Heat and the City

16 years ago

To the editor:
    Six months ago I spoke of the bone-numbing cold that hits this city on the coast. Just as the damp sets in and lowers the temperature far beyond what is expected, so too is the heat a harbinger of moisture. In the past three weeks we have experienced the plum rains. Coming out of nowhere it would seem these deluges inundate and flood any area of the city and region. Then they disappear. Green, voluptuous leaves adorn the trees and all the bushes which had been pruned, now sprout new growth. Those bad haircuts have become glorious tributes to the stylist’s shears.     The grades are in and my students are now on their way home. For them and me it is a melancholy journey. We miss the friendships and routine of our school day. I even found myself at the beginning of the week waking up at 4 in the morning. What am I saying? I could sleep late. At least ‘til seven!
    The watermelons are now on every street corner. Popular this year are the personal-sized ones — a single melon only slightly larger than your head. Enough for one person to gorge themselves on its delicious redness. The trick is to buy them in the morning; bring them home, wash and store them in the fridge. Then when the end of the day comes you can pull out a delicious cold one and have the pleasure of your own watermelon bowl.
    The nation has now made it mandatory for the stores to charge for the plastic bags that you carry groceries home in — an effective tool in curtailing some of the excesses of packaging. When giving or buying anything, packaging here is important. While in the U.S. they are trumpeting the move by Sam’s Clubs and Wal-Marts to use a new type of milk container that requires less energy to make, less space to store, and makes it easier for the pallets to be carried, the Chinese value the power of wrapping anything. Wrapping the objects in layers upon layers of material.
    Having been given a gift at an end of the year banquet I was stunned to encounter seven layers of packaging. First, the gift was in a paper bag. Not an ordinary one but one with a fancy logo from the gift shop. Inside this was a plastic bag to protect the paper bag from being torn by the sharp edges of the box containing the present. So paper bag, plastic bag, box, wrapping paper on the box, Two types. A shiny purple creation that would put a gleam in a jeweler’s eye, and then a plain brown paper beneath it like a T-shirt. Opening the box another piece of plastic over the object. And then in beautiful golden silk — the gift.
    So many treasures are here and at home. As we wrap ourselves in learning and knowledge, sometimes we can forget that the simplest gifts of all are looking right at us. We treasure all of them all the more for having been earned by the hard work of learning. But when we open the presents we find that their simplicity is a beauty to behold. Learning is like that; it sneaks up on you without any warning at all and surprises you when it emerges from all the wrapping of certificates, grades, and scores. I wish my students well. They are going to have a great future.
Orpheus Allison
Shanghai, China