Friday, September 25, 2009

On the way to Huzhou (diary reprise)

8th September 2005. Huzhou, Zhejiang, China

On the TV, Beijing beat Shanghai on aggregate, after extra time, last night.

Breakfast: bananas in room.

At Pingwang, a bridge takes the G318 over the Grand Canal. Last year I turned south here, towards Jiaxing and Hangzhou. This time I follow a small road to Hengshan and from there to Miaogang. This must be the only quiet road in eastern China. I can even hear the birds and cicadas.

Along the south bank of Taihu, duck farms with flotillas of white ducks, bright sun, clean air, no traffic, beautiful riding. Fresh smell of marshes coming off the wide, shallow lake, which stretches weedy and reedy to the horizon. A convoy of small boats chug along in line, collecting lake weed. Crab-fishermen mending their nets along the shore. At a little restaurant at lunchtime they offer me freshwater crayfish, which share a tank with a pair of sad-looking condemned fish. I go for my usual, fanqie chao dan(1). A mother ba-ing(2) her baby on the steps.

Tableau: peasants in straw hats cutting reeds and grass with scythes. What we pay our visa fees for.

Road runs along levee, with the lake on right, and garden plots full of cabbages and onions below on left. Warblers and egrets all along the shore. Rice fields glow green and then gold in evening light.

Outside zhaodaisuo(3) is a street of point-and-shoot fry-em-up stalls, you name it, they've got it - from bags of jumping frogs (live) to pig nostrils (dead). Up the road is a throw-the-hoop-over-something-ghastly game. There is no shortage of customers; the lucky ones don't win anything. The more unfortunate have to take some astonishing tat home: miniature hands made of plastic, and little china figurines that make garden gnomes look classy. The only prizes worth winning - mobile phones - are actually impossible to win because they are too big for the hoops.

Cricket: first day of final Ashes test. England wobbling at 115/3 at lunch.

(1) Fried egg and tomato.
(2) Potty training, without potty.
(3) Guesthouse, hotel

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