Opening the curtains on Sunday morning revealed a still overcast sky but the weather had definitely lightened and the rain had finally stopped.
We all met down in the hotel restaurant for breakfast before going downstairs to meet Clive, Bonnie and Lucy for a trip to the restored old village of An Ju, a thirty minute taxi ride outside Hechuan. This was our chance to see something of both rural and ancient China and we were all excited to make the journey.
Two taxis were hailed and off we set. Urban motorways soon gave way to more rural roads but, generally, at this time on a Sunday morning, the traffic was light. As we raced down country roads, it was fascinating to see a countryside where every square inch of available land seemed to have been put to good use for the growing of vegetables. Many farms seemed also to have their own fishponds. There were very few larger animals on view in the fields but we spotted a profusion of chickens, geese and ducks on many farms.
An Ju was a total delight, with many restored streets, temples, pagodas and courtyards to explore. The village is currently more on domestic than international tourist itineraries, but this could well change in the future and the shops currently present a mixture of tourist goods and goods for everyday living. This is a restored old town; it is not a ‘monument’ or a ‘fossil’; it is a living, working, town and home to its inhabitants. As can be the case in tourist strollings, we seemed to fall in lockstep with a foursome of Chinese tourists tourists, with much nodding and smiling as we wandered through An Ju’s quiet streets. I observed that the two women in the group were desperately keen to have a photo with Dave but seemed too polite to ask directly. However, it isn’t only Canadian Mounties who get their man. One of the women group eventually plucked up the courage to ask Dave if they could have a photograph with him and he was, as we all were throughout the trip, very happy to oblige.
After an hour or so strolling through the ancient streets, it was time for lunch and we found a small, street café for a simple lunch of pork, rice and, you guessed it, chillies. The restauranteur was a lively lady and, with the help of Clive’s Mandarin and Bonnie’s expertise in the local dialect, Chongqingois, we had a lot of laughs. Not only was Dave complimented on his height this time but also the apparent softness of his skin.
After lunch, we continued to promenade through the part of the village we hadn’t yet seen, ending up climbing to the top of a stunning pagoda to gain a panoramic view over the whole village and out to countryside and the river running through it. The weather remained cloudy but was mercifully dry.
Then it was back to Hechuan to attend the main Festival Gala taking place that evening. The centre point of the music festival each year is a gala show comprising performances by a range of university societies and concluded by the appearance of two nationally known Chinese stars. Tickets were not easy to obtain even for guest artists at the festival, so everyone in our entourage was pleased when we found out we had tickets and ‘would go to the ball’. At the appointed time we made our way from the hotel to the venue - which was on another sports field on the campus. We arrived nice and early but, as time passed by, the audience grew to at least a couple of thousand.
The main stage for the Gala is truly vast. For this amazing show, the volume is cranked up for the show with the bass felt more through the ribcage than the ears. A dozen or so college groups performed one musical number each. They were without exception big production numbers – ranging from a version of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, through to Chinese traditional theatre and song, acrobatic displays and Chinese rap music. All the performances were superbly choregraphed, utilising the whole of the space afforded to them by the vast stage. The grand finale, two sets from nationally known Chinese pop stars performing their greatest hits, were rapturously received.
Naturally, it took some time for the venue to clear at the end of the show but we were eventually able to make our way off campus and search for an evening meal near the hotel. We found a simple but nice restaurant, had some excellent food and beers and, once back in the hotel, the three travellers sat up late talking.