Adrenalised, I drink by myself and write thru Friday evening and into Saturday morning. When I wake, it’s to a bleary hangover and the Chongqing mist has descended too. The neighbourhood dogs finally get me out of bed with explosive yapping that bursts inside my sore head. I blunder around the flat cursing all dogs and trying to find socks.
Today I’ve planned to make a journey into the centre of Chongqing, using public transport. I’ve been equipped with a list of bus stops and metro stations in English, Pinyin and Chinese, I have money and a camera. It’s time to be a tourist. I’m nervous as hell – this will be my first time on Chinese public transport and I wonder if not only will I be able to get to where I want – but will I get back again? Yan Yan obviously has similar worries – I’m under orders to call him if my famed sense of direction leads me astray.
I’m in a whirl of panic as I get onto the bus – stuttering out my explanations in a toecurling burst of ugly Chinglish. The driver takes one sympathetic look at me and waves me on – “For free!” The bus passengers usher me to a seat, point out landmarks and discuss between themselves when I am to get off and who will make sure I do it.
On the escalator up to the metro station, I am raised high above an enormous ruined factory. It is being shredded by bulldozers as I watch. On the ride into Chonqing (CQ) central we negotiate a mountainside and then drop down a little to follow the line of the Jialing River, which joins the Yangtze here. The Jialing is a sad, soft green and the sight of it wrenches me – I have explored so many new places with Julia, and today I feel her absence.
Kindness of folk. All thru this day in Chongqing I am buoyed up by the people around me. It feels that if I slipped, then someone would be there to catch me. An old man taps me on the shoulder – the banana in my bag is slipping out. A little girl introduces me to her whole family on the metro – Renshi ni hen gaoxing. There is a sense of the common good here – that the UK flushed away in the heyday of Thatcherism and has not regained. I miss it, this gentleness.
I don’t venture far in Chonqing, this is only a recce. I end up in the large central bookshop, browsing the DVDs, marvelling at the cheapness. The shop assistants puncture my rosy tint bubble with their silly officiousness. One of them stamps a beautiful artbook I’ve bought with a rubber stamp, as proof that I’m not stealing it. She looks at me with flat disinterest as I gasp at the vandalism.