Jiajiang: "The Quintet"

Sichuan Province

June 17, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

The one hour bus ride from Leshan to Jiajiang was uneventful.  At the Jiajiang bus station, a minibus arrived quickly for the short ride to a village and my destination for the afternoon: the banks of the Yi River and the Thousand Buddha Cliffs – a site off the tourist route.

I planned a quiet afternoon.  A break from tour groups, crowds, people.  A little peace and tranquility.  Privacy.  A “time out.”  Just the carvings.  Just the river.  Just me.  Alone. 

It was not to be.

I am accosted.  Along the deserted village lane, even before I reach the entrance to the Buddha Cliffs, I am accosted.  Accosted, I tell you.  Chatted up.  Picked up.  Surrounded, waylaid, ambushed, dragooned and shanghaied by five -- not one, not two, not three, not four, but five -- five of the most delightful young, really young, teenage girls you would ever hope to encounter. 

It’s a familiar, innocent, irresistible appeal, “May we speak with you?  We want to improve our oral English.” 

I’m drafted!  Who can dodge such a charming conscription?

So Mr. Jan, with his quintet of kids, follows the path through the village to the cliff carvings.  With a brief detour at the sweet shop – lollypops for everyone.

My comrades are outgoing and shy; giggly and serious; talkative and reserved; energetic, curious, patient and playful. 

With my active camera and my aging knees, I am the slowpoke of the group as we stroll by the ancient Tang Dynasty carvings.  If my entourage skips ahead, I take my time to enjoy a quiet moment along the scenic, sunny, broad Yi River. (“Please, please Mr. Jan.  Can we go for a boat ride on the river?”)

The girls ignore the 1000 year old Buddha carvings.  They are intrigued by the Museum of Hand Made Paper.  They barely glance at the paintings on hand made bamboo paper.  But the roped-off display of drums, barrels, presses and furnaces that produced the traditional paper becomes a temporary playground.

We begin our return to the village.  Suddenly, without warning I hear a cheerful chorus: “Bye Bye!” 

In an instant, my kids are gone. 

And I am alone again.  Just me.  Just the silent carvings.  Just the quiet river. 

W.W. Jacobs wrote, “Be careful what you wish for.  You may receive it.”


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