Sunday, April 24, 2016

Black Dragon River

Sounds mystical, doesn't it? It evokes a deep, dark, boggy flow, shrouded in mist, hidden in a primeval forest. From its waters comes... a beast? Maybe a monster?  Ever since I was aware that there is a Black Dragon River, I've wondered. I've longed to see it for myself.

Let's back up for a second, to see how I became aware of this magic-sounding river. Frankly, there is nothing so mundane as that discovery. It came about because, the more Chinese I learned, the more I could understand things. For example: the city I've called home for the last 6 years literally means 'soldier': ' – wu: military; – han: 'man'. Beijing means 'north capital' and Nanjing means 'south capital'. Xi'an, where the Terra Cotta warriors are, is 'west peace'.

And so it follows that Heilongjiang, China's northernmost province, literally translates to 'black dragon river'. See? Nothing mystical about it. There is a river, though. You might know it as the Amur, the world's 10th longest river. Most notably, it forms the border between eastern Russia and China. 

Now reduced to nothing remarkable, why would I ponder on Heilongjiang (pronounced 'hey – long – gee-ahng), months before I might have the opportunity to go there?

And why would I want to go there, to begin with?

See, I have this great idea for an amazing trip, and it would start in Black Dragon River province. Harbin (ha-are-bin),  that region's capital city, is famous for 2 things: the winter ice sculpture exhibitions, and the beginning of the Trans-Siberian railway. I am a ninny about the cold, but...

I have nearly 2 months off during the summer, when there is no ice anywhere, except in people's freezers!

Can you imagine it? I'll make my way north, north... ever north, until Harbin. And then, buy passage on the Trans-Siberian railway, ride into Moscow and take in the sights. From Moscow to St. Petersburg, long a dream destination, to visit The Hermitage.

I'm not sure where I go from there.

And I'm not sure this trip is feasable, which takes me back to the original question, the one I alluded to in my last post: why am I thinking about renting hotels and traveling in general, when I still have a little over 2 months of teaching to do?

Whereas, for some, spring means planting vegetables and, for others, it's a time to fall in love, for me, spring is when the world opens up: when I start dreaming of distant places and faraway shores.   

Why this grandiose plan, instead of exploring China, as I've vowed to do? It might have something to do with last year's travel season, when I went... nowhere. Laid up, nursing my broken leg, I'll admit: I got quite comfortable in my little routine. I found I was OK with not going anywhere grand, and not exploring anything. In fact, I had about talked myself out of exploring. That had a lot to do with the comforts of home – as opposed to the discomfort of traveling: strange beds, new foods...

And another factor: newly awakened to my own fragility, I realized the foolishness of gamboling about, all alone. What if I had another accident and, this time, there would be no one to call for help? What if I were stranded, far away from everyone and everything I know, and...

See how easy it is to dissuade oneself out of enjoying life?  

My recent trip to Huangpi, even though we were essentially in a suburb of Wuhan, awakened my yearning for adventure. I probably won't be as adventurous as I've been before, but I can still go, right? And so, with another 2 months in the classroom, my mind and heart are already on the far-away.

I suspect my fingers are going to be busy, telling you all about it. Stay tuned!

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