Fifteen years ago I lived in China. I saw the 21st century in on a beach. There was sand.
And there was snow.
Given it’s summer here in Australia – and the start of a new year everywhere – and given the Ghost Girls launch is coming soon, I thought I’d share my experience of that time.
A beach in winter in China is different from the casual, droopy days of an Australian summer by the sea.
My experience as a young traveller – alone but for my then dearest friend, on a snow-swept and otherwise abandoned northern Chinese beach in winter – made me truly appreciate the rough and raw beauty of our environment when experienced away from the usual clichés.
Here’s the extract:
“I imagine that Beidaihe is probably quite nice in the summer. Mao Ze Dong said so in a poem. In winter, however, it is desolate. The streets are bare but for trinket sellers offering seashells that will still be fresh and crisp next summer.
We search for a restaurant that is open and clean and find a dumpling place positioned neatly beside a shoe-shop. This means music (I’ve never seen a shoe shop in China that doesn’t blast techno). We eat dumplings to the pulse from next door and they are good – shrimp, pork and coriander, plus beef and mushroom.
Later we wind our way down to the beach through a beaten path strewn with fishing line, dried seaweed, rusted tinnies and bait. The wind blows and I smell fish. I breath deep and the scent reminds me a little of home, the sea, the fishing trips of my childhood. I am away but I am near. I feel away from home but at home, or close to it – I feel I am where I want to be.
The beach is long and the bay large. There is ice in the water and snow on the sand. Withered fishing boats, peeling red and blue paint, line the shore. Our boots sink into sand.
Along the grainy beach front there are villas, recently constructed and clearly vacant. The green paint on their drainpipes has already faded and peeled.
Curiously, the beach front-wings on either side of these buildings are windowless. That is not to say there would not be light inside – we notice large windows placed on either wall of each villa, perpendicular to the beach. The view must be a lounge room of sorts.
On the beach we wrestle, throw ice at one another, find sea shells and test each other on the 100 metre race.
We trudge through sand in our winter boots for an hour and then turn back.
The sun is lower in the sky when we return to our beach entrance.
We take up shelter behind a wind-battered boat and, in each other’s company, we watch the sun dip low and disappear into the smog-smudged horizon.
This is how I saw the sun set on the 20th century and how I witnessed the next hundred years filter in.”