A First Taste
Trip Start Feb 20, 2012
126Trip End Oct 22, 2012
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Huge buildings were lining along the highway in a series of soviet-looking residential area. Despite the fact each of them would be more than sufficient to put up all the population of my hometown in Trentino, all were vacant. Mengzi, the bus changing city, was the more outstanding example of this grandeur filled with emptiness
I can not fully explain how pleasant was to discover this town. Just laying out of all the main touristic routes, it can may be described by saying that I enjoyed a lot looking at a real city (Sapa can not honestly be described as a real), with real people taking care of their daily business and being surprised somehow by my presence. No touts waiting for you at the bus station or in any other corner of the city, I saw just other two foreigners during my stay. Few seconds after checking in the hotel (the most hardcore common bath I've seen during this trip), I run out into the streets. No specific temple, or museum, just the streets, the smell of the foods, the type of shops, the way people were talking to each other, the type of traffic, all the small details that make our daily life.
Hanging around, my excitement for this new endless country was growing at each step. Basically each single thing I was looking at was somehow triggering random consideration in my brain
The day after, I started my research of culinary experiences, sniffing the air and following random passers like a dog. Finally I found my place. I maintained my choice of low profile (really low profile) restaurants, the language barrier was evident (and would have become more and more evident over time) but by looking in the other people dish and pointing my finger at the chosen one I managed to get my bowl. It was really really good. Kind of tortelloni (but not really) in a spicy soup. Around me local customers were at first wavering between their interest for the bowl in front of them and the stranger at the other table. Soon or later all of them chose the bowl, me too.
The rest of the day was spent getting a taste of the Chinese arts and culture. I started from a Confucian temple (the third biggest in the entire China), that I had partially visited the evening before, and then continued enjoying the outstanding beauty of the Zhu Family Garden (actually an rather big complex of buildings that served as the the house of a rich family till the beginning of the 20th century). The Test Hall, were hundreds of students were going through one of the first and more sophisticated civil servant selection systems ever used: the Imperial examination system. It is interesting to see that in a time were Europe was basing most of its power relations, and bureaucratic structures on blood, somebody on the other side of the world was already talking about transparency and merit (even if it is always difficult to understand how much in words and how much in facts).
I was done with the sightseeing by noon, but the idea of leaving Jianshui didn´t really pleased me. I liked the city, the people and the continuous stream of thoughts triggered in my mind. Nonetheless, the idea of the dimensions of this country, and the need of crossing it pushed me on a city bus that took me back to the long distance bus station. A young couple, took me till the counter and explained were i was heading, then, handed me over to another person that took me to the actual bus. Always smiling, always happy to help. Always curious to know where I was from.