Changing with the seasons

Chicago winter makes the reality of a new life all the more vivid.

By Victor Tan

In my home country, winter is the story told to little children who have yet to dream. In Kuala Lumpur, sunlight bears down on you 24/7; humidity assaults your face. Ripples of heat manifest in concrete-bound mirages waltzing upon the ground, teenagers beat the heat running away from officers in shopping malls, and people sit in coffee shops drinking coconut juice straight from the source…

I used to dream of winter, the end to the reality of 90-degree summers spent melting on the sidewalk. I used to imagine that crystals would fall from the sky into my hands, ready to be crafted into snowmen. I’d think of afternoons spent making snow angels on white-blanket pavement. That was before I visited London, back when I was sufficiently naïve and young to not believe in the slush that gets into your boots and the immeasurably disgusting tracks left in the snow.

And thinking back gives me this feeling of surrealism when I remember that just two months ago, I saw old people ride by on their motorcycles day after day, bearing ice creams and the sweet lollies that school administrators told the elementary school kids not to buy, for fear of watching some poor soul choke. Family members from far away pestered me at Chinese New Year, asking me if I’d found a girlfriend yet. Home-cooked dishes remind me of a home that I sometimes long for but cannot reach. I often wonder what life would have been like if I had moved to another time, another place, become part of a different reality, spoken to different people, chosen a different life path…


And I don’t think I’m unique, because that’s just what humans are like: We wonder about possibilities we never made into realities. Wonder about to whom we could have talked, about the beautiful strangers with whom we could have danced, about the oddball, broken-toy misfit who we could have met and talked with until 2 a.m.

Chicago isn’t any California. It’s not the kind of place where the sun shines down and people cry for joy everyday. It’s rainy, it’s depressing, it snows at strange times, and winter lasts until April. But I guess it’s the first place in the world where I’ve watched a season of my life change.

The leaves outside Harper turned the color of fire just today; I thought they were pretty. It’s already sixth week, and school feels a little less like summer camp now. I gave directions to a tourist the other day—“Harper? It’s over there, you go through the main quad, and it’s on the south end”—and I realized that giving directions something I never do unless I know a place truly well.

Victor Tan is a first-year in the College.