Fishermen of the sky

As soon as I got outside my apartment the other day, I stopped in my tracks.  It was clear I wasn’t going to get milk anymore.  I jumped on my well-loved bike — easy to spot with its very unique I <3 NY sticker plastered on the frame -- and set off.   I think I knew that that would be the last pure day of autumn, before the air starts to smell like winter as you try to breathe in through a stuffy nose.  The sky was a brightly back-lit blue, and as I hurled through the archway of generous maples lining the street in front of the Canadian embassy,* I could feel every ridge and bump in the pavement clearly through my handlebars.  It was the kind of day that makes you notice the beauty in ordinary things:  the mini-thrill of a trunk pushing up the pavement into a baby jump; the comfort of the old ladies in well worn clothes sitting with their ankles crossed on a banister in front a sign encouraging studying; the man swept up by the flood of people leaving the subway but so satisfied biting into a steaming soft spring roll; or the women with bamboo poles along the river bank walking between the reeds.  I rubbernecked at the guy looking in incredulous and helpless awe at the invisible dent in the front of his pulled-over car. I slowed down to stay behind and watch a rollerblader listening to his headphones and waving his arms gracefully to the music. And I nearly got hit by a car when I realized the air in the alley ahead of me was full of spinning yellow leaves making their slow and final descent toward the yet untouched black asphalt.   People say that China's economy is built on cheap labor, but it's more than that:  this country is built on optimism.  It's not just that people work for little money, it's that they work hard for little money, and in large part because they think that it will lead to something better.  It's one of the reasons I came here, actually, rather than Russia.
It’s not to say that people in China have unending optimism, or that you can summarize a country or even one chunk of the many cultures and experiences that make up this culture, in one concept.  Just last week I was in Tianjin, driving in a cab on side roads for almost two hours from the train station to the new economic district;  it would’ve taken half an hour on the highway but the highways were closed because the pollution– I mean the “fog”– was so thick you couldn’t see 50 meters ahead.  The taxi driver, who had been laid off, didn’t particularly complain about his life under the ever-red sun, but seemed resigned to the difficulty of his situation.  “I’m an ordinary person,” he explained.  “This is how the lives of ordinary people are.”
But on the whole, wearing the rose-colored glasses of lizaab, I see much more hope here than any place I’ve been before.  On my bike, tucked into my poofy orange jacket that protects me both from the late autumn cold and inattentive drivers, I caught sight of an image that for me represents this China so well:  an old man standing on a pedestrian bridge over the eight-lane Second Ring Road, flying a kite into the wind.  I guess I could go into how that image hit me — the speed of the wind and the slowness of this patient activity, the newness of the throbbing traffic and the tradition of the man and his kite — but what hit me most of all is that never in a million lifetimes would I have seen how much space there was there, between so many buildings and over so many speeding cars, in which to fly a kite.  Who can say that China does not have innovative thinkers, where there are these fishermen of the sky?
Off to bed,
* okay fine, I don’t know if they’re maples.  a little poetic license there…

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