|Harbin from my hotel room|
During that month, my NCAR boss Mickey had arranged to travel from Colorado to Harbin (in Manchuria) for an environmental conference where he would be making a presentation. He asked me to come along for five days. I took my work with me so I didn't lose any actual time in my duties for HEP. We traveled by train into Northeast China (also known as Manchuria). All travel in China, everywhere, was arranged by our Chinese handlers. There is simply no way I could have managed by myself, since I speak no Mandarin and even taxi drivers need a slip of paper or business card with my destination in order for me to travel from place to place. Taxis are incredibly cheap and available everywhere. I cannot imagine what Chinese travelers to the US think when traveling by taxi.
The name "Harbin" (as you can find from the above link) means "a place for drying fish nets" in Manchu. It is known for its incredibly harsh winters and its legacy of Russian culture. One day while there we were taken on an excursion into the city and learned some of its history. It's amazing to see buildings that bear little resemblance to what I think of as being Chinese. But then again, this is another part of China that has had many conflicts, all of which make for fascinating reading and available for further research in the link. Here's a picture of Smart Guy in front of a magnificent church in the town's center.
One of my blogging friends once asked me to write a bit more about the people when I visited these exotic places. And I do want to say that the Chinese people are some of the friendliest, helpful, and passionate I have ever met anywhere. Once when I was in a very crowded train terminal, a woman came over and gestured to me to cover my purse so that it would be close to my body and therefore unavailable to thieves. She must have seen me looking vulnerable and wanted to protect me. This sort of thing happened all the time and I began to take it for granted. Then once I came home to the States, I felt a sort of shock at the lack of concern we Americans seem to have for one another. Of course it didn't help that I landed in New York and had to navigate back to Colorado. Although I was never actually knocked over, I felt in danger of it, and I wondered how a Chinese person coming here sees us.
Today I don't travel around much, but it is good to have these memories of international travel. As I have said before, international travel anywhere is not as exciting as it is grueling. Although there is plenty to be said for travel in order to experience different cultures, I am glad that these days here in retirement are spent mostly at home or traveling locally to different places in my area. I am blessed to have a group that has introduced me to the wonders of the mountains and trails nearby, and with Vancouver, British Columbia less than an hour away by car, my local world still carries plenty of adventure.
During my working years, I managed to accomplish what now seems to me almost an impossibility. One thing about getting older and retiring from that world, my life is now filled with numerous activities that are fulfilling and chosen by me. The pace is slower now, which is appropriate, and it all evolved in small incremental steps, so I never actually noticed. It's good to have a chance to look back and look ahead at what still beckons in my day-to-day life.