(Photo was taken on my recent summer visit to my hometown in Beijing)
When I first reviewed the photo on my laptop, it felt like I was finally dusting off one of the hushed corners of my childhood. Most of my memories of Beijing are like everyone elses' ; they sound like complaints: the incessant orchestra of honking traffic, the disgruntled streetside vendors, the cigarette-stained streets, the taste of morning smog. But once in a rare while, the general urban madness fades and if you listen very, very carefully, you just might catch a brief quiet.
In America, spontaneity usually connotes an action, a knee-jerk moment of excitement or an exuberant show of carpe diem-something unexpected and unplanned. But in a city of 22 million, there is nothing more spontaneous than silence.
And in that brief second of unadulterated peace, I found myself sitting with the girl in the photograph, looking out at a lake full of lilies from a road surrounded with trash. There was no profound contemplation to be had then, no philosophical deliberation nor observation; there was only a sudden, instinctive, almost greedy need to seize the tranquility for myself and capture a piece of the world before it flew away. Perhaps I had snapped the photo through the lens of narcissistic nostalgia, justifying that yes, my hometown stinks of pollution, and corruption, and the unrecycled debris and halitosis of millions of cramped tenants.
But looking back from a continent away, all I see is what the girl in the photograph sees: a place of uncommon beauty and wonder in the most uncommon of places.