In Search of a Red October

I’ve been told many times that fall is not the best time to experience Dongbei. You either go in the summer when it’s most comfortable and fun, or you go in the dead of winter when the snow-scapes are at their best. But I chose to go in the fall because I wanted to try and find red leaves, and because my summer was a time for Tibet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Dalian was not quite red yet. I’d come perhaps a week or two too early to really see red. True, I still managed to find some scant fall foliage, but it was hardly what I’d been expecting.

sea 4

Changchun (in Jilin province) on the other hand, was an entirely different matter.

“You’re too late,” a rough-voiced taxi driver outside of Changchun said. I was on my way to a place tantalizingly called ‘The Red Leaves Valley.’ “You should have come during National Holiday two weeks ago. The leaves were red then.”

I thought he was exaggerating, and so went ahead to the valley, thinking I could still catch some pretty leaves.

Boy, was I wrong.

red leaves valley 2

It’s a funny thing with Dongbei: it’s bigger than I thought. One part can still have many green leaves, while another be practically barren. I thought about this as I walked through the ironically-named (at that time) “Red Leaves Valley,” thinking that there was nothing more forlorn than walking through a forest of bare branches. Positive spin: it very much put me in the Halloween mood I’d been seeking in my ghost stories.

red leaves valley
I spy with my little eye exactly ONE red-leafed tree.

“It’s not so bad,” I tried to say to the taxi driver.

He shook his head. “You’re too late,” he repeated. “You shouldn’t have come here.”

“Does that mean you’ll lower the price?”

He didn’t say anything.

Not to be deterred, I headed out to a local park the next day, not too far from my couchsurfing host’s home. The sky was a crisp blue (the kind that’s rare in the north once the heaters are turned on). I wandered inside and saw several clumps of trees with some orange still intact.

“There now,” I thought. “Maybe I’m not too late after all.”

I snapped photos of them from beneath, where the sun shone through them like fire. (Because sometimes leaves are like people: unimpressive from one angle, brilliant when given a chance to shine). As I walked through the park, I saw cat-tails by the pond in light browns, and single trees shining in light yellows. I took picture after picture, feeling pleased with myself for my life choices and inwardly cackling at the taxi driver (who did later lower the price when I whined about it, but then cussed me out later insisting that as a foreigner, “I obviously was rich.” Jerk.)

When looking through the photos later, I was struck by something.

“These trees look an awful lot more green than I remember…”

That’s when I realized something: I had been looking at them through my tinted sunglasses the whole time.

So, maybe people are right and fall is not the best time to go to Dongbei because the leaves are pretty unpredictable. But, sometimes you can get lucky, sunglasses notwithstanding.

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