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Songpan

Moonlit Sonata


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In most middle and long distance buses, a television hangs next to the driver for the passengers to watch some film. During this whole journey in China, it never worked out that I could hear and read the Chinese subtitled characters at the same time, which would have been ideal to improve my Chinese. In the many buses we took, either we were seated too far to read, or the sound didn’t work too well, or the program didn’t give subtitles, or the television didn’t work at all. With a few exceptions that was also the case in the hotels where either the television was too poor quality, or we were just too tired to watch television or there just wasn’t any television at all.
Pity, because undoubtedly , especially if on top of that there would be also English subtitles, and if the film characters wouldn’t speak too quickly or too numbly or too dialectally, a few sessions of this regime would have enhanced my Chinese dramatically, Obviously there were too many ifs.
Anyway after having watched a Jet Li film with one eye, and the mountain scenery through the window with the other eye, and having basically missed both, we finally arrived in Songpan and the National Park areas.

Our hotel P1020823.jpgwas close enough to the bus station, but it was also close enough the only main road, unfortunately.

Trucks and buses are equipped and even some vans in China with hooters that fit boats and planes, and they use them lavishly, not only to indicate there is an imminent danger, but also to let everybody know, concerned or not, they are on the road. We hadn’t completely recovered our health from the highlands experience yet, and where I was stuck with a sinusitis and still pounding head aches, my son Xiaolou was still suffering from a his weak digestive system. This constant hooting proved a real ordeal and almost got us completely mad. Obviously drivers education in small province towns like this and big cities like Beijing widely differ. In spite of the chaotic traffic with all possible vehicles going all directions at the same time and the glaring contempt for the no less glaring traffic lights, Beijing streets are very quiet in comparison with Songpan’s.

It made us wonder whether the acoustic reactivity of Chinese ears was different from ours. After all we had noticed other strange acoustic phenomena: Chinese don’t speak to you, they bark at you. Very few Chinese everyday’s conversation voices could possibly be named melodious, or even just pleasant to hear. I doubt this is a purely cultural judgment because some Chinese television ads do make use of pleasant voices. At least it had the consequence that Xiaolou remembers now how to say ‘hooting’ in Chinese: an laba.

Anyway back in Songpan just getting ourselves to the pharmacy through the constant hooting proved a test for our mental health. We bought some Chinese/Western medicine, the instructions how to use of which we hardly heard. But when we finally made it to enter the ancient city walls of this old garrison town Songpan, we discovered a very charming little town, with its main street complete in the ancient wooden style, where no trucks, buses or even cars were allowed. What a relief !

To have some variation in our daily selfies, I had already planned to have my beard shaven at the next occasion. When we entered the first hairdresser shop we noticed, I was quickly ushered to a back side room, where I was told to lie down on some torture bed (or was it a massage couch) with a basin at one end. After some wetting of knives, a lady finally attacked my chin and cheeks, whilst a crowd was gaping at the operation.
Xiaolou watched television in the shop in the mean-time.

At the local theater we saw that there was daily show on. We found out it had already started but we could still enter if we wanted. So we did and watched a beautfiful song and dance show about the history of Songpan.
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We thought the girls very beautiful, nnd their performance extremely well –timed and entertaining. Alas it was very loud again, which only reinforced my previous impression of Chinese ears.
At the end of the show, we just stayed in our seats while all the rest of the public was leaving. After a while the performers descended in the hall, casually dressed and with partly removed heavy make up. They gradually came to sit down all around us, threw some ununderstandable pigeon-English phrases, until finally one was brave enough to ask a picture of us. This was the signal for general attack, as soon almost every single member of the performer’s troup wanted a picture expecially with Xiaolou. As we were now seeing them from very close, they didn’t look so attractive any more as when they were on stage., so we even didn’t forget to ask their autographs. Inadvertently roles had been turned around: we, the public, had become the object of the show and pictures by them, the show actors and singers.

The next day I still had a tough job at deciding in what park we should go: Jiuzhaigou or Huanglong. In spite of their beauties many people had told us they were tourist traps, especially in summer when they were overcrowded with Chinese tourists, and very expensive on top of that.
Since we had missed the bus due to wrong information (again) to both, I rambled in frustration until a new park came up, allegedly similar to the others, but closer, cheaper, and less crowded: Mounigou. So not much to hesitate about any more, and there we arrived in this beautiful double sided park: one side comprises a magnificent grand water cascade that flows through trees and tea pavilions (which I am not sure how come they still stand there)
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and the other side boasts a series of emerald colored clear water ponds
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up to the highest sulphur containing hot spring. P1020818.jpg
We spent the whole day in these beautiful places, going several times up and down, and were lucky enough to have avoided the Chinese tourist masses, which wouldn’t have matched our idea of a natural park.

These parks, being expensive, are well kept and unlike other parts of Chinese nature, have strong anti-litter policies.
By the end of that day we had recovered our health fully, and were ready to resist to Songpan’s fierce attacks on our eardrums. While walking now in the main thoroughfare, we had a better look at the goodiegoodies that where hanging for sale in various shops. In our confused mental state of the previous day, it had not dawned on us what some of it was. When I asked the female shopkeepers what part of the yak body their salesware exactly was, my question was met with giggles. And although their giggles had confirmed my suspicion, I insisted for them to show me, so they went to get their male colleague, who wasn’t sure what he was asked. But even with his explanation in gesture and words, Xiaolou and I were not too eager to buy and eat the yak’s penis and balls.

As we had really enjoyed the show the day before, and that we had missed the beginning, we thought we were entitled to go back and see the beginning (for free), so we hastened to get there in time now and luckily the ticket guy remembered us and shared our view.
Of course we didn’t wait for the end and the general attack, but left in the middle discretely.
Out in the streets again, the moon was visible through the street lights.
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The day before we had spotted some fortress on top of the mountain linked to Songpan by a path. We decided to ascend and see how far we would get. We got to the top, at least 500 m higher than the town, through a path only lit by the unreal moonlight. It was pure magic, and Xiaolou got to learn the famous phrase ‘Point n’est besoin d’espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer.’
All the way up shadows had played with the moon hiding in and out of clouds. The path went from lit to pitchdark, the town and its noises were left far below. No human soul crossed our path. Luckily no stray dog either. Just a few bats. The fortress itself, more a watchtower was small, hollow and empty, but the white moonlight gave it a mysterious glow.
The way back down proved much more tricky and ideal for straining ankles, as the steps were not visible, but we did it, and back on the streets of Songpan, we had come back from another world.
Xiaolou’s stomach was growling, so we sat at one of the last open skewers booths (shaokao) near the city wall and ordered a few yak’s … meat sticks. Very spicy, (after all we were in Sichuan) but very tasty.

Posted by Pat2014 11:25 Archived in China Tagged songpan mounigou

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