Border Town is a critically-acclaimed novel by late Chinese writer Shen Congwen. I haven’t read the book before, but when I knew I was going to watch a theatre performance based on the book during a visit to Shen’s former residence in Fenghuang, Hunan province, I bought the Kindle version on Amazon and read it on my flight to the south central province.
From just a light drizzle of snowflakes – like salt crystals falling from a salt and pepper shaker – to a constant, heavy snowfall that left frozen ice on the streets for several weeks, Beijing winter finally gave me snow last month.
As Beijing went through two snowy days and the central heating still hasn’t been turned on, I had to retrieve the portable radiator from the store room. I don’t remember it being so cold last fall… but this November felt exceptionally chilly.
Last week, I caught up with a classmate whom I have not seen for years. We used to sit next to each other in class when we were in Year Four, but never really stayed in touch after that except for remaining “friends” on Facebook.
It’s crazy to think that 20 years – gasp! – have passed by since then. While trading two decades worth of stories in a bakery, I remarked, “I still think I am so childish, even though I have turned 30 this year.
“Holiday again？Solo trip? Wow you so lucky, always enjoying life…” Once again I hear all these when I tell friends I am going to Hanoi. Yet to me this is just not a holiday… This is the chance to hold the camera and see another world… It is not a holiday because I don’t need to see museum, I don’t need to visit monument… I am happy to sit inside cafe for hrs look out into the street and listen to the church bell… Or have a beer at hand and watch the moonlight reflect on the calm Halong Bay…
At last, I’ve come to realise I should at least make a quick record of the current chapter of my life simply because of its rarity. I do not foresee myself having such chances, or courage, too often in the future. It saw me bidding adieu to a decent salary and a comfortable working environment, just to find out what I should do next in my career.
Unrealistic as it may sound, I do have a grand reason to justify my unemployment and the world would never discourage this. That is, to further my studies.
It will always be okay, because, I can learn, so I can always become better.
It has been three months since I called myself a full-time student, and I find myself often using this word “romantic” to describe the sojourn. It was a word that fuelled my imagination when I was the teenager immersed in fantasies. Time flows and somehow that word submerges, too, in the din of daily traffic and the throb of my wild goose chase.
It was 8.30pm when I arrived at Xiaozhou village, after a half-an-hour taxi ride from the city centre in southern province of Guangzhou, China. Zhao Xin greeted me at the village entrance and led me in. With my luggage in hand, I treaded gingerly on the dimly lit riverside path that was wet and slippery from the light rain.
Zhao is the owner of “Dome under a Big Tree,” an Airbnb lodging I was going to stay for two nights. Located right next to an arch bridge, the “dome” – or rather a little white concrete hut with domed roof – was the very reason that drew me to this water town. I chanced upon it on Airbnb and decided to extend my working trip to Guangzhou for a couple of days. From its silhouette in the dark, it looked like an adorable mushroom house in fairy tales. Zhao showed me how to unlock the bamboo sliding door and left me to settle in for the night.