My First Day Abroad
It was my first day. I had come the night before, a black and cold night before — as it was expected to be in the middle of January, though I didn't know that at the time — and I could not see anything clearly on the way from the airport, even though there were lights everywhere. As we drove along, someone would single out to me a famous building, an important street, a park, a bridge that when built was thought to be a landmark. In a daydream I used to have, all these places were points of happiness to me; all these places were lifeboats to my small drowning soul. I would imagine myself entering and leaving them, and just that — entering and leaving over and over again — would see me through a bad feeling I did not have a name for. I only knew it felt a little like sadness but heavier than that. Now that I saw these places, they looked ordinary, dirty, worn down by so many people entering and leaving them in real life, and it occurred to me that I could not be the only person in the world for whom they were an item of imagination. It was not my first struggle with the disappointment of reality and it would not be my last. The underclothes that I wore were all new, bought for my journey, and as I sat in the car, moving this way and that to get a good view of the sights before me, I was reminded of how uncomfortable the new can make you feel.
I got into an elevator (电梯), something I had never done before, and then I was in an apartment and seated at a table, eating food just taken from a refrigerator. In the place I had just come from, I always lived in a house, and my house did not have a refrigerator in it. Everything I was experiencing — the ride in the elevator, being in an apartment, eating day-old food that had been stored in a refrigerator — was such a good idea that I could imagine I would grow used to it and like it very much. But at first, it was all so new that I had to smile with my mouth turned down at the corners. I slept deeply that night, but it wasn't because I was happy and comfortable — quite the opposite; it was because I didn't want to take in anything else.
That morning, the morning of my first day, the morning that followed my first night, was a sunny morning. It was not the sort of bright yellow sun making everything lift up at the edges, almost in fear, that I was used to, but a pale yellow sun, as if the sun had grown weak from trying too hard to shine; but still it was sunny. That was nice and made me miss my home less. And so, seeing the sun, I got up and put on a dress, a gay dress made out of bright-colored cloth — the same sort of dress that I would wear if I were at home and starting out for a day in the country. It was all wrong. The sun was shining but the air was cold. It was the middle of January, after all. But I did not know that the sun could shine and the air remain cold; no one had ever told me. What a feeling that was! How can I explain? Something I had always known — the way I knew my skin was the brown color of a nut rubbed repeatedly with a soft cloth, or the way I knew my own name — something I took completely for granted, "the sun is shining, the air is warm" — was not so. I was no longer in a tropical area. This realization now entered my life like a flow of water dividing previously dry and solid ground, creating two banks, one of which was my past — so familiar and predictable that even my unhappiness then made me happy now just to think of it; the other my future, an empty gray page, a cloudy sea image on which rain was falling and no boats were in sight. I was no longer in a tropical area and I felt cold inside and out, the first time such a feeling had come over me.