Friday, July 31, 2009

Letter from Chongqing, by Jessica Wang

Chongqing means 'Double-Happiness'. After three months in Australia, I returned to this, my hometown, with fresh eyes.

The late autumn sky of November is clear at night, especially after rain. The night-view is illuminating: rainbow beams come from the rows of skyscrapers, waving near and far. Sprays of rays intercept each other. Lights from a myriad of traditional homes form layers of vertical lines stretching along the mountains. Straddled across the rivers, muddy docks called Chao Tian Men berth hundreds of ships with whistles. The wharfs were founded in the Ming Dynasty, and face the capital of Ming, Nanjing. The rivers converge; the Jialing River is dark-green, and the Yangtze River flows light-brown.

The night panorama of the city is drawn as a collection of glimmering castles, curving around the silhouette of the mountains. Trucks pierce the night with harsh lights; that is the city, either constructing or dismantling. My friend takes a photo of the night-view, a mixture of the modern and the traditional, a time-crossed illusion.

The clock strikes 10.00am. I get up to meet my friends. The air-train emerges in the raindrops. Along Jialing River, I see skyscrapers dominating the city as well as the traditional old apartments. As we drive up a hill, small, new buildings appear from behind the skyscrapers. Cobblestones pave the way. The tawny wooden terraced houses stand close along the slope of the mountains, snaking.

Vaguely in the mist, the aged rock stairwell covered in moss starts from a bend, meandering all the way to the rock abodes. People walk up and down; none are riding bicycles. Some older ladies in cloaks or raincoats are picking up recycled-garbage. Unemployed bands are performing beneath the eaves. Two ladies in Louis Vuitton and Chanel are having coffee. Several old men hold birds in cages, humming and strolling past the coffee shop.

A 'Bang-Bang Jun,' a Stick Man, is coming towards my car. He is dangling two bags of rice for his customers. The bags are tied with a hempen rope on a bamboo stick across his shoulders. You only find these men in Chongqing. They wear green canvas shoes and ragged clothes, short and strong. Usually several of them stand together, waiting for someone to scream 'Bang-Bang!' at them. 'Bang Bang Jun' shuffle through the city, but there are not as many as before.

Half the road I am driving on is being repaired. Above me, ropeways slide across rivers, working as Citycats in-the-air. There are more bridges and underpasses than roads, and roads sweep high above the buildings. Flyovers look like Chinese knots. Nearby, traditional Chongqing dwellings – ‘diao jiao lou.’ They adjoin the rivers. ‘Diao jiao lou’ means to build wooden houses on firtree posts in the pattern of cornrows. Most of them were constructed in the 1930-1940s, and show the belief of balancing 'yin' and 'yan.' The empty space created by the firtree posts between the ground and the houses symbolises the female – the 'yin.' The house embodies the male, the 'yan.' 'Diao jiao lou' zigzag through many alleys. You may think you've reached the end of the lane, then suddenly there are more houses around another corner.

The author: Jessica Wang is a student in Creative Writing at QUT.