Life

Unraveling Boston: From Crimson Bricks to Verdant Trails, a Student’s Wanderlust Journey

The initial time I visited Boston was in April. As I prepared to land in Boston from the sunny city of Miami, I caught sight of an unending, ever-changing expanse of mangrove forest through the port window. This sight served as a reminder that Boston resides in a temperate zone known for its long winters. The deep red hue of the forest has always evoked a tender sentiment within me for Boston. As a tourist, Boston offers me a pathway to explore – the red-brick “Freedom Trail,” a 4-kilometer route originating from Boston Common and linking 16 historical attractions, including the State Capitol Building. Walking along these crimson bricks liberates me from the constant need to consult a map, granting me the freedom to wander elsewhere at will.

A few years later, by a stroke of luck, I developed a new connection with Boston. This time, I arrived as a student. My first weekly class revolved around German cinema. As someone who had never watched German films before, I typically remained silent, listening to my Caucasian classmates converse incessantly. It was only when I finally spoke up and discussed “The Lego Movie” that I discovered Lego had played a formative role in the childhoods of these Americans. It astonished me that I had only become aware of Lego’s existence when I traveled to Denmark at the age of 20. The last period of each week consisted of a small comparative literature class, where four Americans and I engaged in discussions about world literature. With fewer participants in this class, I could confidently partake in the conversations. However, I often found myself feeling profoundly different from them, despite paradoxically drawing my entire knowledge system from Western philosophy.

The campus had transformed into a desolate place, a sentiment echoed by my Chinese classmates. In order to find solace, I embarked on aimless strolls. At times, as soon as the first class of the week concluded, an irresistible urge to flee the campus would possess me. I would not even bother returning to my dormitory to set down my burdensome computer and books. As winter approached and the days grew shorter, I could not bear to miss a single sunny afternoon.

Venturing beyond the campus

I wandered as my heart desired. While riding the bus, I caught a glimpse of a verdant riverside wetland through the window, prompting me to disembark and explore its secrets. Upon exiting the hospital, I encountered hills and untamed wilderness, beckoning me to take a leisurely stroll. The campus, situated a river away, boasted an uninterrupted expanse of track and field, tennis courts, football fields, and other facilities. I frequently wandered there, eagerly awaiting the moment the tennis courts’ yellow lights illuminated the surroundings. Some dog walkers allowed their canine companions to frolic in the sandpit. And when I found myself devoid of any plans, I would venture to the terminal subway station and let serendipity guide me. One day, I spotted a potentially injured duck on the bank of the Charles River, prompting me to summon the rescue department and wait until dusk. I could scarcely discern whether I sought a reason to become lost or if I craved the experience of waiting, uncertain of when the other person would return, relishing the opportunity to deviate from my daily routine.

However, the place I frequented most often was Fresh Pond, a reservoir supplying water to Boston. Under the cerulean sky, it perpetually shimmered with a sea-like blue hue. Unfortunately, barbed wire encircled the reservoir, preventing me from approaching its waters. Nevertheless, this did not deter me from strolling along its periphery. Nearly every week, I traversed a 3.6-kilometer trail, growing increasingly familiar with every minute detail of this verdant expanse. Upon reflection, I realized that even during my four years spent in college in Beijing, I never achieved such intimacy with any corner of the city. I meandered casually, observing every dog that crossed my path. It felt as if my spirit, strained for far too long, could only gradually unwind through prolonged yet gentle physical exertion.

Present-day Back Bay stands as Boston’s most fashionable and resplendent locale, adorned with Victorian brownstone buildings lining both sides of the street.

However, I swiftly discovered that the small incline in the northwest corner was followed by a gentle descent, its path carpeted with fallen leaves. One could ascend the viaduct along a trail in the southeast corner. Adjacent to the road in the northeast corner sat a parking lot. Traders Joe and Wholefoods, two prominent American food supermarket chains, resided just beyond the parking lot, while McDonald’s lay to the west. Its delectable $2 breakfast egg and sausage sandwich proved irresistible… These fortuitous discoveries injected more of “America” into my life.

