Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Rice paddies during the rainy season
For security reasons, I can't mention the name of the city where our plane touched down at about 4:30 that Monday afternoon after we left Beijing. Just know that it's a pretty small place, one I never thought I'd revisit, especially after doing a backpacking expedition there last year. For purposes of flow, I'll refer to it as JH.
The international airport in JH is little more than two baggage carousels and a few runways. When you arrive, no tunnel nestles up against your plane to lead you safely into the airport. Once you dismount, it's down some steps to the tarmac, and you're out in the open air until you reach the main building. The absence of a tunnel didn't bother us. The scenery around JH is beautiful, complete with towering green mountains capped not with snow but with manicured rows of rubber trees and other crops. The air here was different too. With the airport 5 km away from the city, we couldn't see the pollution and or smell the stench of open-air latrines. It was still drizzling lightly, and the scent of morning dew hung in the air even though it was afternoon.
As two buses waited on us outside, I couldn't help but notice the contrast between this year's trip and last year's. Last spring, our mission was tense. We had divided into teams of two, staggering our exit from the airport so as to raise the least amount of suspicion. This year, our team was joking from the plane to the bus, playing very well the role of ignorant American tourists who've come to help a school teach English.
A teacher from the school helped us get our things loaded into the back van, while we loaded ourselves into the leading vehicle. I was awash with both memories and anticipation. I couldn't wait to show Katy the places we'd been last year. Even though I spent less than 24 hours in this city, it felt as familiar as if I'd stayed a week.
As our bus splashed through the streets and over the long bridge running over rice fields into the city proper, I replayed the scene from last year at this exact spot. I had told the taxi driver that his city's scenery was beautiful. And it was still beautiful, this time even more so. During the rainy season, the prefecture--known for its beauty--comes alive with a new vibrance, like a beautiful woman who has donned her best dress, jewelry and the perfect shades of makeup.
With rooms doled out at the Green Bridge Hotel, we had crossed the street for our second Chinese meal, after which Evan, Abby, Katy and I went to a little cafe for Coke floats and banana shakes. Evan and I reminisced about last year and wondered what this year's trip would hold. On our way home, the rain came again, and we ducked into our first cab. Five yuan and a few minutes later, we were resting in our hotel rooms, preparing for the long road ahead.