A tale from China

‘The sound of Shiping’

Viet Nam was painted in three stories, so China deserves the same in these series wherein the train lost a bit of here importance to the poetry. It’s not only rolling on rails. There’s more between heaven and earth though the swirling thin stripes of steam when a locomotive came along still linger on.
In search for the unknown sometimes unexpected things occur and on the other hand the colour of daily life, one takes it but not always for granted.
After starting in the morning my train in the end of the afternoon reached Shiping. Just a few steps on the platform and the unmistakable character immediately there. A train drops its load only the first two or three coaches prolong their journey till a terminal where a tourist absolutely nothing finds to his taste unless he or she has the same habit and like to feel were the line ends. In my case it takes me almost a full day by taxi and other means of local transportation on pothole roads to reach the venue because the by that time once a day train didn’t fit in my schedule. For curiosity purpose only.
In the shadow of a few handsome French styled buildings the Chinese throng to the exit. A step aside and not without any pattern let myself leading in surprise till where the crowd would let me go. A dark alley in front of the station and for the moment undesirable. It’s a lust for the eye to observe the arrival with the rhythm of riding still inside.
An elongated blow on the horn and a powerful diesel engine with three coaches disappeared in what seems to be a narrow passage at the end of the yard, a scene of literary being absorbed in the building density. A row of houses by the time of construction safety had another sound. The French engineers obviously did not choose a way around and the inhabitants instead of a sidewalk got a 600 mm track right at their doorstep. A stylish Chinese shackle for sure in 1934.
Three quarter of a century later the alignment didn’t changed only being regauged till meter and perfectly integrated. Every one knows when a train is coming and waits or takes another route. An unmistakable communistic style station building replaced the lovely more or less deteriorated French connection though still used by the staff. And so a two door shed down the yard, structures lingering on for a while knowing that there’ll be no revival. ‘L’histoire se répète’ only in dreams.
The dark alley is next but without the experience of the crowd this time, I am alone and the way I like it in making my observations. Characteristic and at random build low-rise exactly what it must have been for long overall. Today around the corner the new millennium has started and the unpredictable fashion of worldwide ugliness. No design just a concrete box that fits the purpose. Of course, there’re always exceptions but grosso modo it makes me crying. It’s not all forlorn, have a look at the merchandise neatly arranged on the sidewalk. In front of his old shop a Chinese trader waits and counting customers. His sluggish live is predictable; wheels are turning like they turned for ages, time is not written with money yet. In all sorts of sociability running the commodity, a dream of every trader in the West perhaps with cash but never enjoying the pleasure of a balanced live.
The drift of streets like these earns a place on the world heritage list. After dawn the spot becomes more picturesque in the dim light of a single lamp. People stroll around for a while before they go to sleep. Outside the centre the cupboard beds already locked, where streets are empty and nothing moves, shutters closed and in the arms of Morpheus one submissive waits for a new day. At the only more vivid boulevard on the ground all sorts of barbecues and indefinable meat but not for me, the intestines for sure will show how to regret. A simple noodle soup served on outside table with chopsticks ready for the battle that will be my meal with a compassionate view on the local culinary delicatessen.
Once behind a bowl the stranger no longer is an attraction. It’s not by accident that his face is the only white one among yellow, these are remote destinations and only reached if one follows the train. Time could easily elapse in the knowledge being pristine, nothing is artificial here, no masks because theatre is an unknown phenomenon. Hours I could use to finish my soup in the glitter and glory of a simple street something so immoral in more developed cities, the little things of this world worth all the hustle of travelling. What sticks on the façade never washed away by rains, their sole and the blessing. Life is how it lived for ages, a fairy tale for any outsider, the rut, but absolutely no torture for the ones who really stay here and never asking why.

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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