Trail rails Harbin via London


Jaime R. Vergara

 By Jaime R. Vergara
Special to the Saipan Tribune

Two years ago I ventured into Harbin in the middle of winter and was pleasantly surprised by the ice lanterns on street corners and the lit massive ice sculptures along Shang Yi Da Jie (the business street) in its 10-block Russian architecture. Along the Songhua Jiang (river) were gigantic ice “palaces.”

We watched events of the Winter Olympics held in the year-round four seasons of Vancouver, BC when the weather did not feel like cooperating in some of the sites; the IOC engaged technological services to meet the requirements of the slopes and slaloms.

It is Olympiad time again, the summer one, now about to commence in Big Ben’s London. The official opening is Friday the 27th but heats ran as early as the 25th in the British Isles.

The Liberals are saying that the Games opened in time to indicate that readiness was reached before the eleventh hour. The Conservatives are crying out that the IOC went beyond budget. One gets the impression that the Olympiad governance has achieved the level of a country government!

China hosted the last quadrennial gathering and CCTV still sports the interlocking five-ring symbol. The Liberal and the Conservative quarrel highlights the nagging question of who benefits from massive investments that governments pour into affairs like the Olympics.

We noted that the rail station facelift being done in Shenyang is really a radical upgrade on a quaint center built to commemorate the 1912 Republic. The upgrade benefits everyone.

We remember catching a train at the Shanghai Hong Chao station in 2011 prior to the Expo, thinking that we would just be moving into a copycat of the Shanghai main. We walked into a structure that looked better than many of the airports we have had the chance to visit. The terminal’s waiting room felt like an extension of the International Airport in Pudong, with sectioned lounges at the center, watering holes and restaurants on the second floor, and departing platforms below.

A few weeks later, we transited in Beijing on a train ride from Guillin on our way back to Shenyang. We took the time to visit the famous Nest at the Olympic village. The subway that took me there was empty. The Olympic grounds was virtually abandoned, and what was clearly a massive investment in resources appeared in disrepair.

Being pretty much of a government venture, the Beijng Olympic enterprise was not immediately a winning proposition but the village slowly evolved into a communal node as the grounds were utilized for social events, and the former athletes’ dwelling joined Beijing’s overcrowded but underperforming real estate assets.

Harbin is easily one of our favorite cities, mostly for pleasurable times in the couple of visits we made in the winter. We would have loved teaching in any of its numerous universities (and picked up spoken Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Chinese in the process) but our bones cried foul as the tendons and cartilages are no longer efficient in the functioning of muscles and bones.

It was barely sundown when we finally hooted into Harbin station, and nightfall by the time we left. We alighted for the 10-minute passenger allowance to walk around (not enough to do much) wanting to get a whiff of the fresh Siberian air that might have wandered into the metropolis. No such luck. We felt like we were at SF’s Embarcadero smelling the latest in gasoline octane in the air.

There is evidently a journey in outer space we are going through, Mukden to Manzhouli on the train. We are also clear that the inner journey never stops and we could not afford not to pay it attention. Ours has become a listening to the drumbeat of our soul in the sounds of silence of the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

The world watches in the next two weeks the Olympic events in London as Her Majesty’s British government let it be known that defensive missiles will be activated in case any errant group is thinking of violating its sovereign space. The Games will go on.

The London Olympics of my life, too, is a time of chaos and order in the great turning that is occurring to the planet and its people. Though advanced in age, we have not lost the sense of wonder and adventure that greeted our conception and delivery into Gaia. In the middle of our continued unfolding, we never cease making life-changing decisions.

One of our local management gurus, Rik Villegas, who graces this page with his musings on occasion, wrote early this year: Almost all of our memories are established during transition points, or moments where life-changing decisions are made that can take us on another route-for better or worse.

In an earlier Olympic, the late Whitney Houston belted One Moment in Time, adopted as an Olympiad song. While the song was directed at the apex of one’s achievement in an athletic endeavor, I decided upon hearing the song that it had to do with my one moment in time, and that moment is 86 years in length. My whole life is my one moment in time!

Good decisions make good stories that we remember, and bad decisions make great stories that we never forget, Rik added. Am updating my life story in this my journey through the eerie sounds of grassland silence.

How’s your journey coming along?

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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