On the first day of the Year of Snake, my Second Aunt called me: “Your Uncle and I are collecting you and your mum in half an hour and we are going to Huanglongxi.”
“Wonderful,” I replied, “Isn’t that the ancient town I have been to before?”
“Yes,” my Aunt confirmed, “It’s been further developed since your last visit. Now as an author, you’d enjoy revisiting it and taking photos, I’m sure.”
My aunt knew exactly which button to press. Sure enough, we all sat in my Uncle’s Honda, heading towards one of the most well-known tourist hot spot, 40 kilometres away from Chengdu centre. En-route, we were joined by my cousin Jian and his son Hao Hao. The family outing was small but complete with three generations.
Three hours later (It usually took one hour, but the ‘holiday makers’ and China’s ever more crowded cities and towns made sure that our journey was three times as long), we arrived at our destination. As usual, the ‘elders’ had been there many times and the first thing they did was to park themselves in their familiar haunt – a restaurant/Tea House by the River, where they were going to enjoy their tea and Mahjong playing.
“You young people go and explore!” Instructions were issued after a delicious and satisfying lunch.
Huang Long Xi, in direct Chinese translation, is Yellow Dragon Stream. It boasts a long history, dating back to the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), with well-preserved ancient streets and houses, built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. As I retraced my steps on the busy streets, with cobbled stones under my feet, packed with tourists from near and far, I smelled a mixture of spices and fragrances, the air filled with cooked meats, local produced sweets and other tantalizing offerings, to satisfy either our appetite or to take away as souvenirs.
Hao Hao, my cousin’s eight year old son, was such a smart boy and a utter joy to spend time with. We both had our cameras and took our time shooting street scenes that intrigued and interested us. A child’s eyes saw things that sometimes a more experienced adult may have missed.
We stopped to watch the ‘show’ of making noodles, the famed 一根面, one single noodle, in one bowl, or one pot. It is a very complicated process, which every household was able to hand make at one time, but now only here in a corner shop! There was a long queue of interested customers, to try this local speciality, so as not to waste their visits!
We carried on along the streets, pushing through the bustling crowds into one of the ancient temples, where incense and candles were burnt continuously by believers. At a small well in front of the holy shrine, Hao Hao was given some coins to throw in, for luck too.
My cousin took it as his duty to buy small treats for the busy camera boy and woman, from BBQ lamb, to glazed sweets in animal signs and toffee strawberries. He even bought me a handmade bull, after confirming my Chinese animal sign. In return, I got a monkey for Hao Hao – he was indeed a cute and cheeky Monkey! At one stage, he made a jump as we crossed the little river – Ouch, the although dry yet slippery river bed had him flat on his bottom!
There was so much to see, so much to eat and many wonderful memories to take home with me. We didn’t stay the night but before leaving we watched the show of lanterns and line dances, which would be especially beautiful in the evening. I did spot a couple dressed in traditional costumes to seal their marriage.
After all, Huanglongxi is dubbed as “China’s Hollywood”, as hundreds of films and TV programmes have been filmed here, including one of my favourite Chinese films starring a beautiful and versatile Sichuan darling: Liu Xiaoqing
I am thankful to my Aunt and Uncle for taking me down memory lane, revisiting this little gem in Sichuan, a historical reminder of what China was like, yet there is an unmissable modern beat to this ancient town, a pulse which has never stopped and is pulsing with time, taking us to the future.
Returning to the UK, I found my album recording my previous visit to Hunaglongxi. The picture below shows my family of four generations, including my late maternal grandma, Popo, and my late dear Father, not to mention my son Tao who was still a child.
That was 1997 – can anyone spot me , one of several young women with fresh flower hairbands on their heads?