4.2.09 — Chengdu; Nanchong

April 15, 2009


Despite capturing grime on the window, my Little Camera That Could took some nice images from a moving vehicle. None very original, as all I did was point and shoot with fingers crossed, but good enough to remind me what to keep an eye on—shapes, colors, texture, movement, expression. How else could I find common ground in a place where my words are so limited, or recognize gesture in hands and expressions in the face or in the way a body conforms to a motorcycle or teeters on the edge of a sidewalk? None of these images are at all exceptional except in the context of their having been taken in China. That is to say, they’re all special because I was standing firmly in the land I’d been dreaming about these last few years.


orange peels drying in Nanchong

My youngest cousin lives in a two-bedroom duplex and will move into one of the many, many new condominium complexes currently being finished throughout the city. (The new building had had two floors built before the earthquake last year destroyed the foundation, and the construction had to start over; it’s now almost complete.) My parents and I were given the duplex to live in for the two too-short days we were in Nanchong; my cousin and her husband, meanwhile, stayed with his parents in the apartment below. These orange peels were on the landing between the floors. I wondered whether they were part of a Buddhist ritual; Dad said they were being dried for future meals.

I took eight pictures of the peels at various angles, and just now realized that my mother does something similar with tourist shots. She wants every combination of people in a shot in front of a touristy spot, and then the final shot must include everybody—that is, she’s not satisfied until her sense of a place has been fully populated by us all. I would grow increasingly agitated during each Say-Cheese, but what she must have thought when I shot a single grimy object over and over.


kitchen fan in Nanchong

I sat in my aunt’s apartment listening to her try to convince my father to move back to Nanchong. I sat on this sofa listening to my father tell his blind little sister to eat more often, to sleep well and exercise every morning. I had sat on other sofas listening to my father tell me the same thing in just the same voice, and all that time I’d never known he’d had sisters waiting for him in a place called Nanchong. What I had known before this trip was simply that he’d been born in Sichuan, that some of his Chinese words sounded a little funny, and that he would always, with a twinkle in his eye, proclaim that the food he was serving me wasn’t spicy at all.


water calligraphy in Nanchong

I went to explore the park across from the hotel while my parents took a nap. A variation of hearts was being played everywhere. At a far point in the park was a hard-to-watch rendition of the tango being performed by three couples. The water calligraphy held my interest the most. I’m sure this practice is common and has a long history, except the history is something I can only imagine, at least for now. I saw similar demonstrations in other parks later in my trip, and remembered watching a calligrapher once in Taipei’s Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park write a long, silky poem on the concrete, which later sparked a scene in one of my stories of a little girl training to become an artist, only her giant brush was too heavy to wield so her mother sawed the thing in half—Shaolin Calligraphy or something.


One Response to “4.2.09 — Chengdu; Nanchong”

  1. lucas Says:

    This is wonderful, all of it. I love the tone of your storytelling–unadorned, and deeply affecting. But my favorite things are the drying orange peels, the shot of the fan from inside, and that effortlessly funny/poignant last sentence. More please!

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