Be Careful of Landslides

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The sun was not present in the sky when I awoke. I sat groggily on the bleached white sheets that were scratchy to my bare arms and feet. The white down comforter was draped over my thighs; it was soft and smelled of sweet cleaning supplies. As I bent over at the waist, with my arm outstretched, my fingers grabbed the lip of my suitcase and dragged it in close. In the dark my hand scavenged for the texture of my running clothes. In a tight fist I pulled them out and tucked them underneath me and the warm sheets; head back on the pillow I laid there on my lump of clothes.

When I deemed my clothes warm enough, I slipped into them, still sandwiched between my sheets. Then I stumbled out of bed and my feet bumped into my running shoes. I hastily slipped them on, not even bothering to bend down to untie then retie them. Once I was dressed I tiptoed past my sleeping roommates into the bathroom where I flicked on the lights for the first time. My pupils contracted so quickly that I had to pause, eyes shut and wait for my orbs to adjust.

Once I finally walked out the door it was five thirty yet the sun still showed no signs of dawn. The air was warm, slightly humid and almost prickled my skin with its morning mist. I peered over the edge of the balcony to see if Mr. Perrin, one of the chaperones, was waiting in the courtyard yet. He wasn’t. As I took my time descending the two flights of stairs I worried over the fact that I might be stuck out in the dark unfamiliar dawn alone. Only a few moments later I heard a door open then quietly bounce shut. Slightly startled I turned around and watched Mr. Perrin awkwardly jog down the stairs behind me. We stood in the lamplit courtyard stretching our leg muscles, prepping our fatigued bodies for a long run.

We both ran slow and my feet shuffled and landed with a light cluclud, cluclud, cluclud noise with every alternating step. Perrin ran knees to elbow with his back straight, panting in a Lamaze sounding way WHooo-clud WHooo-clud WHooo-clud. The run was flat, dull and boring while my eyes scanned the smooth weathered sidewalk, yet when I picked my head up from watching my feet, I realized the beauty in the surrounding area. I saw a morning perspective that few people ever saw.

Around me were buildings not high-rises like Beijing or Shanghai, but more in the style of old Asian strip mall with curved roofs, and mostly brown with bold red seams around the top. The sidewalks were wide enough for the foot traffic of hundreds of people. The roads seemed to be spotless. We ran past some street sweepers. They held makeshift brooms, the handle a long whittled branch and the bristles like dried grasses. It looked very much like what a witch would be riding. “If there are impoverished people this is the job they get,” Mr. Perrin explained. “ It’s like welfare but it is constructive to the community.” I studied their sun baked faces as we jogged by, they were thick and leathery from years in the sun. Between their lips rested dark yellow teeth, scattered like headstones in their gums. They were studying us as well. They might have noticed my clean Nike running shorts or new shoes, or maybe my clean straight teeth. They studied me in Chinese and I studied them in English, yet we noticed similar aspects of each other.

We kept going, panting as if the humidity was at one hundred percent. We were at such a high altitude that the air was thin, tricking my body into thinking that it was humid, oppressive and hard to take in a breath.

Not only was I having trouble breathing but the smell was raunchy. It came in bursts of sewage, rotten eggs and pollution. It was horribly nauseating causing me to instinctively pull my shirt over my nose. This smell was wafting through the streets of Lijiang and also followed us everywhere we went in China.

At this point the sun was peeking through the smog over the mountains and buildings making the streets glow a gold color, the sky was a soft bright blue with pink and gray streaks. As the sun came out, so did the street venders. They cooked the most amazing looking pastries and fried pineapple. On the same burners they fried up a whole squid or a freshly slaughtered chicken, head and all. This made the street food less appealing. Dozens of people were now in the streets making an ocean of black heads and slanted eyes. They buzzed in a sing song melody that filled the streets.

The sun was fully in the sky as we arrived back at the hotel. A Mao Zedong statue stood tall and proud in the front, with a ray of light shining on him. Again I thought about the language of the people surrounding us. Comparable thoughts flowed in their minds, yet a completely different language. I could not stop dwelling over this thought. We emerged through the gate of the hotel and I bounded up the stairs to my room. It was only six o’clock and my roommates were still asleep. I got into the shower still pondering this idea of how connected and alike everyone is. The hot water washed away the tingly sweat from the morning run, leaving only an awake and refreshed feeling. I stepped out of the shower and drops of water ran down my back, as I swung around to close the shower curtain my eye caught sight of a sign in Chinese, laminated but infested with mold. Next to the writing was a red picture of a stick figure in midair falling in the bathtub. The rough translation underneath the Asian characters read “Be Careful of Landslide!”





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