After a quick lunch, I was queuing up for another train. Over night train from Hanoi to Nanning, then another long ride to Chongqing. That’s 2 days in a row stuck on a train. The scenery changed outside my window, and people were playing games, making jokes, sharing fruits and taking naps.
Cooked meal came around in a wagon from time to time. But this time I was equipped with instant noodle I bought at the shop in the station.
A young girl from nearby seat gave me one of those. I’ve never seen one before, so she tells me how to eat it. You peel the skin and bite into it. It has a gentle sweetness, nothing like those artificial sweetening but something close to earth.
After a long long ride, the train finally arrived in Chongqing. I was hoping it would arrive early in the morning, so I could make a quick trip to the big buddha and come back in time for the departure of the river cruise boat. It was already mid-morning.
I walked into a tour office that had a sign (in Chinese) for the river cruise. I pointed at the itinerary on the wall, for the one-way 3-day trip with sight-seeing. They are trying to tell me something but since I don’t speak or understand what they say in Chinese, they had little success communicating what they want to say. In the end, I was told to follow the man in uniform. He started walking across the square in front of the station and kept walking. I was getting a little worried when he made sure I followed him to cross the street where there was no pedestrian crossing.
He walked past the bus terminal and walked into one of the shops in this building which was a tour agency.
With English and some hand-written Chinese I finally got them to understand that I wanted to be on this tour.
I managed to book the Three Gorges （三峡）tour and a half-day tour to Dazu World Heritage Buddha （大足石刻） tour. Buddha tour took 5 hours and departed in the morning, so I had to make it the next day. The people at the tour agency offered to stay at a hotel in town, which was not very expensive. But I went up the hill, a couple of stops by bus, to check out a hostel. It was a pretty shocking state, and was practically empty. I do not know if there was a single other guest there. I looked at a dorm room, which was a groomy room without fresh air or sunlight, then chose own room, which is as expensive as the hotel that was mentioned by the tour agency… maybe I’ll know better next time. This was the first time I looked for my own accommodation in a quiet town in China. I had no idea what the options are.
After the 2 days on train I was dying for a good bath. There was no hot water supply during the day at the hostel (another regret!) but I washed up and went out to check out the town of Chongqing.
People’s Great Hall was a beautiful architecture. I could imagine the place in its glory, perhaps during a festive occasion like an opera.
Just around the corner I bought a couple of hot steam bans. This one was a little spicy, and I loved it!
Card games, mahjong, karaoke and dancing – those seem to be the popular public pass-time.
The air was foggy. By the river, as the darkness fell, it turned into a surreal scene like one from Blade Runner.
It was getting pretty dark. I didn’t want to be lost in a town where I had little sense of orientation so I sort of started walking back around from the other side of town where the Great Hall was, along the river side, and now up the hill crossing back towards where the hostel was. I realised how developed this town really was, though I chose to stay in the area where the very old style was kept more or less intact. The night sky was bright with high-rising towers, coffee shops and boutiques with their bright windows…
But as for eating, I kept looking for an authentic experience. It isn’t hard to do – just look where ordinary people on their way home may be queueing up. And I found just a place. I was imagining something else but I just loved this clay pot noodle!
Somewhere in my mind, I kept thinking the country side of China was still under developed. Coming in from Vietnam by train did not help to change that pre-determined image. But now that I was in this town in the middle of the country, and seeing how its buses use tap-on payment system, new subway use the same payment and safety infrastructure like Singapore, HongKong or in Thailand these days. You can buy the same international brands in shopping centres and food court is out of the same mould as any other city’s.
I remember back in the ’90s in university when an American lecturer who specialises in the Far East (Asia) politics and economy said in the class, “Go to China now, before it is lost forever.’ I guess I did not take up on that suggestion, and I came to a place that is no longer what it was. Of course, nothing stays the same, and I’m not saying the old is good. But coming from a place like Japan and visiting Bali, not a touristy part but talking to locals – back in ’94 when I had a stop-over there – or to northern Thailand, I realise that there are certain values that are lost from society along with the development. I see it still alive in its beautiful organic form, and I loved being close to where those values are working in a society. And I wanted to use my photography to somehow tell the story of the beauty of it.
Yet after a couple of months of being back in the same old routine of office work, I find myself losing my determination again. I don’t have anything precious that I should be worried about losing. It is more of the comfort of security that makes me lazy and stops me from making a real effort to come up with a structure in which I can sustain that story-telling.
But the more I think about it, on a quiet summer evening like this, the more I realise – we exist in this world for a reason. And we’ve got to make it count. That is undeniable.
“Only Buddha knows”, the monk said as he tied this to my wrist in front of the iamge of Buddha in that temple in Chiang Mai. I leave it there, to remind me, of something that I felt strongly about, of something that I ought to remember. Only Buddha knows. So why am I worrying about the consequences as if I know? Let it all take place, and the rest will take care of itself.