The medicine was making me feel a lot better today, so I decided I would take Matt up on his offer to come out and go slack-lining with him and some of his friends. I had been trying to catch up with Matt since I’d arrived, but he became very busy, then I got sick, and we’d kept postponing it. Matt is a British caver who has lived in Chengdu for 10 years, and is married to a Chinese woman who runs an outdoor exploration travel company.
We were meeting at 洹花溪公园 Huanhuaxi Park, which is next to 杜甫草堂 Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, a Chengdu landmark. Du Fu is a famous poet from the Tang dynasty, and apparently lived in Chengdu. I need to check it out, as I really don’t know very much about the history! Huanhuaxi Park is a large park full of trees and bamboo, and has a monument in the middle called the Poet’s Walk, which pays tribute to China’s 3000 years of poetry. Many famous poems are inscribed in stone on the walk, along with the author and his date of birth, and the era he wrote. One that caught my eye was:
锦城平日暖 jín chéng píngrì nuán
旅泊始知寒 lǘbó shī zhí hàn
My best shot at translating, no online resources consulted other than a dictionary:
In the brocaded city, days are warm
Beginning one’s travels, one comes to know the cold.
The poem is by 曹学佺 Cao Xuequan, and I forgot to note down the time period. Chinese poetry always comes with a deep back story, pages of meaning, but I felt that without consulting any of that, I could do what any good reader does: interpret the meaning for myself and apply the words to my own experiences. What I read was an acknowledgement of comfort in one’s home that becomes loneliness when one sets off on their travels. I could relate to that. I think “寒” “the cold” can also signify difficulties or challenges met on the road.
I had gotten to the park early to give myself exploring time, but Matt had rung me while I was contemplating that poem. So after that bout of self-reflection, I caught him up. He was with his wife and Da Ge, who I had met on a San Wang Dong caving expedition last Chinese New Year, as well as three others. The first place we set up our slack-line did not make the security guard happy, but it was merely because the grass under our feet was in its growing stage, and shouldn’t be trampled. We moved instead to a spot which traversed a path, making it a bit more challenging, and also drew a lot more spectators. And of course, there was the requisite child takeover. It seems whenever I’ve been with people who’ve set up a slack-line in the park, little kids appear and take it over. These little girls were pretty cute, and the youngest just wanted to go again and again. Their dad even had a go! I didn’t, because I was still feeling a bit unwell, and was pretty sure that the lack of exercise I’d been doing lately left me with a severe deficiency in balance.
Matt took me back to Beisen Road so I could get my penicillin. As we were walking through the park to the car park, I asked about all the signs: “Emergency Tent Area” “Emergency Toilets” “Emergency First-Aid”. It turns out that all public parks in Chengdu now have these areas set aside because during the last earthquake, people were made homeless and were living on the streets. Now parks are designated areas for people to temporarily come to live. There was even a helicopter landing pad marked out at the southern entrance, I noticed. I asked Matt if earthquakes were common in the city, and he said no. Hopefully that’s enough to ease the fears of some of you back home!