A portion of the green space within Fresh Pond had been designated as a golf course. Within its verdant shade stood a solitary red maple tree. When autumn arrived and it burst into full bloom, itsvibrant red leaves contrasted beautifully with the surrounding greenery. This image of the solitary red maple tree became etched in my memory, symbolizing the unique beauty and serenity I found in Boston.

Over time, Boston became more than just a city I visited or studied in. It became a place where I discovered new connections, both with the people around me and with the natural environment. It became a place where I could escape the confines of campus and explore the hidden gems that lay beyond. It became a place where I could find solace and tranquility in the midst of a bustling urban environment.

As my time in Boston came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia and longing for this city that had become a second home to me. The memories I made, the experiences I had, and the connections I formed will always hold a special place in my heart. Boston, with its rich history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty, will forever be a city that I hold dear.

And so, as I bid farewell to Boston, I carry with me the memories of the crimson bricks of the Freedom Trail, the discussions in my comparative literature class, the walks along the reservoir at Fresh Pond, and the vibrant red maple tree that stood as a symbol of the beauty and serenity I found in this city. Boston, you will always hold a special place in my heart.

I can hardly discern whether I’m in search of a pretext to be adrift, as opposed to the sensation of awaiting without knowledge of the other’s return, and having a motive to deviate from my daily routine.

I prefer to take a stroll in the city when it rains, for it is then that the populace thins. Only in the rain do the towering edifices on either side of the street appear directly visible. Their cool glass surfaces have been cleansed by the rain and seem nearer. Those futuristic structures, no matter how vibrant they may be, still possess an air of desolation. Thus, I walk in the rain. People become less akin to office workers and more like “human beings.” The subway’s verdant line traverses the middle of the road, with tracks even adorned with wild vegetation, as if tugging the city towards the skyline amidst the march of modernization. When weariness sets in, multiple subway entrances lie nearby. I stow away my damp umbrella and descend into the subway. As I rumbled through the darkness, I felt as though I had absorbed the essence of the rain-drenched earth, reinvigorating my very being.

Every weekend, I would venture to Chinatown in search of sustenance to satiate my hunger after a week of consuming “Caucasian fare” in the school cafeteria. The places I had inhabited before either lacked Chinatowns or possessed only modest enclaves. A leisurely stroll through Boston’s Chinatown transports me instantly back to China, albeit China in the 1990s. There are no roadside stalls adorned with fireworks here, but the morning teahouses still echo with genial conversations among the elders. As I peruse the various shops, I am always amused by the vibrant advertising papers adorning their doors and the familiar “haircut,” “perm,” and “hair dye” decals on the salon windows – even in my small hometown, such decals have become commonplace. They have since been supplanted by the concise style and “big words” of various internet celebrities. Is Chinatown locked in time?

The Trinity Church, designed in the Romanesque Revival style, and the classically-styled Boston Public Library are mere steps away. The church’s solemn crimson roof appears strikingly unadorned against the backdrop of the modernist John Hancock Building that soars into the heavens beside it. The 241-meter-tall Hancock Building resembles a fragile, sharp fragment of azure glass. Its architect is the Chinese-American designer Ieoh Ming Pei.

One day, as I stowed away my umbrella and pushed open the door to enter a barbecue joint, I was greeted by a familiar melody – the Cantonese song “Glory Days.” Having grown up in the North, I had never set foot in a Cantonese-speaking region, yet Cantonese songs had become the melodic backdrop of my childhood memories through various Jin Yong dramas and TVB industry productions. In that moment, the narrow streets of my hometown’s old quarter, the colorful viaducts of Beijing’s CBD, the cobblestone paths of Heidelberg during my initial foray abroad, and the “Philosophical Road” in the mountains, where I purchased Turkish pancakes in Amsterdam, were all fragmented by the canals that meandered through it. The unswept pathways strewn with fallen leaves, and much more, flickered past like scenes from a film, giving rise to an indescribable sense of longing for home. Has my time come to a close here? Or does it extend further into the distance?

In that moment, I perceived the culmination of my journey. I wander because I cannot remain in a fixed location. Here I stand, in a foreign land – envisioning an unfathomable homeland of sorts.

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