Thursday, 4 December 2008

dwindling aquifers

The water in our lovely local park, Green Water Park, dried up a number of years ago, a man told me. The natural spring which fed it for centuries was depleted, exhausted, defunct. Consternation. A whole season passed, while kids played football in the empty basins, and the community scratched their heads while discussing what to do. Turf it over? Fill it in? In the end water won, but now it has to be piped in industrially. Similar problems arise nationwide. A cautionary tale of modern China.

Loitering in the lovely grounds of an ancient temple, I passed through a non-descript door, and found myself in an Academy of Ghastly Painting. On display were pictures of white horses frolicking in improbably green forests, fey child-girls in traditional costume smiling winsomely, distinctly pubescent girls with hardly a stitch on dancing in gay abandon to some ancient tune, juvenile pandas chewing on bamboo shoots, and many variations of Van Gogh's sunflowers. Huddled in corners were students of this Art, perhaps absorbing ancient pictorial techniques, but more likely learning to fleece the tourist.
A typical juxtaposition of modern China.

You are walking down the street minding your own business, when behind you there is a ghastly sound of a throat clearing, and projectile matter hitting the pavement. Surely it must be a consumptive in their death throes, a tubercular trauma. You turn round. As likely as not it is an elegant lady in no particular distress, or a businessman glued to his mobile, or a trendy teenager jiggering to his I-pod. Try as I may I cannot get used to spitting and its associated sound effects. But there's modern China for you, and I've loved it.

SoB: a group of art students, the real thing, sit around the reclaimed lake in Green Water Park with their easels. They are painting in their various ways the tormented remnants of a thousand lotuses in the lake, as the sun goes down over China.

ciao ciao china

Our papers have come through, and tomorrow morning we take a ten hour bus ride to the Vietnamese border where we overnight, and then continue by train to Hanoi. At some stage we cross the Tropic of Cancer, which will be very welcome as it has turned a little parky here in Kunming.
Today David and I packed a large parcel of longjohns and thermal sweaters, fleecy gloves and woolly hats which have sustained us for the last two months and shipped them back to the UK. Joining then were a talking (in Chinese) calculator , so when I am next here I may at least be able to count in Mandarin. I regretted the gloves as soon as we were back on the street. Heigh-ho!

I have discovered that domestic Chinese dogs may be no taller than 12 inches. (True fact). This I assume is a canine parallel of the one-child policy, and explains the proliferation of petite pooches. It is also a handy size for the casserole when the going is tough.

Kunming is our last Chinese city of any size. Like all the others we have been through it is continuously reinventing itself. Tearing itself down and rebuilding. There is little that seems to predate the last three decades. Old people wander around in a daze, hardly knowing where they are, familar landmarks having vanished, or am I just imagining that?

I did however come across an old Muslim quarter in the centre of town, surrounded by the clamour of construction sites, which retained some kind of integrity. At the heart of it were two twinned Art Deco buildings, superb in their delapidation and very moving, boarded up as they were, awaiting the knacker's yard perhaps, or who knows about to be restored to their former glory.
I don't know why I find buildings from this era - the 20's and 30's - so moving. They arose in Central Europe in an age (in retrospect) of 'innocence', of a brave new world, soon to perish in World War II and the Holocaust.

Passing a restaurant last night, strains of 'Silent Night, Holy Night' , sucrose if not saccharine, emerge. I am horrified. Is there no escape from Christmas and its toe-curling horrors? Apparently not. Santas are beginning to appear in the stores and decorations are going up in the streets. National Geographic magazine informs me that there are 8 million Christians in China, as many as there are Buddhists.
Coming here on the train a group of young men pass us in the corridor muttering halleluias. I take it as ironical reference to us, and am ready to have a fight (in my in-Christian way). They return a few minutes later still chanting and, remembering my charity, we exchange greetings. We discover they are Christians. We explain we are Buddhists. Much mirth. They depart assuring us that Jesus died for us.

Going for dinner.