A long haul project of four years brought me to a city that now sits very close to my heart. I worked on Yangzhou, flying in and out every three weeks. Thereafter, I worked in Yangzhou, driven in and out for another three years, shorter trips and longer intervals too.
This is a place that first opened me up to Chinese poems at a very intimate level of almost personal experience, except that times have changed, and the views are nowhere near the poetic-ness of before. There is a famous line by Li Bai, which has been cleverly turned into marketing-speak by the municipal – 烟花三月下扬州. I took it very literally, “yay, it’s March! Let’s go to Yangzhou and see fireworks!”. Which was very true for me, because every year in April (March by Chinese calendar), I joined the city festivities and attended the fireworks show with the officials and bureaucrats. The “fireworks” in the poem refer to the willow fluffies that float everywhere in April. It is beautiful. But very dusty.
There are many more stories and poems and people stories in the city that I learnt about as I worked on the project. Some made me tear a little, but most made me Ha-Ha-out-loud. Wei Xiaobao from Duke of the Mount Deer (some famous Chinese novel) was born here.
When my parents visited, that was the natural top priority of cities I wanted to bring them to. My sis had never been there before either. So I brought everyone on a treat to the lovely old city whose conservation I worked on. We stayed in the old city of more than 2,500 years old. I was very extravagant then, and also because I was very proud of my work (and so were my family of me), I rented a preserved courtyard house for the entire short trip.
This is the Changle Inn we stayed in! There’s a central living room, a courtyard, and two bedrooms of Chinese furniture and Chinese decor. Dad had a lot of fun opening and closing ancient doors the ancient way. Every night, he would lift wooden panels of the door and fit them snugly into the grooves. We would pretend to live in the ancient days and “blow out the candle lights” before turning in for the night.
There was a real modern door with a hotel key card, but what fun would that be? Haha. So we lived out our own version of ancient life and really chilled in the old Chinese settings. I think we watch too much old Chinese dramas. 😀
We ventured out into the rest of the old city too. I don’t remember bringing them to outside the conservation zone, or the other famous Slender West Lake. Will have to check with them whether I did.
Instead, I took them on an intangible cultural tour of food and massage, the must-do when in Yangzhou. Every trip I was there, it was a must-have that the locals bring me to eat Chinese buns, Chinese dumplings, handcut tofu strips, meatballs, and of course crazy amounts of Chinese wine. We would normally end the day with a foot reflexology, and then the same routine starts again the next day.
Happy times. Browsing through the photos, I see an old me very caught up in serious matters of professional work. While I see my family all lit up and enjoying themselves in the lightheartedness of everyday life. Why (and how on earth) did it take me so long to recognise and to embrace that happy-go-lucky DNA that runs in my blood and in my family?
The weight of the worldly matters are not supposed to hang on our shoulders like we are meant to save it. Everyone does their bit and then we lift it. Together. Not by being heavily burdened, but by very lightly enjoying it.
Anyhow, I was very fortunate to have a supportive family that held space while I searched for (and within) mine. It was not easy putting up with my crazy stressful antics. But they did. ❤
Photo credits: I stole them from Dad’s Facebook.
How is it that I never have photos? 😦