Luoyang: "The Seasons"
Peoples Republic of China
January 20, 2008
Yesterday: Light Snow
Today: Heavy Snow
Tomorrow: More Snow
Dear Family and Friends,
Back in 1974 my wife Alice Dawn and I moved from Philadelphia to Boston. On our very first drive on the suburban country roads I noticed an unusual sight. A tall, thin, red, ten-foot steel pole was attached to every fire hydrant. At the top of the pole was a small, red, metal triangular flag. What the hell? It took me only a moment to guess the meaning of that particular artifact. I pointed it out to Alice and asked for her interpretation. Alice was no fool and she quickly understood. We both shuddered.
Twenty years later in 1995, in the frozen dead of the winter in New England, I called my friend Jeff in Miami. As we chatted I thought I heard some splashing. Jeff cheerfully announced that he was talking to me from his outdoor hot tub. Outdoor! Hot tub! In February! And then he uttered, "Oops. Wait a second Jan. I just dropped my beer.”
In 1997, about a year after I moved from temperate (temperate?) Boston to sub-tropical South Florida, a close and caring friend in New England phoned. I was in my own hot tub at the time. Joanne asked me, sadly, "Jan, don't you miss the four seasons?"
I explained to Joanne, "In South Florida we do have seasons, three seasons in fact: 'Before it gets hot; hot; and after it gets hot.' I know it's a sacrifice but I am forcing myself to adapt to only three."
Do I miss the seasons? Do I miss winter in New England?
Ah yes, winter in New England.:
Everyone huddles around the radio at 6:00 am. The Little Kids hold their breath as the announcer reads off the city school closings in alphabetical order. When he gets to N and then Newton, everybody at home cheers. Yeah!!! It's a snow day!!! But not for the Big Kids.
The lovely white snow in the driveway needs to be thrown aside with the trusty snow blower. The steps from the house need to be shoveled but the Little Kids are back in bed. And finally at the office, the son-of-a-bitch boss wants to know why you're late for work!
The snow is so beautiful, especially as it melts and freezes to ice on well-trafficked Route 128. If you don't carry a load of sand in your trunk or if you run out of windshield washer fluid, you're dead. Do I miss the seasons?
The six days of spring in New England are so encouraging and stimulating after the six months of dreary winter. After the final snowfall sometime around May 1, the mountains of snow do actually begin to melt. And where does all that snow-melt end up? Why in your basement, of course. One spring it took me all morning to bail out the place. And guess what reappears as the snow mountains melt away in May? Christmas trees! Forlorn, lifeless, bare, brittle, homeless Christmas trees. Tossed away and buried for months.
The dainty flowers of spring are such a delight. Crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips pop up, if we remembered to plant them in the fall. And what about those inexorable, ubiquitous, invidious, incorrigible, eternal dandelions? Such a sweet yellow flower that overnight turns into a delicate fuzzy white ball that the incorrigible kids blow all over the lawn. The airways are filled with ads from Scott Fertilizer. That crap never worked for me. The plutocrats install a sprinkler system and hire a lawn service. I take my mower for a tune-up. And I never could get the edger or weed whacker to work properly. Do I miss the seasons?
Summer in New England is lovely, green and hot. And nobody has an air conditioning system worth a dime. The BBQ's don't help. And the attic exhaust fan that the builder swears will keep everybody cool ain't worth ten cents either.
Autumn. Indian summer. Fall. Apple picking. Fall foliage. What colors! What beauty! What drama! What piles! What noise! I understand that leaf blowers are banned in California. Good thing, too. Do I miss the seasons?
So tell me my friends, what in heaven’s name am I doing in China in the dead of winter? Well, you can't visit the Harbin Ice Festival in the summer. And since I am not a plutocrat I have to amortize my airplane ticket and make several stops.
So here I am in Luoyang. And guess what? It's a snow day!
Fortunately two days ago, as the snow storm began with only a light dusting, I was able to visit the Longmen Grottoes and Guanlin Temple. Those sights made the trip worthwhile.
But yesterday, the snow continued in earnest and today the storm would be known, affectionately, in New England, as a "Nor'easter." Only the DJIA is falling faster than the snow.
I am stuck in Luoyang. The highway is closed; there are no buses leaving town. All the trains are fully booked in all directions. The tiny airport is closed. Even the taxi drivers refuse me.
It's not so bad, as I remember part of my own travel philosophy: "Be happy where you are."
My hotel room is warm, comfortable and modern with plenty of hot water and thick towels. The TV plays CNN, ESPN and HBO. I ran out of reading material days ago.
For about five bucks I can indulge in a breakfast, lunch or dinner buffet that is served in the roof-top revolving restaurant with views of the fog-bound city and the snow-covered rooftops. The food is fresh and tasty. The price includes coffee, coke and beer. The staff all smile and take good care of me. The young cook remembers my menu preferences and grills slices of spicy fish. The young waitresses hover with hot coffee.
In the Business Center the Internet connection is fast. There is special Chinese-style entertainment in the hotel. What more could a guy want?
Hey, it's winter. Snow happens. Regardless, I am having a good time in China and I have no regrets. I am OK with the cold weather, but to be honest, I do miss the warm.
PS Many years ago I had what you might call a physical epiphany:
In the winter time, I flew from frigid Boston to sunny Florida. I left the chill of the Northeast and the chill of the air-conditioned airplane cabin and walked down the ramp. The hot, humid air rushes through the narrow passageway and blasts through my skin and pierces my pores. My frozen bones defrost. I can feel my marrow melt. Every cell absorbs that excellent enveloping warmth. Every fiber in my body oozes pleasure. I am warm, warm all over, inside and out. At that very moment I made a vow and I have kept it.
PPS My apologies to my snow skier and ice fisherman friends. Come on over to Southeast Asia. We've got water skiing and plenty of fish in the sea. Golf, tennis, and swimming. Indoor sports. 24/7/365. 366 this year. Even better.