When was the first time you ever saw snow? Have you been brought up in snowy mountains or skiing resorts where you have always known snow? I mean, proper, pure white snow, inches deep, painting the church spires and roof tops in silver, carpeting the roads and streets and playgrounds. The flying snow flakes which keep falling from the sky, and covering the roads and houses, the whole earth with its shiny, almost blinding whiteness, soft and cool to touch, decorating the landscape like a deft hand of a free-spirited artist. A true winter wonderland, stretching endlessly in front of your eyes.
That very first time when I experienced snow was nearly three decades ago when I went to study in Nanjing, a city by the Yangzhi River, about 1000 miles downstream from Chongqing, where I was born and raised. Chongqing, as one of the ‘fire furnaces’ in China, could be extremely hot and humid in the summer. In winter months it was usually very cold but the temperature not quite low enough to beckon snow falling and roads frozen. In my mind’s eye, I did picture snow as a child, from the books I had read and from my limited imagination. In my young and naïve heart, snow, like the sea, was something sublimely beautiful which I dearly wanted to experience. It was almost like a dream for me, something not quite within reach, yet held my heart in some strange way.
Quite unexpectedly and without much planning on my part, my journey took me to Nanjing one summer. For the first time, I was able to leave my home province Sichuan and ventured beyond. En route, I did a detour and travelled to the coast of northern China and made a splash in the deep blue sea. It was an incredible moment that lingered in my memory long after the actual experience. Then winter arrived in Nanjing.
One morning, I looked out of my dorm window and was suddenly greeted by the shining whiteness outside. “Wow, snow! Oh my God, it’s snowing,” I squealed with delight, my voice an unnatural pitch. My excitement and exhilaration almost caused me to fall down from the top of my bunk bed. It certainly woke up my roommates from their dreams, causing the girl below me a sudden movement, banging her head on the pole. “Ouch! Bloody hell! Have you never seen snow before?” She grunted, glaring at me in utter disbelief, more than a hint of annoyance.
I jumped out of bed, quickly putting on a jacket, faster than ever, and sprang out into the cold, bright and pure white world. I knelt down, touched its coolness and tasted it, let it melt slowly in my mouth. It was an unforgettable feeling, an unidentifiable yet definite happiness arising from the core of my heart. Maybe it was like someone who took drugs for the first time? I am not sure, but it was one of the most joyful moments in my life I had ever felt. It was bliss.
We always remember the first time, don’t we? The first time we felt the crush towards a boy, that first kiss, the first date, the first time I set my eyes on the sea, and the sweet memory of all the wonderous, significant moments in growing up. For me, the first glimpse and touch of snow was magical, pure and simple delight.