My apartment balcony, overlooking the Yangtze River, remains oddly silent. From the usually busy road below, there’s not a sound: no beleaguered busses straining uphill, no constantly sounding car horns, no boisterous motorcycle mufflers, no screeching-tired taxies, no private cars zooming, no distressed construction trucks shifting gears . . . Nothing but quiet drifting upward to my 2nd floor home.
Where is all this lovely peace coming from? Since October 28, our obnoxiously noisy Yangtze river road has been closed.
For years, this road has been a cause of headache as more and more traffic traveled upon it. River towns up and down the Yangtze from us use our Wa Yao Ba Road to reach one another. Buses bound for Yibin, Jiangan, Naxi, and numerous others stop constantly along their 1-3 hour routes to let passengers off and on. Two vocational colleges (ours and the Sichuan technical college just a few blocks away) bring city buses and other vehicles to and from our gates. Fang Shan (Fang Mountain), a scenic hiking spot a mere 20 minutes away, sends weekend tourists by the hundreds driving by.
Wa Yao Ba was never made for this much traffic. The city temporarily fixed some of the hazardous spots right before I left. They lined the drop-off areas with concrete blocks so cars wouldn’t run off the pavement. Before, it was easier for a to go careening into the ancient wooden and mud-plastered houses hugging the road. At least the concrete barriers helped a bit to dissuade cars from getting too close to the edge.
Another problem has always been no sidewalks. Local residents and our college students have always been at risk of being hit and sent flying when going out to the small shops lining the way. That danger is not to be fixed anytime soon so we just take our lives into our own hands when venturing out.
But the most annoying part of the road has always been the short, narrow bridge. The bridge passes over a deep gully which is sometimes flooded by the Yangtze. It’s not very long, nor much to look at, and has probably been standing for years. Part of the problem is that it’s so narrow that anything wider than a taxi can’t get by without waiting for the road to clear. I can’t tell you how many Wa Yao Ba traffic jams I’ve sat through with buses, trucks and cars piled up on either side of the bridge. Each long line of vehicles was waiting for one side to cross the road so the other could begin. No traffic cops made it somewhat of a free-for-all with impatient private car owners meeting buses head-on in the middle, then having a show-down on who will back up first. When there’re 10 other cars bumper to bumper behind both headstrong drivers, you can imagine the ruckus that follows.
Shouting matches ensue.
And the worst part is no one goes anywhere for a very long, long time. Those in taxies or buses usually give up and hike it up the road to where they’re going. A 10-20 minute walk is sure a lot better than a 2-hour sit while the men (and it’s always the men) hash it out who gets to go first.
Because Wa Yao Ba is the only easy route to and from the city, rebuilding the bridge was never an option. Yet this year, we have a brand new access road that leads directly into the city center, cutting our travel time almost in half. Wa Yao Ba Road now has a great detour alternative.
And so it is that the narrow bridge, so much a pain before, is being rebuilt, thus bringing silence to our little part of the campus until February 10, the completion date.
The silence is golden, but there are more personal perks of this road closure than quiet.
First of all, we don’t have to take our lives into our own hands when exiting the school gate. The traffic that whizzed by was in no hurry to slow down when hundreds of students streamed to the bus stops after classes. No sidewalks had everyone basically teetering on the edges of the roadway, trying stay out of the way of oncoming vehicles while not slipping into the sewage ditches on either side. On several occasions, there were some awful close car clips when I was out there. Not pleasant, especially with Little Flower trotting along beside me.
Another nice part of having no traffic is the less polluted environment. No longer is dust kicking up all around us, sticking to our clothes and invading our lungs. While eating outside along the little restaurants lining the roads, students no longer have to shield their dishes from flying clouds of dirt. Nor do they have to shout at one another above the motors and horns. Everyone can enjoy a nice, quiet meal off campus without ear-splitting, or road-spitting, distractions.
But the greatest perk of the closure concerns the many snack venders that now have positioned themselves all along our road. Piping hot sweet potatoes, straight from their barrel baking ovens, and freshly popped popcorn, lightly carmelized, are being offered to the right of the school gate. It’s hard to miss them as the sellers have placed themselves right on the walking path of the students. Without the cars, it’s a great spot for catching hungry young folk looking for cheap winter goodies.
Up the road another 50 feet and we have a specialty steamed item of Harbin waiting for us. Harbin is the capital city of Hubei Province, far to the north of Beijing. It’s claim to fame is the International Ice Sculpture Festival, always held around the Chinese New Year. Every province has its well-known snack foods. Harbin’s steamed sticky rice blocks dotted with dried fruit have finally reached us here. A certain company makes these in town, then sends out hired help to sell them on the street from their barrel steamers. I’d never seen this snack before so I bought some the other day for a try. The woman selling sliced off a nice chunk, sprinkled with dates and raisins, which she weighed and then presented to me in a plastic bag. It was $2.00 (about $1.00 per pound), which is rather pricey but specialty foods are always pricey outside of their own areas. It was sticky and gummy, slightly sweet, and tasted better right away rather than later after it had cooled off. I didn’t eat the whole thing but was glad to at least have a taste.
Next time, I’ll know better than to have the seller cut off such a large piece unless I have someone to share it with.
What I’m anticipating to show up along our empty road are the cold weather, roasted chestnut sellers. They are everywhere in Chengdu. The sights and sounds of chestnuts being tossed in woks among hot coals can be found at every corner. On a chilly day, there’s nothing like carrying around a warm paper bag of chestnuts, peeling them from their soft shells and popping one into your mouth. It makes me feel as if I’m strolling along the streets of a Charles Dickens’ novel.
Of course, Luzhou is warmer than Chengdu so our chestnut sellers are a bit behind the winter schedule. There are a few in the downtown district on weekend nights but they haven’t yet found their way to the daytime crowds. I’m guessing December 1st will bring them around.
Lucky for me, I’ll be heading off to Chengdu soon for the award presentation on Thursday. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to get my hot chestnut fix while I’m there. Even Little Flower has a fondness for chestnuts. Better to peel them for her, though. She’s been known to chomp them down whole, shell and all.
At least for our Thanksgiving Day dinner, there won’t be any skimping on sweet potatoes since they’re right outside the gate. No turkey as China doesn’t have turkeys but chicken can suffice. And how nice it will be to have a quiet noontime Thanksgiving for a change, without the cars and busses racing up and down the river road to disturb our peacefulness. And maybe, just maybe, our chestnut sellers will pop over to our area a tad earlier than December 1st .
Roasted chestnuts for Thankgiving! If you can’t have turkey, go for the next best thing.
From Luzhou, here’s wishing you “Ping An!” (peace) for your weekend.