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Desolate Wonderland

My Scholarship entry - Seeing the world through other eyes

WORLDWIDE | Tuesday, 24 April 2012 | Views [550] | Scholarship Entry

I find myself under the towering pilings of a bridge connecting the two halves of Harbin, China’s northernmost capital. The frozen arm of the Songhua River stretches before me. My eyes clatter over a surface littered with ice chunks to reach the buildings on the opposite coast, standing like crooked molars dissolving into the thick morning fog. In the distance, a lone red dot blazes against the snowy hills.

A carnival of nature’s aberrations sprawls out ahead, phenomena forged in sub zero wind chill. I pass slabs of stone jutting from the river, connected by rust-bearded rebar. Between them, the water has grown into caverns that drool out winding branches of ice, as if to form the translucent feet of a resting caterpillar. The cave walls are like looking into a packed theater and seeing rows of blue-white shark teeth, each as thin as a leaflet of paper.

Faraway cars hiss by as I approach a vast pool. It’s filled with something like geodes that have been cracked in half to expose a nest of quartz crystals in the center. This fleet of ice bowls bobs gently in the wake and each looks tempting to sit in.

Walking the edge of the water’s jagged lip, I continue on a terrain of clear marble. I gaze through 5-feet of frozen air pockets that trail into dark green murk below. When I look up, an old woman’s features appear out of the fog, wrapped in red.

Sun-parched cheeks bunch into a smile that says “I know something you may yet realize.” She lifts a woolen finger, pointing behind me to the path I’ve walked. I turn.

The ice fragments I’ve been kicking aside illuminate in the sunlight, so that webs of tiny, yellow lights bloom over the lake. Suddenly, in this city over 10 million strong: silence. This is no longer China, but an untouched corner of the universe that has escaped time’s march. I’m here, in the briefest flash of eternity.

I raise my camera with a click. The picture in the LCD monitor can’t quite capture the feeling, but it is good enough.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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