Jinjiang River in Two Hours

Aug 05, 2009
*Special to asia!

The mission was to find dinner. I got a map from the hotel and became curious about the this ancient river that was so close to my hotel. So I made a detour.

I took a turn from Cheng Hua Xi Street onto Wan Dan Cang Road, where flowers, fruits and vegetables were being hawked off bicycle carts. I guess the prices were reasonable since people didn't spend much time bargaining. As I took my first few steps along Wu Ding Street this roar began to emerge overhead. I'd head it before from my hotel room. I would run to the window to see what was generating all din, craning my neck over the window sill, looking for something like a tram or a train. It took me a walk to Wu Ding Street to realise that that "din" was actually the synchronised call of what must've been tens or hundreds of cicadas perched in the branches of trees overhead. Coming from Singapore, the call of cicadas can be heard all year round. This being my first time in China during summer, the roar of cicadas made so much sense. These insects have a nymph phase of up to 7 years! During their short adults lives, which lasts only a few weeks, they need to find a mate to procreate. After realising what was creating that sound, what I first thought to be a raucous dissolved to become a symphony.

Turning away form the trees, I saw the river. There was a very tiny exercise station. Seniors were getting their workout on stationary bicycles, what looked like ski machines and steppers. Others were doing taichiquan (what I like to call "Chinese yoga") as little dogs scuttled between their legs. What I thought were stray dogs, turned out to be dogs off their leashes. It seems many people like to walk their dogs without a leash and the dogs seem very well behaved and I'm amazed how they are able to find their owners among all the activity. The most popular breeds seem to be Chihuahuas, Poodles, Pomeranian and Pekingese.

Some of the walkers and brisk walkers along the river carried fans, but it wasn't because of the heat. Swarms of tiny bugs gather just beneath the tree crowns or along the walkways. I had to squint to keep any from getting into my eye or hold my breath to save myself from swallowing or inhaling some.

When I got to Wu Ding Bridge that reaches across the river to Bei Jiao Chang Xi Road, I encountered people browsing through books, toys, videos, and CDs laid out on canvas sheets or again being sold off bicycle carts. A lady selling a collection of Chinese novels laid out on the walkway watches as a little dog walks over her products, she shoots a disapproving look at the dog's owner, but she stops at that. There are some things in life worth fussing about. Perhaps that wasn't one of it.

A boy is playing Beethoven's symphony Number 5 on his trumpet as his mother coos his baby sibling.

Bei Jiao Chang Xi Road is a distinct because of its "Old Wall". That is, simply what it is called. It's hard to tell if it really is "old". It's hard define what "old" is in a city as old as Chengdu. In Singapore, a 5 year-old building is old. I run my eyes along the base of the wall up along its gray stone bricks, appreciating its medieval facade. My thoughts pause as I encounter a jarring feature against the ancient-looking wall - a drive-through car wash. The men tending to the station were uniformly in jungle green camo t-shirts and pants.

I reach a big junction. Big junctions in China scare me. First, because in Singapore we drive on the left, but in China they drive on the right. So I'm always slightly confused. Second, it's either because I'm reading the traffic lights wrong and they are directing some roads that I think they are not, or perhaps some cars just don't see these lights, because even though the sign says "cross" some cars continue to cruise across the crossings. So I make like a local. I'm watching the others. Stop when they stop. Walk when they walk. I see a bus coming into the corner and it's not stopping, so my last few paces before I reach the curb turn into a run. I don't see the locals running. Perhaps one day I'll learn how they do it.

Safely across the junction on Wan He Road, a boy is climbing a lamp post. A young girl, perhaps his sister, watches him at first. Then asks him to get down because she wants to climb it too. Their mother who's tending to a customer at her shop, laughs and tells them to be careful. A lady on a bicycle, perhaps a friend, neighbour, or familiar stranger, stops to laugh at them too and asks the kids how they are today. It is along this jovial road that I begin to lose my bearings. The map seems to be missing something. Landmarks seem to be on the wrong side. Or something's not right with the scale and I'm far from the next road when I should be taking a corner. I keep walking anyway.

I catch a glimpse of a big mall, Parkson. Then I see a KFC, and heaven-forbid, a McDonalds. Nothing else much worth typing about on Qing Long Street. At the end of Qing Long Street however, things get interesting, because now I'm really lost. Not a landmark on the map, the road is different, I walk from one end of the junction to the other. I contemplate asking someone for directions but decide to try and handle this on my own. I figure I'm walking around the river in an anti-closewise direction so if I keep making left turns I won't be straying too far from my hotel. Right?

By this time I'm not looking at my map anymore because I seem to be on streets that aren't described in the concise map that I got from the hotel. Then I see the Sichuan Provincial People's Procuratorate (yes, that is what it is called) and I recall seeing it the last time I was here 2 years ago, so I know I'm still near my hotel and headed in more or less the right direction.

A brisk walk down a nameless road and I end up at another junction. I decide to keep walking straight till I get to another junction, but then I notice a lamp post. The lamp post the two kids were climbing earlier. I turn to look behind me, and I see the a great big junction. The one I was nervous to cross earlier. But so many of the junctions look the same. I decide, it's time to ask someone. I pick a lady that's walking her poodle off the leash. "Where's Ren Min Bei Road?" I ask in a soft my-Mandarin's-not-so-good voice so as not to startle her. She slowly rolls her eyes toward me and I suppose finally hears the question past my very foreign accent and tells me that it's down the road we're facing, about five blocks away. "Everyone knows where it is, only foreigners would ask where it is." I grin, thank her and head in the direction she points out. I cross the junction, and once again I come to the Old Wall. Relief.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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