By: Sean Paul Veltmeyer, Langara College, winner of the 2017 Stories from Abroad Scholarship.
Sunday morning I wake up to vibrations and the sound of jackhammers. Several minutes of shaking pass and I lose any hope of reprieve from the cacophony. Down a floor I turn a corner to find that the hallway to the gym, functional just yesterday, has overnight turned into an impassible rubbish heap; full of smashed tiles and debris. It appears I have discovered the source of the jackhammering. It’s sunny outside and there is much to see so I settle for a walk in the city.
Within steps I’m perspiring, but, despite the heat and humidity, there is a pleasant breeze and the air is palatable. A blue sky, green trees, and brown and grey buildings with colourful (often red) signs make up the scenery. At the top of a pedestrian overpass (accessible by escalator) a man wearing the bright orange coveralls of a Chinese Public Worker ineffectually wipes at the railings with a dirty cloth. Close by sits his cart complete with trash bin, straw broom and mop. Various side streets, packed with narrow entrances leading to deep, narrow stores packed floor to ceiling with cheap local goods, lead me towards the West Lake.
Near the lake, the stores become larger and many of them are marked with familiar icons: H&M, LV, Gucci, Zara, and most ostentatious two massive, open stories of shinning glass adorned with a large grey apple. Past these shrines of Marxism with Chinese Characteristics lies the lake itself; a sapphires reflection of the sun. And it’s here, by the lake, that I find a city alive.
The shore of the lake, shaded by a broad, reaching canopy of trees, bustles with activity this morning. Elders with buckets of water and long brushes mark the stone tiles of the ground with calligraphy leaving a quickly fading story in the squares behind them. Another public worker dressed in orange, a woman this time, ambles along, cheerfully picking garbage from the ground with long pincers. Several policemen armed only with batons stroll close to the lake and in the other direction four soldiers, beautiful women with hard faces of ivory, march in step. But most of all I notice the children.
Dozens and dozens of small children, alight with smiles and laughter, play and are attended to by their parents, and grandparents; happy families enjoying their time together. It’s a wonderful sight, but one that leaves me in a pensive mood. Years in sterile Vancouver has left the idea of having children and time to spend with them a surreal distance away. My thoughts carry me back to the hotel where I rejoin my classmates to depart this dynamic city with warm feelings and an itching curiosity to return and learn more.