When first described to us, our boss said you were like “an old wild west town.” We didn’t believe it. It was hard to see past the cement, glass and general greyness that filled every visible inch – that is until a week or so ago when we saw that big red paper lantern bouncing down the middle of the empty street, just like a tangled tumbleweed.
While there may not be gunslingers in your streets or horses waiting outside saloons, you manage to exemplify the spirit of the “Wild West” in other ways – mainly, your complete lack of subtlety or refinement.
There you sit along the great Yangtze, its once flourishing banks now converted to concrete, in a thick gray soup of smog maintained by your unending cycle of construction and destruction. Not far upstream is the world’s greatest blockade, the Three Gorges Dam; and like some newly-discovered oil town you lick your chops at the dream of finally coming into your name – “The City that Should Prosper.”
Of course, you now have your share of crowded department stores and fast food chains, all those prerequisites for city legitimacy, to which your able citizens flock. But throughout the streets is striking evidence of your haphazard entry into the world of progress – most of all, your blaring, unrestrained appropriation of fashion. While you certainly would not claim to possess the cutting-edge spirit of Shanghai or Beijing, your streets overflow with a generation of consumers who seem unable to distinguish between everyday dress and bordello garb.
So it goes – the classic folly of new choice and opportunity, the confused yet eager people run firmly with whatever comes their way – But not all change is easy to accept, especially in a land with so long a tradition; thus the bizarre mess of contradictions and juxtapositions you display.
Often, weather permitting, we would find ourselves sitting down for a meal outside, at a plastic table standing unsteadily on the sidewalk, a foot or so from a splattered drain and only inches from the street. Buses clamored past as we ate, motorcycles swerved around the table, and women carried out buckets of waste and tossed it into the street, only occasionally aiming for the drain.
During these meals you showed us your true colors – laughing businessmen, red-faced from a lunch of baijiu, children squawking hello like impatient parrots, young men with their shirts unbuttoned to their navels, middle aged men with their shirts rolled up past their man-breasts, women well into their thirties wearing only shirts that barely covered their underwear and brightly colored two-inch heels, babies in pants with a slit but no diapers, snaggle-tooth construction workers in crooked hardhats with tools of their trade slung over their shoulders, old moseying women, hands behind their backs, children in two inch-heeled hooker boots – all curious as to what the laowai are fed – stopping, staring and hovering as though not entirely convinced of our status as humans, each as likely as the next to hawk and spit a loogie within splashing distance of our stools, never out of spite, more as though simply going through the general necessities to prove their character. Yichang, their character is your character. And character is one thing you certainly have.
As we leave you, moving to a place that may be, in your opinion, a big, fancy city (Nanjing), aspects of your character (like the image above) resonate through our minds, paralleling and contrasting what we see as we travel to new destinations. Maybe this is simplifying it too much, but you register highly on the ridiculous scale and you will be a difficult place to top.
This is really the purpose of our letter – to thank you for all the inspiration and for practically feeding us material. As our blog matures from this wonderful childhood, we will have you to thank and will do our best to remember it.
This Ridiculous World