Thursday, May 26, 2011

Green Street

Have you ever heard the song Grey Street by Dave Matthews Band? It is a song about a woman with an unspecified mental disorder – possibly schizophrenia, who knows there is something fundamentally wrong with her, but she cannot bring color to her world and everything is grey. She lives on Grey Street. Very profound, especially in this day and age where music seems mostly concentrated on romance or money.

This entry is not about Grey Street but about Green Street. How does one go to Green Street? I shall direct you.

A few days after the police shooed all of the vendors off The Street (see Ambulant Vendors entry), a crew of about 30 workmen came and dug up bricks out of the recently laid sidewalk. By recently laid I mean that, when I first got here last August road crews were pouring concrete for the road and paving the sidewalk with bricks. What was The Street like before I got here? I would like to know. Possibly it was just a dirt road with no sidewalk at all. The point is, The Street such as I know it is relatively new. And now they’re tearing it up again.

At approximately 5 meter intervals these crews are now removing bricks and digging up one-meter square holes. They are not very deep. What could they possibly be for?

For two weeks we all wondered why we had these holes in the sidewalk, while the bricks rested, piled up neatly nearby. Today, upon receiving the news that I would be done teaching earlier than anticipated and going through my little bout of panic (see previous entry), and then, resolving to ramble around China for a few weeks before flying back to the States, I decided to carry on with my plans of going to Hanyang for the afternoon. I brewed my tea, packed my bag – my faithful companion that always contains my camera as well as personal effects like my phone and my wallet, and set off.

My heart was light and my mind was whirling over the possibilities my extra bounty of time would afford me. I felt really good for the first time in a long time, the weather was pleasant for the first time all week… All conditions were perfect to stop me in my tracks as soon as I hit The Street.

They were planting trees! Every 5 meters there was a hole in the sidewalk and every 5 meters there was a tree being planted!

Oh! How lovely! Delightful! Until now The Street had no trees on it; it is just a short stretch to the main road but is not necessarily attractive: businesses flanking both sides of the thoroughfare and virtually new sidewalk and road. Now there are trees! The Street is green!

Just think of what that means: birds might nest and welcome us with their song. The Street will be shaded during the hot summer months and the trees will provide somewhat of a wind break in winter. Instead of merely being a street it will be a boulevard, fit for strolling. As the trees are already leafing they will work their photosynthesis magic and help clean the air. Appealing to the eye, these trees will lend counterpoint to the various colored facades of the businesses.

With a silly grin plastered on my face I walked up The Street, watching the crews first cut the trees loose from their binding and then pruning them before planting the bulbous roots and scooping and packing dirt around them. Small children ran and snagged the pruned branches and paraded on the sidewalk, waving their green trophies. Grandparents beamed at them indulgently and some even joined them in song or encouraged them to wave their branches back and forth in ever wider arcs.

Life on The Street. And so it goes, and will continue to go, whether there are bricks on the sidewalk or whether there are trees. Whether I am here to behold it or not. Part of the timelessness of China, and The Street is a perfect example of such. Grandparents will indulge their grandchildren, children will amuse themselves, grow up and leave, the trees will grow and provide their shade…

What will The Street look like when I come back in August?

The construction on the main road is nearly complete. Maybe the dust will not be quite so heavy when I come back in the fall. Maybe the trees will have grown a bit. Those grandchildren will have grown and lost teeth and grown new ones. Vendors will have closed up shop, lost their license and been replaced by new shopkeepers, full of hope for heavy patronage when the students return. Will anyone remember the tall, blond foreigner?

My heart took a picture. This might be the last time I see The Street in just this way.

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