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Higgins: Good morning from Beijing (God help me)

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | JUNE 29, 2015 5:00 AM

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Chris Higgins is a DI staffer interning abroad at China Daily for the summer.

Above all, writing classes at the University of Iowa have taught me that my most productive and creative output comes during the early morning in short bursts (2:07 — make that 2:14 — a.m. Beijing time as I type this). Sleep deprivation be damned.

Naturally, that carries over to my first foray into column writing for the DI. I won’t even bother to record what time it is now, except to say that the Sun should come shining through the particulates any moment now.

Also familiar are text messages serving as writing inspiration — just check my last column. I could recap my discussion with one friend over his hypothetical second tattoo, but I’ll give another one the chance.

“Put me [in] your column,” she wrote, just beginning her Friday night in Iowa City. I was still slightly recovering from mine. Her message served as a tether back to the Midwest, something keeping one toe grounded on the Pentacrest.

“Thank goodness you have a Chinese phone,” as the first friend put it, meaning I can keep in contact with him and everyone else on the other side of the North Pole constantly and easily.

Despite his initial concerns, our communication didn’t come anywhere near being severed, something that would’ve been totally unimaginable when this internship began 10 years ago. Lenovo smart phones from China Mobile really are a miracle.

Today (yesterday, actually), my mobile connection went out while I was visiting the Temple of Heaven. My tether disappeared, temporarily, leaving me on my own to explore the religious-complex-turned-gigantic park. The other interns’ plan to hit IKEA did not reach me in time.

The nearly 700-acre park features massive marble altars, striking gabled prayer halls, and greenery. Lots of it. There’s even a rose garden.

The day had a dreamy, cinematic quality to it, at first due to the haze of the worst smog to hit the city yet. However, the day quickly became one of full observation and escape — much like watching a movie — as I strolled past Beijingers making their own Sunday escape.

I watched semi-impromptu gatherings of dozens of seniors sing patriotic tunes, complete with MCs and saxophone players. Couples transformed a stone walkway into a ballroom as their grandchildren watched intently. An army of freshly dressed older men and women with neon orange bucket hats marched in as I snapped pictures.

The tranquility doesn’t last forever, as the park closes at 10. The accordion performances and wedding photos must come to an end. There are shops and factories and hutongs and families to return to.

Just outside, on a pedestrian bridge, I watched a man fly a kite over the buses and cars below, rumbling through the fog, blanketing Tantan Road.

I have just under six weeks left before my escape to Beijing ends and Iowa pulls me back in completely, writing habits and all. It’s been a nice escape so far, memorable, life changing, indescribable, etc., etc. But temporary, as well as unreal.

That said, what I’ll be returning to is hardly permanent. College life is instead a delay from the real world, and perhaps my little excursion to China has helped inch me closer to a sense of what I’d like to do once I’m out.

In the meantime, I’ll write as the Sun rises and discuss decoration plans with my future roommate, whether in Beijing or Iowa City.


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