Written by Lily (Yiyu) Zhao ’18. Art by Tina Wang ’19.
A hutong* winds and a hutong deepens
The walls rise up tall and close
The sun is blocked here but peeks out there
The rooftops slope and curve and peak
The vendors holler and the smell of roasted sweet potatoes waft through the cold morning air
So brisk, so clear, so candidly transparent
Even the morning mist affords a bittersweet sharpness
Even the early frost is gentle in its unforgiving bite
Birdsong reaches your ears from not so far away as sparrows sweep far and swoop low
The man in the cotton jacket and dark beret
The woman ringing the bell as she passes on her plain, thin-tired bike
The child holding a tanghulu*, greedily licking the sugary glaze as he is dragged along by the hand
The tired pupil in uniform and a backpack too heavy for her slender shoulders
Everyone, who could be anyone else
Placeholders with their own lives
A smile, look for a smile, can you find one?
The hutong is awakening, quiet without being silent
And you find that you never knew
Dawn could feel so much like twilight.
*“A narrow lane or alleyway in a traditional residential area of a Chinese city, esp. Beijing”—Source: New Oxford American Dictionary
*A traditional snack often sold by street-side vendors, consisting of hawthorn fruits coated with glazed sugar on a bamboo stick like a kebab. It is a very popular traditional snack in Beijing. (Would recommend looking it up online!)