An assortment of otherwise semi-bad photos taken while I was in China 2 weeks back. I say semi because there are a (very) few photographs that I actually like, and that my dad didn’t glaze over, and so I consider that an achievement in itself.
I’m very happy to say that I enjoyed the short trip; in fact, the moment we could see specks of farmers on their geometrically-segregated plots of farmland, I felt this strange surge of happiness creeping over me as I leaned out of my seat to take in more of the landscape and I thought, I really like this place, I really do. Perhaps it was because of the cool weather (the wrath of summer thankfully only made itself felt during our last hour in Chaozhou) or the calm quiet of the place, or the seemingly high population of elderly with crinkled, well-worn faces – which put me in peace without ending in impatience.
Before you start imagining rolling hills and endless miles of mist, no, Chaozhou isn’t a scene out of an old Chinese mythical tale. It’s a proper city with a proper airport and the streets are crawling with vehicles. Plenty, in fact, with rusty rickshaws weaving in and out of the traffic (which is crap in the afternoon and evenings, just like any other city), with a symphony of honks constantly in the air. Honks here, interestingly, aren’t used in an angry, aggressive manner though. Rather they’re used as a sort of greeting or should I say gentle alert to let other drivers know of their presence which is essential in the almost non-existent rules of orderly traffic conduct.
Here in our sunny little island (which has been doused in rain lately booooo), two-way roads are clearly demarcated with a severe white line, which the government makes sure to repaint every now and then when it shows signs of fade. In Chaozhou, anything goes, as long as no vehicle hits another or no pedestrians are injured. To put it simply, every corner of the road is well-maximised. Of course you get the occasional really angry honk when a driver fails to be aware of his surroundings, but apart from that, all is well, and cars weave in and out as the situation calls for.
The moment I stepped into our apartment (very kindly lent to us by one of our relatives* because well they had another one hurhur), I was greeted by a giant smoke and tea party which, as my father tried to smoke a cigarette on our very last day, I realised was their way of life here (very much like Turkey actually). Everything and everyone was shrouded in smoke, and in the middle of the room sat a very interesting tea-board (or so I call it). Essentially, almost each household or place with a roof essentially owns one of these contraptions and it basically is a wooden platform where tea is brewed, and cold tea left in the bottom of teacups are poured away into a hole which then leads into a removable bucket, where all loose liquids are collected and poured away. A sort of drainage system. Tea is served before and after every meal, or at any time of the day really, sort of as a way of welcoming visitors. (In our next few days at the apartment though, I realised that the teacups and all were never really washed?)
As we sat around the teaboard with grapes and loquats, I was introduced to a whole new side of my family I never knew existed. The strange thing is though, that where ‘ranks’ were concerned, I was on par with people I thought were my aunts. The Chinese as you may know, are pretty concerned with hierarchical statuses, so I felt the need to be extra friendly to the young people I met the next few days (let’s just be cousins! I said in my very broken mando-chew, which is a very sad and mostly useless combination of mandarin and teochew which gives very sad results because I mostly just croak through my conversations). We managed to take a little trip to my mother’s village the next day where I saw houses and felt hospitality I thought could only have existed a hundred years ago.
There’s a picture somewhere up there of a woman in orange who sold tea leaves. We were just strolling through the village when she called us over, and invited us in for tea. We didn’t know her, but her warmth was memorable, even though the tea wasn’t.
“Try the vegetables, you’ll love them!” I did. Fresh, like everything else on our large, round dinner tables, and so, so much yam in ways I never thought possible (yam in soup?). Reminds me that I wanted to try recreating one of the yam dishes we had there.
On our last day, I had a very good and thought-provoking conversation with one of my ‘cousins’ (I swear I did not misinterpret anything, it really was a very nice conversation). “I realised that life is, at the end of the day, supposed to be very simple” she said, and as a person with a penchant for wanting more and possibly the impossible, it stopped me in a way nothing had in a while.
I still mull over these words the way I mulled over the startling flavour of freshly-brewed mulberry tea there, and because I have to trot to work now, I’ll stop at this. I hope my feeble photos manage to show you the parts of Chaozhou that I fell in love with, and all the quiet sneaky bits of beauty that this sleepy city breathes.