Great Wall, we stalled in traffic for over an hour. It felt like traveling the FDR in New York during rush hour traffic. Except, few new yorkers would dare vacate their bus and start sings or playing childhood games. I wish I could post a picture of our red rover games, but privacy constraints hinder such a display. Eventually, we would arrive intact at the enormous Great Wall of China.
I intended to trek up the entire section of the magnificent wall. I really did. However, it was rainy, smoggy, and downright dreary. I managed to climb about two-thirds of the way up the increasingly steep two-inch steps before succumbing to fear. Eventually, after a brief photo-opt, reason ruled the day, and I began my decline down the treacherous wonder of the world. I might have mumbled something about the timeliness of this little excursion drench from head-to-toe, but my inner joy offset outward discomfort.
Now, the perfect trip is not complete without a little shopping after a medical emergency. I will spare you the pictures of me in the doctor’s chair. However, I will close with a few pictures from my last couple days taken from within the second ring. The first depicts a fountain in front of the dentist who repaired my front tooth after my dance with a marble staircase. The second depicts my grand finale in front of the second ring mall.
My memories of my time in Beijing are as fresh as the sunset here in Texas. Occasionally, I connect with those I befriended during my stint overseas and inland. The myriad of transatlantic communication available in the new world of social media has created a bridge linking two not so separate worlds.
I recall our last gathering in our hotel room the night before or departure. Huddled around my 17-inch screen laptop, we watched my favorite movie of all time, the Lion King. Moments before our departure away a group of us stood still outside our home away from home. Our hearts conflicted. We began as natural inhabitants and foreigners. Yet, we were leaving behind a family we never expected to find. Wiping tears from our faces, we hugged each other, share last words of encouragement on our studies, and parted ways. Friendships are a unique vehicle to breathe into someone else’s life and future. My students, teacher assistant, and newfound spiritual family offered me solace during my time in a foreign land.
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