Last days in Chongquin,
We have come the full circle this group of us, eight strangers become friends in 14 days. We have landed in Chongquin, flown to Xian, overnight train to Beijing, fast train to The Three Gorges, cruised up the Yangtze River and now back to Chongquin. We have seen and walked on history, tasted the Chinese cuisine, been confused by the logic, stood in awe of the building feats, talked to many, laughed at much, bargained for many an item, stood before bucket list dreams, enjoyed the massages, we have "been here and done that" in a touristy microcosm sort of way.
We settle into our hotel on the park and immediately taxi into the centre city area. We shop and then meet for lunch, choosing a rather dodgey looking establishment downstairs, a place where the menu was in Chinese and the Chinglish made us laugh and the toilets made some feel like crying. Sharon sorted out a variety of foods and we ate well. When we left there were three tables of staff all sitting down and eating a communal lunch together.
Our group split again and some of us ended up in the markets. Rabbits, white and fluffy, ducks and geese honking and alert, pigeons, wiggling eels and fish, turtles, escaping snails and hanging meats from every part of every animal ready to purchase. There were green and brown patterned frogs in three sizes captured in mesh bags to purchase. They are sold by weight, a plastic bag is slid into the mesh bag and the frogs grabbed. And the purchaser goes off with a jumping plastic bag - dinner fresh as you like. Fruits and vegetables in woven cane baskets and piles of chillies, fresh and dried, gingers and garlics and things I could not identify.
There were enormous pots of tofu and blocks of a set white stuff from which a circular grater created fresh noodles. Other noodle makers with bags of flour around them kneaded and cut the long strips. Coles with their air con and styrofoam / plastic wrap packaging look lame in comparison. ( mind you a lot easier to cook with as you don't have to slaughter anything first - I really can't see myself coming home from work with a bouncy bag of frogs to whip up a quick dinner)
The dentist, hairdresser and any manner of services were shop front ready to help. Children played and waited with their parents and we wandered through, photographing and admiring the bountiful displays.
We went to dinner at a recreated old area on the river. China has a curious mix of old jostling with new and amongst it all the extraordinary "fake fake fake " they are so good at. This was a recreation of old town, because mostly old town buildings were falling down quite badly. ( as things do when built dynasties ago)
The night was beautiful with glowing red lanterns against evening sky colours, city, boat and bridge lights reflecting in the Yangzte river, and chicken mushroom clay pot of rice to enjoy.
Last day to fit everything in and john and I decide to return to a favourite place, the original port and market town of Ciqikou. Steep stairs, narrow streets, bustling with life and street food and home made wares, it's markets near the river and the further we walk up the streets the narrower and quieter it is. Quaint homes either side, the washing hanging out, pot plants at the front door. Old doors and windows, mossy steps, ferns and ancient trees with roots tangling around the huge worn flag stones. We stop at a tea place, a deck built off the street, massive bamboo in the middle, a stone pot holding a reflective pool of water and all guarded by a fluffy ginger cat. Sipped green tea and gazed out over the old roofs lower down. Above us was an enormous tree, with leaves so thick the sky was barely visible.
For our final hooray we all caught the subway ( which goes above and below ground) and for 2¥ each ( 10¥ =A$1.70) managed to get ourselves (thanks Sharon) to the cable car. This cable car in years past was the main transport across the river, there was a ferry too which used to capsize on occasion.
But we were there to admire the view one final time, from way above the river, gazing up and down at the horizon of skyscrapers and the mountains beyond, all filmy white with the fog or pollution or whatever that mist was.
We have been part of a group of eight - each with their own quirky personality. Mohomad & Linda are a love story. He came from Egypt as a student to study in Austria falling in love with Linda, Both families opposed their marriage so they decided to settle in a new country. They arrived in Australia in the 1960s and despite some cultural hiccups became part of her.
Richard and Sharon came from NZ years ago and settled here. Richard had a fine timber (tassie oak etc) business before retiring to become busier than ever with "men's shed" and other community activities. Sharon is teased about her photographing everything all the time but she's the girl we turn to if we need to know what's happening! She will pull out the program from a pocket or bag and sort us out.
Robin & Robyn are retirees as well, with a particular passion for country travel and photographing animals with a very sweet camera. You can often hear Rob laughing and his wife shaking her head at him with a smile or a frown. Rob is the group stirrer and either makes the small children laugh or cry. Robyn is softly spoken and gentle with everyone.
We all love to travel and between us we must of been to every country in the world - we each have a story to tell, of travel family and moments of random craziness to which every one listens to. Mostly anyway! We group and regroup as we want and I've enjoyed the company of each person along the way.
So now returning home, with a airplane breakfast of Chinese porridge and pickled veg. Us eight are the only recognisable Australians on the flight.
Back to our country I call home where I understand the culture and customs, can read menus and identify food and where I don't have to do a currency exchange in my head before purchasing. I know the streets and shops, the services and prices.
But knowing everything certainly takes the excitement of finding, eating, seeing, learning, using or even smelling something unexpected that China gave me every moment of the day.