Thor's China Diary



Haven't been able to run for three weeks because of some kind of protest coming from my right thigh. Spend twenty minutes every morning in the clinic being cooked by a microwave gadget. Various individuals sit and lie around with an assortment of attachments strapped to their elbows or necks or extremities, but it's not nearly as sociable as the intravenous drip room. Maybe the sense of mortality is not as acute with a sprained ligament. Anyway, the last couple of days it has been possible to get away with quite a bit of walking. Five hours yesterday in Han Kou.

Today I took an hour off to thread through the maze of shop stalls in a narrow lane that winds diagonally across to Luoyu Road, then continues down past Yazhou Maoyi Zhongxin (Asia Trade Centre), past the old men hoping to tell fortunes by the long yellow wall of a Buddhist temple complex (custom was thin) to a park celebrating Shi Yang. I took his heroic statue to be Marx -- he seemed to have a beard -- but HB says Shi Yang was a labour leader in 1924-25 who led a general strike, and got bumped off by the local war lord for his trouble. "Park" might be the wrong name for this place. The large paved forecourt to the statue fronts a grand ascent of stairs to heaven (a pattern much favoured in Chinese grandiosity), or at least an ascent to another monument that remains uninterpreted for me: a needle after the fashion of Nelson's Column in London.

A number of old men were congregated at the top of those breathless stairs. One had even brought his hammock to sling between a couple of trees. Off to the right was a muddy track along a bushy ridge which I started to follow. Another surprise. Shortly I came across a building that might have been twenty metres long and half as deep. It reminded me of some vegetable market buildings in Singapore: the place had no front wall, but was enclosed up to the roof by chain wire netting. The concrete floor was closely packed with small round tables, and about each table many people were gathered to play board games or bet. Mahjong and a sort of chess game were prominent. I was noticed and observed here by many eyes. Perhaps they were as surprised to see me as I was to seem them. There was a sense of having stumbled upon something slightly illegal. A "hello" came from somewhere behind the wire netting, and I traced it to a very well fed lady whose friends were giggling at her audacious venture into the English language.

Past the gaming shed the track didn't seem to have much future, so I turned and retraced my steps. HB says that when he was courting LL ten years ago they used to go on long walks right around the top of this mountain. However, a large chunk of it belongs to the Buddhists, and some time ago they began to charge the faithful to enter and pray. As a result, the holy land has been fenced off. The payment idea was possibly another plot by the Hubei Security Bureau to put a price on religion. Last Easter they locked the doors of churches, and reputedly (BBC report) have a coven of prostitutes at large to lure unofficial Catholic priests into sin. In their calculation, a Buddhist temple would be a kind of tourist attraction at best, and priced accordingly. Heroes of the revolution like Shi Yang (safely dead) come into another category.


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"Strolling" copyrighted to Thor May 1999; all rights reserved

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