Chengdu has a fairly predictable weather pattern – cloudy, cloudy, cloudy, raining, raining, raining, cloudy, raining, cloudy, oops sunshine, back to cloudy…
Yesterday, it was all three in one day. It was fairly early in the morning when we set out along with Yoke and Dawei to Longquanyi District in Chengdu to see the peach blossoms, and participate in the peach blossoms festival too. I like going to these off-beat tourist trails, the ones that don’t appear in the guide-book, but really are places that are always worth traveling to. And after a terrifically long bus journey I was hoping it was worth traveling to. I had read vaguely that it takes around 30 minutes from the main bus station but Xiao Feng, who had agreed to take us had other ideas. First it was a 20-minute walk to the South Gate to meet her. In between, I was shocked out of my wits to hear Dawei swear son-of-a-bitch for the first time. The grand occasion to reveal his skill at swearing petering down to the simple fact that he had left his cell phone in his room. “So is his mobile so important?” asks Yoke quizzically as we watch the retreating back of Dawei. But once we reach Ren Ren La, Xiao Feng makes us walk another 20 minutes where we take bus number 51. We got a seat fairly quickly enough, but the journey was interminable! Finally, after an hour we get off the bus only for Xiao Feng to laugh nervously and tell us “one more bus, one more hour.” I shake my head in disbelief, but Birdy uses the time we are waiting for the bus in a rather clever manner. She spots a mantou seller, and quickly buys around 6 of those steamed buns (these have no filling inside, either they taste plain or with a little bit of jam to sweeten them). I buy some chewing gum while Dawei asks me if I have some sewing thread and needles with me. I assure him I don’t…and he looks rather embarrassed at it all, the poor man.
The next bus arrives and we hop on to it make ourselves comfortable only to find everyone getting off the bus. We follow them, and get off. Xiao Feng’s nervous giggle breaks through everyone’s tempers. Yoke is looking like he would have rather been at a club, and Dawei is impenetrable as always. We stand there waiting before we once again hop on to the SAME bus we left. “Are you sure?” I ask Xiao Feng. “Yes, this is the driver!” she points to a man in a faux leather jacket. Ah, time to settle down and have those buns. Another 45 minutes drive and the bus drops us in Longquanyi District. The peach blossom festival is a little away from the city though, but an enterprising young man who was lounging around near the bus station, drops us in his Chery QQ to the festival for RMB20. Alighting, it is a row of food stalls that greet us. And one or two gaming stalls. Not that kind of gaming, but remember the games we played at fairs of old? Shoot 10 balls, and get a teddy bear? Or fire 10 arrows at a target? Birdy picks up a revolver and has a go, as does Yoke. For their efforts they win a small medallion of sorts.
It’s time though to eat…and time to climb the hill, Xiao Feng urges in much the same order.
As with all Chinese hills, there is no trail, but rather a series of well-laid out steps. We start climbing, but the dark clouds finally give way, albeit gently. Most of the peach blossoms have given way to stalls – of food, of course. A few people sit and play mahjong. The entire hillside is not filled with peach blossoms but with the pink tents and awnings of the food stalls. The rain is now a steady drizzle, and the steps increasingly slippery. We lose Dawei and Xiao Feng on the way, but the three of us persist. There is a moment of disbelief when Dawei calls us and says he has reached the top. “The top?”asks Yoke. “Impossible,” says Birdy. “It’s an insult to us.” “There is no way they went past us,” I say, huffing from the climb. Yet, after a bowl of cold noodles, we set off only for Birdy to drop off midway. She said her camera was getting wet, one excuse as usual, he he. Yoke and I run up the steps. Literally. My hair is plastered to my scalp, and my shoes squelch mud. Yet, there we are the top – a small viewing platform has been erected, and we can see a lake below us. If only it weren’t so dark, and gloomy and raining, I mutter. “But life isn’t all sunshine and blue skies, you know,” Yoke says, revealing a surprising philosophical side to him. “Sometimes, we get the rain and clouds, and that’s good too.” I nod and we tell each other that the son-of-a-bitch Dawei is nowhere at the top as he claimed. It’s a quick walk down, talking of traveling and various places in China we could go to before we come across Birdy who has spent her time well, having an ice cream. Well, if she can, so can I. It’s raining steadily as we climb down, ignoring the mouth-watering spicy tofu stalls on the way. How could Dawei have fooled us in saying he has reached the top? Maybe that was just his diabolical plot to ensure that we climb all those bloody steps, we think. Ah, once we reach there, we will all shout son-of-a-bitch in unison we decide.
At the base, we spot Dawei sitting at one of the tables….and we can’t stop laughing. Adorning his head is a tiara of flowers. I have never anything like that in my life. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s comical, and as we make our way to the table, Birdy gives the signal. “SON-OF-A-BITCH” we shout. And then it becomes plain bizarre. Dawei gives no signal that he even heard – he is gazing up the waitress, and SHE wasn’t even saying anything. After a moment, he turns, and we all look like three popped balloons, unable to believe this man. How could he have not heard? How could he have not reacted? “Bizarre,” says Birdy. “I am just unable to comprehend this man.” “Unfathomable,” Yoke would say.
Another two bus journeys await us. In between, Birdy buys another 6 of those buns. Xiao Feng asks me why Dawei doesn’t talk. I shrug my shoulders. I wish I knew. The man talks to perfect strangers sitting next to him on the bus, but he utters not a word if you are with him. He frustrates and irritates in equal measure. “What goes on in your mind?” I asked him the other day, “Oh, you wouldn’t want to know,” he said, prompting the clowns Yoke and Birdy to envision him as the Prince of Darkness. And those two clowns rush off for two hours of badminton while I sit in my room, presumably awaiting Arabib, but in actuality slogging through my lessons. The mystery of Dawei awaits another day.