the flood

sarah e. truman's concepts of place and identity dissolve in the rising waters as she continues her search for guanyin, china's bodhisattva of compassion.

It's not until I step down to the fourth floor landing that it occurs to me that something might be wrong. It's quiet outside. No honking, horking or nattering. An eerie, spacious quiet unnatural to downtown Nanjing. Too quiet. I stick my head out through the dirty window, looking up into the rain and then down to where there was once a small street. In its place is a river rolling toward the centre of the city.

In two years, I've seen the street torn up at least six times. I've woken up to jackhammers at four in the morning, sewage trucks, workers from the countryside piling bricks, and cars protesting the deconstruction by honking regardless of time of day.

Today, a flood.

The water is about half a metre deep. Red plastic bags, cigarette packages and other garbage shimmer in the depths, sunken treasures.

If I can get to my bike and ride across the once-street-now-river to the opposite sidewalk, I should be able to pedal; the water isn't quite so deep on that side. In fact, there is a woman teetering her way along the narrow sidewalk right now. She wears the bright red riding raincoat that all Chinese cyclists wear in rain. It covers her entire body, handlebars and basket. Her party shoes skim through the water.

There are about twenty bikes lined up, but mine isn't one of them. This will be my third bike that's been stolen. I don't take it personally anymore.

"Simon," I yell up the stairs to my poky English roommate. "Hurry up and see this."

"See what?" he yells back.

"The street is flooded and my bike is stolen."

"You what?" He clops down the stairs in his fancy Spanish sandals and freshly pressed pants. "Ai yo! It's a flood, all right, but your bike isn't stolen. I left it at the bar last night because it was pouring."

"Why didn't you tell me that earlier?"

"I forgot until now." Simon sits on the dirty concrete stairs and lights a cigarette. "This is a perfect day. I love coming down the stairs and not knowing what to expect, what mass destruction will have fallen upon our little street while I was upstairs unaware."

"That's one thing I've come to love about China," I say, watching another cyclist pass. "As much as living here with all the red tape and rules has made me crazy sometimes, China has changed me. I've rid myself of so many misconceptions, about the country, about myself. It's been an immense exercise in letting go."

"Letting go of what?" Simon asks.

"Of my reason for coming here in the first place."

"And you're happy about that?"

"I'm at ease with it," I say.


After writing this piece, Sarah E. Trumanfelt it was time to leave China for travels in Thailand and India. "I keep expecting everything to be a lot more complicated like it is in China but it's so smooth here. The buses link up. Everyone speaks English. I find myself trying to communicate in Chinese and people think I'm crazy. I realize in my two years there, I saw very little of the night sky. Yet I miss China in ways I can't describe."

The beginnings of Sarah's search for Guan Yin in China was detailed in the article 17 hours in Nanging (ascent summer 2002) and was nominated for a Canadian National Magazine Award.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life