意在笔前

我最近考虑事业发展。看其他外国人在中国环境中的成就,包括创新、开业、写作等。感觉真是很佩服。很多人学中文的时间比我短多了,但是还能说得很流利,成为所谓的“中国通”。很多留学生、记者与专业人士利用在中国的时间写有才智的文章或小说,让别人看中国生活一瞥。

我去中国之前本来打算写日记,别人也建议我写。不一定给别人看;更为了给自己记录所见所闻。可是到了中国之后,很快就沉没在中国与汉语的环境中,想感受,而不想记录了。当时可能担心经验一写出来就会被破坏,已经不是经验了,而是自己对经验的过度分析,所以会变得挺肉麻;写新鲜的话的确不容易。也许也有点懒得写吧。

cameras and clocks
笔者摄影

现在的态度有所变化了。实际上有点后悔当时没有记录对我最有意义的发生。虽然还能想起来与怀念,必然没有以前那么清晰。很多细节都已经变得模糊。地点、时间、季节、对话内容混混沌沌,难以描述从头到尾的经历。

与此同时,一定时间的距离也有好处。沉没在某个环境中很容易应接不暇,但离它远一点能给提供新的认识。

所以我现在想写。

Flashback: Luzhou (part two)

This is the continuation of Part One, which was posted last week.

Birthday Party

Accepting P and Z’s invitation, we got into their car again, and made our way to their apartment. 

S and I looked at each other in bewilderment, as we were still very unsure of how this was all going to turn out. We hadn’t envisioned our only day in Luzhou being spent at a stranger’s birthday party. Then again, it seemed a much better use of our time than wandering the streets trying to find the motel.

Another scene from Yaoba. Photograph taken by the author.
Another scene from Yaoba. Photograph taken by the author.

We arrived to a table of home-cooked food, garnished liberally with chilis and spices that characterise local Sichuan cuisine, as well as a very excited eight-year-old boy. He practiced his English with us while we still tried to make sense of everything that was happening.

Z asked us our plans, and I explained that I had hoped to visit the town of Yaoba. 

‘It’s very difficult to get there,’ he said, laughing at us for even considered going there by ourselves. ‘The buses stop early, so you won’t be able to get back to Luzhou if you left now.’

‘I have to go and finish up some things at work now, but we’ll drive you back to the motel, and pick you up in a couple of hours to drive you there.’

Going to Yaoba

The mother banyan tree in Yaoba. Photograph taken by the author.
The mother banyan tree in Yaoba. Photograph taken by the author.

Later that afternoon, the whole family arrived in their small car to pick us up. We spent about an hour and a half driving through the countryside on our way to Yaoba, with P and Z outlining some of the history of the city and its surroundings. 

We were the only tourists in Yaoba, and the residents were very curious to see us there. Z explained that they hardly ever saw foreigners in their town; in fact, for some it would be their first time seeing anyone from outside China.

Yaoba has a rich history, and despite its status as an ‘ancient town’ (古镇), generations of families still reside there and go about their daily lives. The town is famous for its well-preserved Buddhist temple, and its atmosphere has made it an ideal location for a number of film and television productions.

After touring Yaoba’s landmarks, P and Z suggested we visit a local restaurant for dinner. Apparently, wild boar is quite a delicacy, so they decided it would be great for their new foreign friends to give it a try.

It was here that we were taught to clean our plates and cups by rinsing them with hot tea, a trick that later proved useful in other situations. 

As it became dark, we travelled back to Luzhou. We had to get a bus to Chengdu early the next morning, so this was the last time S and I would be seeing our new friends. We exchanged contact details, and reluctantly said our goodbyes. 

Although I haven’t been able to visit the family again since, we have kept in regular contact. If they hadn’t approached to help us that day, it is doubtful whether we would have found our way to the motel, let alone Yaoba. When travelling, sometimes you have to take risks; you may be rewarded with finding lifelong friends in unexpected places.

Flashback: Luzhou (part one)

Due to its length, this post will be divided into two parts. Look for Part Two next week.

Last month, the story of Matt Stopera’s trip to China to meet ‘Brother Orange’, the owner of his stolen iPhone, went viral. Matt became somewhat of a celebrity in China and was often overwhelmed by the attention and hospitality he encountered. Inevitably, he and Bro Orange became the best of friends. When I read the story, the first thing that came to mind was that this was definitely one of those ‘only in China’ moments.

I have a story that is in some ways very similar to theirs. It takes place in Luzhou (泸州), Sichuan in July 2010. 

Like Bro Orange’s hometown of Meizhou, you’ve probably never heard of Luzhou, despite its population of 4.8 million. I hadn’t heard of it either, until I began planning my first real trip around China after completing my first semester of exchange in Beijing. I decided it would be interesting to venture to the ancient village of Yaoba, located on the outskirts of the city, where the lack of foreign tourists would make for a more unique travel experience. Thus, I added Luzhou to the itinerary.

Although I did not become a celebrity, like Matt I made wonderful friends in the most unexpected of places.

My story begins like this.

尧坝古镇6
A scene from the town of Yaoba, Luzhou. Photograph taken by the author.

Getting There

After a three-hour bus ride from Chengdu, Sichuan’s provincial capital, S and I were in Luzhou. With no understanding of the bus routes, we opted for a short cab ride to our motel. Our amateur traveller status was revealed by my realisation that the booking confirmation only included the motel’s English name. The driver pretended to know where we were going. Five minutes later, after being told it was ‘across the road’, we were dropped off. 

With nothing resembling a motel in sight, we quickly became lost. Coming to Luzhou suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea.

We started poring over maps, becoming more and more despondent and wondering whether we would ever be able to find this motel. In another display of amateurism, we remembered that we only had one night in Luzhou, and my goal of visiting Yaoba was very unrealistic as we actually had no idea how to get there from the city.

That’s when we met P and Z. 

Having already travelled to a few major cities in China, we had developed a certain level of cynicism. In our experience, friendly faces and offers of assistance were not to be accepted without careful consideration.  

So, when P and Z approached us asking in English if we needed assistance, I replied rather curtly in Chinese that we were fine, just looking for our motel. 

Upon hearing me speak Chinese, the dynamic changed immediately. After looking at our map and ascertaining the location, they offered to drive us there. We were nowhere near it. Unaccustomed to accepting lifts from strangers, we were a little apprehensive. However, as we didn’t really have any choice, we got in.

Having successfully checked in, P and Z waited for us to unload our backpacks.

‘It’s our son’s birthday today. We would like to invite you to our home for lunch! He would love to meet you!’

‘What’s going on?’ asked S.

‘Um… I think we’re going to a birthday party.’