12 January 2010

in the old times...


She was Queen of Harbin, with hair down to the small of her back in an auburn plait. She was not like a Russian girl or a Chinese one. She was at once petite but also long limbed, with narrow hips and a sort of wiriness that might have looked better on a boy. Every year they would choose the prettiest girl of the city as part of summer festivities by the river. While the other girls fretted over their hems tattering on the bull rushes she wore her brother's pants held up with old rope. They chose her as Princess of the Songhua River that year as she stood to the side of a pavilion in her brother's pants. They took a photograph which her mother later saw and laughed at heartily. They weren't land owners anymore and they left their factory in Siberia to the proletariat after being tipped off by loyal workers. The old country was deeply entrenched into their conciousness, more so by the violent nature in which it had made exiles of them. They lived in a smokey flat above a furniture store on Main Street, the proprietor was a Chinaman who Yulia sometimes spent the afternoon with, playing Mahjong and smoking hand rolled cigarettes.While 1930's Shanghai was a pleasure den for expats and exiles, Harbin was a sleepier northern cousin.