After several days of wickedly hot weather, with everyone sizzling under a blazing sun, a bit of rain last night has relieved us of the heat from Chengdu’s previous afternoons. Finally, Little Flower and I are able to take a pleasant stroll outside, protected by overcast skies with a cool breeze blowing and temperatures calmed to the 70s.
Today proved especially delightful as we were able to finally take a turn down my favorite little side road, Jinxiu Xiang, translated as Splendid Lane.
This narrow xiang, connecting one busy city street to another, is one of the few around us that offers what I call scenic shade and a traditional feel. Tall trees line either side of this special walking route. They create a canopy of golden yellow during the fall, of vibrant green during the early summer. It is one of the few streets I have ever known here that offers a seasonal variety and flavor vastly different from any other.
I was lucky enough to first visit the little street during the autumn. Sichuan is not known for having a gorgeous fall due to the warmish temperatures year round. Leaves tend to drop still green or hang on throughout the winter, turning brittle and an ugly brown. But Splendid Lane has a magical quality to it that douses its tall, woodsy guardians into oceans of color.
Last October, I stumbled upon this sidestreet while taking LF on a shortcut back home. The beauty of the place dazzled me, making me dash back to my apartment for my camera. Nor was I the only one who appreciated this spot.
Day after day, for over a month, many of us enjoyed the golden array of leaves above our heads along this particular street. Autumn had indeed come to Chengdu, if only to one small speck in the city.
The ceiling of yellow brought out walkers and photographers alike. Those wielding cameras, professional and novice, were always seen scanning for that special, unique shot, the one that might land them an award winning photo or best represent the true splendor of the moment.
Tripods went up. Lenses extended. Stances set.
It was fun to watch people so enthused about a little stretch of fall which rarely presented itself in this sort of climate. For me, an Illinoisian, it gave a nostalgic feeling of home.
I think I can honestly say the autumn endeared me to this place. It’s been my favorite walking route ever since.
So today, when cool temperatures finally brought us out of apartment hiding, LF and I found ourselves once again being able to take a quiet walk down our favorite shortcut home.
The sky was threatening a light summer storm but entering Splendid Lane, LF and I had little fear of getting wet. The green leaves above arched inward, shielding us from any showers that might come.
Last year, we were able to walk the entire street with not a single parked car along the curbside. Sadly, not so now. Privately owned cars by the upper middle class are allowed to line one side. A nearby attendant collects parking fees of 5 yuan (70 cents) for daytime hours and 10 yuan ($1.40) for night. It somewhat ruins what we had once experienced before. China’s economic success has brought contented happiness for the “haves” but not a whole lot for the “have nots”. How sad, too, that it’s Nature who suffers most. Increased petrol use, noise pollution and smelly exhaust fumes from vehicles are a few of the worst consequences. Lining once quiet, pretty streets with unattractive cars is another.
Despite the parking, our shortcut home is still a pleasant one. Mostly, it’s the bustling of the residents and their businesses that make it so.
There are two mahjong parlors which were once apartments, now converted for money-making ventures by the locals. For 2 yuan a player (30 cents), anyone can sit at the mahjong table for half a day and play (i.e., gamble) to heart’s content. Tea is for free. In the steamy heat of July and August, an air-conditioned playing room is also available for a higher price of 5 yuan (70 cents) per person a half day. And for 60 yuan ($8.60), you can rent the entire air-conditioned room from 9 a.m. to after midnight. This sometimes happens when friends get together, maybe several visiting from out-of-town, and they wish to relax and chat while having something to do to pass the time. These family-run mahjong parlors offer just the thing for the neighborhood: cheap entertainment, nearby access and support of local businesses.
On our walk, LF and I passed both parlors with one of the owners inviting me for a sit at her sidewalk mahjong table, yet to be rented. Across the street from us, a line of nice furniture was positioned out in the open. On the concrete was also laid out two wardrobes, a baby stroller, a printer and a computer screen. The owner explained to me this is a regular drop-off point for anyone wishing to sell stuff if they move or buy new. She pointed to a posted sign which announced what items were acceptable and could be placed in this area for selling. A number was given to call if you were interested.
I eyed the used merchandise before me. The wardrobes and printer didn’t look so great but the heavy wooden couch set with cushions was very enticing.
“Do you want to buy?” those sitting around eagerly asked me. “Cheap!”
I already have enough stuff as it is. And I’ll be moving in another two months so . . . sorry, no thanks.
After about 10 minutes of chatting, it was time to move on. LF was getting antsy and I was in need of a bottle of water so I headed to one of two nearby tiny convenience stores that hugs the street. Grandma was out with grandbaby, giving me a good excuse to use my camera. Grandparents are only too happy to have their little ones fawned over.
The man tending the shop had a comfy set-up. He was playing mahjong with his buddies out in front. Their boisterous exuberance in the game had gathered several onlookers leisurely walking by.
Obviously, no one had much to do on a pleasantly cool Thursday afternoon other than take it easy by playing mahjong or strolling side streets, like the dog and me.
On Splendid Lane, our only industrious worker happened to be an older woman positioned behind her ancient, foot-pedaled sewing machine. She was carefully hemming the pants of a customer who perched on a stool to wait.
It didn’t take long for the job to be done. After a careful inspection, her pleased customer handed over 2 yuan (30 cents). The seamstress then picked up another item from her nearby table and began yet again on another project.
“My mother usually fixes my clothes,” I told her, “but she’s in America. Young people don’t often know how to do that. Are you here every day?”
My sewing machine expert smiled.
“Yes, every day,” she replied.
“Can I bring you a few clothes tomorrow?”
Of course, she agreed. It’s good to have the business of a foreigner. It makes a Chinese person appear more skilled and prestigious, especially with bystanders looking on, which they were.
Before I knew it, the end of Splendid Lane had come, all too soon for me.
A day like this is a rare one. The steamy Sichuan summer is already knocking at the door, ready to drop in on us at any moment. The air will be stifling and heavy, causing us to imprison ourselves inside. The canopy of leaves will wilt. Our shortcut will be empty of residents and look a bit worn out and used.
But for today, it’s at its best, proving to be a worthy walk and a cherished memory —
our Splendid Lane, Jinxiu Xiang.
From Chengdu, here’s sending you “Ping An!” (Peace) for your day.
REMINDER: EARTHQUAKE RELIEF FUNDS STILL NEEDED
For United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response,
Others: The Amity Foundation (www.amityfoundation.org)