March 28th, 2010
…apologies to Mr Yeats. But ‘utterly’ is how much it had changed. No terrible beauties born, though,’least, not I saw.
Needing to walk off a load of overdue test marking (marking that had been done, I must emphasise, though I’m not sure I trust the elderly and increasingly doddery office computer to have kept a record), I wandered off out the South Gate and through the Twin Dragons, then south into what had been – what still was – the Hongyan Market. ‘Had been’ because when I lived in the Twin Dragons, indeed, right up until not so long ago, when I was last in the area, which can’t’ve been much more than three years back, the Hongyan Market was a large, but fairly typical for this area, local market. Nuffink special. Three or four large hangars, looking like the kind you’d expect around the edges of a World War 2 aerodrome in southern England circa the summer of 1940, but painted in bright blue and white and housing all the various fruits, veges, nuts, spices and sauces, meats, clothes, curtains, blankets, shoes, socks, sundry household necessities, whatever the local neighbourhood could need. These hangars were fed by a driveway of the kind of white concrete one sees on driveways and parking lots built cheaply and not expected to see much serious traffic. The driveway ran like a southward extension of Xidawang Lu.
And the driveway has become a southward extension of Xidawang Lu. The driveway must have been ripped up, rebedded and repaved, because that stretch of concrete is no longer there. Indeed, nothing is there, just a road extending much further south than any road I remember in that area. And the market? Completely uprooted and replaced, and not just replaced, but replaced by something that looks so established you wouldn’t know anything had changed if you hadn’t known the area as it was a mere four years ago. The only hints I had that I was in an area I should’ve known were the fact that I had walked there following roads I’ve known longer than I’ve known my wife and the buildings around the market area – buildings that I’ve known as long as those I’ve known those roads I mentioned. Had I been kidnapped, blindfolded, taken to the market, and prevented from seeing those familiar buildings, I would’ve had no way of knowing where I was.
And no, I am not just talking, “Oh, things change fast in China”, or even, “Things change so fast here that if you haven’t been back in a few years, you won’t know the place”. I’m talking, this market hasn’t changed at all. It’s been completely replaced, and a road pushed through, and a bus depot installed, and all of this done within the last three years and yet the market, road and bus depot that are there now look as though they’ve been there for ten years already.
And that’s what I can’t figure out. Is what I saw today the market that was always there, except that the facade has changed, and the changing of the facade has opened up areas of the market that were formerly obscured from the direction that I always entered? I don’t think so, because although there was always ‘stuff’ behind those hangars, there were never any intriguing little alleys, let alone giant signposted gates (both of which were in ample evidence on this afternoon’s visit) to entice one into a little exploration.
Except, of course, that I never saw any reason, or even any way, to explore beyond the old market. It was there, I wandered through it, I made what use of it I could. And now, no more than three years down the track, it isn’t just completely different, it is a completely different and far larger market sitting in the place occupied by the market I remember, but looking like it’s been there forever.
And walking out of there, I found myself wishing we still lived down in the Twin Dragons, close to this new market that wasn’t so new but is so much huger and comprehensiver than its predecessor.
And then I remembered my landlord when I lived in the Twin Dragons. Fortunately my wife never met him.
But it was nice to walk out of there and northwards into areas that haven’t changed, areas that exude that comfortable establishedness of neighbourhoods that have no reason to be questioned, and have no reason to doubt. Thence through an area that is being torn down, and yet survives, so far. Then back through established and safe neighbourhoods and home.
Still, this new-but-not-new market, I’ll be back there, and fairly soon, and often, if for no other reason than just to see.