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December 3, 2005

Winter fluttered onto Dalian last night.  This morning, we woke up to about 2 inches of snow and 28 degrees Fahrenheit.  As we trudged along the slippery sidewalks to school, it reminded us of the day nine months ago when we first arrived in Dalian and it was snowing the last snow of the winter. 

 With this first snow of the winter, I was again highly disturbed by the conspicuous absence of snow shovels.  The shopkeepers and restaurant workers try to clear the snow in front of their business by using a traditional broom.  Some more resourceful people nail a large flat board to a long narrow piece of wood which acts like a handle, and they have a snow-shovel type thing that looks like a yard sale sign. Some people just push a large board around to move the snow.  The street cleaners take garden shovels to try and clear the storm drains and snow buildups.  Some ill-prepared car owners even try to brush snow off their cars with their bare hands. 

 Snow in the city is not very beautiful.  It lacks the softness of the snow blanketing a hillside, nestling in a corn field, or lounging on evergreen boughs.  In the concrete city, the snow is flat and sharp.  It gets dirty too quickly and no children make snow angels.  Instead, we trample it down into an icy path and play chicken with oncoming pedestrians to determine who has to step out of the way and into a drift.

 The streets are covered in a dark frappuccino sludge, and the cars all go slow and show amazing restraint in the morning.  By afternoon they speed up and splatter the sidewalks with the brown grime.  The crosswalks are also hazardous as we pick our way through the frothy slush, trying to avoid being spattered by our fellow pedestrians.

 The city looks bleak—gritty and ashen—but it’s a change, and you can’t help but look around with some wonderment at the same old things that have been transformed by new snow.  So although the snow is mostly annoying and problematic, it’s also energizing.  The children have snowball fights in the school courtyard during the breaks.  Some even sneak a snowball back into the classroom to rub in someone’s hair.

 Ironically, people here talk about the weather far less than in Ohio.  It’s ironic because the average Midwesterner only encounters snow through the wheels of their car, unless their garage is too full of junk and then they have to scrape the snow off their windshield in the morning before driving to work.  But people here are out battling the snow with little protection other than their winter apparel.  They traverse the city by bus, but there’s a lot of walking involved between the bus stops and their destinations, and a lot of waiting at the bus stops while the cold winter wind hurls snowflakes at their exposed visages.  But still, they don’t talk about it too much.  They just say, warning the foreigner, “It will snow tomorrow, so dress warm!” and during the first snow, “Yes, it’s snowing today. The real winter has started.”

 And so our winter in northeastern China has begun.

  click here to see more snow photos

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