Chongqing Province: Ciqikou & Songji - "Ancient Towns"
June 19, 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
Despite the light and misty rain, I donned my jacket and hat, stowed my umbrella in my messenger bag, loaded a new memory chip in my camera, hailed a taxi, and made for Ciqikou – an ancient city perched above the Jialing River – a 700 mile, 1120km northern tributary of the great Yangtze.
The ancient city has been restored and there’s mostly shops and restaurants for tourists. And since today is Saturday, the main streets are crowded with Chinese visitors from Chongqing City. Am I the only Westerner here?
Despite the touristy environment, today was “perfect.” It provided me with all the elements of what I most enjoy about traveling.
I enjoy wandering down the main streets and stopping at the colorful shops. The staff is always welcoming.
I enjoy wandering off the main streets and getting lost in the alleyways. In fact, I look for the empty streets and usually find local people at work and children at play. And also a bit of history.
I enjoy stopping whenever I please. I find a tea shop. Hot tea cheers me on a sodden day.
I enjoy chatting with the tea shop owners, especially if they are young and attractive sisters.
I enjoy the architecture. I find a fifteen hundred year old temple with remarkable sculpture.
I enjoy climbing. The temple has a bell tower. And the view of the river is the reward for my exertion.
I enjoy entertaining. (On occasion.) I followed the sound of music. A large restaurant featured an orchestra of traditional and modern instruments. Restaurant patrons sang Chinese songs. I volunteered. It seems that the Chinese have chosen “Oh! Susanna” as the quintessential American song. * I twanged my best rendition. Sadly, the photographs of that remarkable event are as shaky as my voice.
I enjoy returning to places to see new friends. The tea shop girls invited me to lunch.
I enjoy taking photographs: tourists posing for other cameras, food vendors preparing their snacks, children at play, adults at play (everyone plays mahjong), architecture, sculpture, scenic views, and on occasion, attractive young sisters.
PS The following day I visited another ancient city. Songji sits along the banks of the Yangtze, 140km, 87 miles southwest of Chongqing. Tourists have not yet found this place so it was just me, a few kids and the “ancient” folks weaving baskets, repairing fishing nets, and playing cards.
After wandering the narrow village lanes, I found a restaurant that overlooks the river. I pointed to the picture of a fish in my wordless travel book. Ten minutes later a whole fish appeared - sautéed and smothered with garlic and spices. An ancient family recipe, no doubt.