Cherry Blossoms

Last week I went to D.C. for the annual cherry blossom festival. I arrived just in time. It’s the first day of the Festival and most trees were in bloom. The capital was festooned with ribbons of pink and white flowering trees, absolutely photogenic. Plus, the weather was agreeable. I could still feel the late winter chill but the sun brightened the blossoms.

I took hundreds of pictures. The cherry blossom is, as we all know, the herald of spring. Squirrels scavenged near the rubbish bins. Robins on the grass were busy looking for worms. Japanese dancers performed on the stage near the Washington Memorial. Dressed in traditional kimono, the white-faced dancers raised their arms and kicked their feet in slow motion, commemorating the gift of the cherry trees to the U.S. in the 1920s.

America is known as a melting pot of people as well as cultures. If you want to know how authentic one sub-culture is in America, you may ask the people from that culture’s original country. Their opinions may be the most accurate. For instance, I’ve been asked how I think of the Chinese restaurants in America. Before I respond, the questioner may already know I’d say the restaurants are Americanized. But will she know how so? I say in China the waitresses will serve you tea instead of a big glass of ice water. Also, there’s either iced bottle water or boiled water at room temperature available in most regular restaurants in China. If you ask for a glass of ice water (you may think it’s a simple request), things may get complicated. You’re likely to get a glass of boiled water and a glass of ice cubes—you have to mix them yourself. Or you may end up ordering a bottle of cold water, which costs you. The bottom line, Chinese seldom drink ice water in a restaurant.

So my visit to D.C.’s cherry blossom festival did make a non-Japanese feel like being in Japan, or at least not like the cherry blossom show I saw in China. I remember one year my family and I went to a local farm to see cherry blossoms. The Chinese visitors didn’t care much about protecting the cherry trees. To pose for a photo with the blossoms, kids climbed on the trees and couples stood inches close to the fragile branches. Some even picked the cherry blossoms off the trees. Pedals were scattered on the ground. The trees looked balder than we expected. My family and I were disappointed and heartbroken. My mom even criticized the visitors lacking public morals.

Thank heavens that the visitors in D.C. are different than the ones I saw in China. I heard various languages spoken around me. Despite the fact that the people came from all parts of the world, they appreciated the cherry blossoms with good manners. Perhaps this is why I like D.C. better than New York City. Both cities attract international visitors, but NYC visitors seem to bring with them more bad habits to the Big Apple than visitors bring to the capitol.


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America