(The Flight of the Flying Mountain) To My Beloved Sandy River Alley
Time is a funny concept in itself, me thinking I’ve only just got down to finishing the last piece of Guiyang history and realising it’s been a whole summer and autumn “wasted away” on fooling around on in the warm grace of the City, and other places too. I saw wonders of the Land of Darkness and beyond that are impossible to relay in mere words, had the Sun scorch my skin time and again, and took the most winding paths across the mountains, deserts, and ravines, all to fulfil that insatiable curiosity that just won’t let me sit down and write about all this while there’s actually more to do and see. Good thing is I have been quite meticulous about documenting most of my endeavours on the photographic paper, and although I don’t seem to be very good at sharing it on social media and such, I have in mind a much bigger project, probably in this very place, that is the website. I feel like photos never really look good on the whole instagram thing, unless it’s perhaps a half-naked selfie or something of this sort? And as much as I can find the idea of combining such art with the art of the City interesting, I’m afraid that would not fit my stature of the Holy Emissary that has been bestowed on me by the mysterious powers of the six Great Sisters. If you really wish to see the face of the prophet, Dear Reader, all you need to do is leave the house and gaze at the splendour of the beautiful, subtle rust on metal, the xanthous autumn leaves swaying gently in the cold, basin wind; inhale, and feel the intoxicating tarry odour, so characteristic to the colder months, mixed with the fragrance of the million piquancies; don’t choose the straight way to your destination, follow the most winding, and unwelcoming road that leads into the belly of the Beast… Only then, perhaps, if so She wishes, you’ll find the true face of the City. And you will see me, too, as our bond has only grown stronger and went far beyond trivial fascination. See the City for yourself and you shall have no need for my, or anyone else’s writings. Do it now, as soon it might be too late.
It is true - the City is dying. We are not talking about a complete annihilation, no, it is but a process of a reversed metamorphosis, slow at first, and picking up pace recently. From a beautiful butterfly it shall turn into a hard shell of standardisation and anonymousness, its spirit and true nature locked deep within the tomb of solid concrete. I wonder if that is the fate of all things - to encase ourselves in nameless tombs in effort to create one, ideal world without ugliness, calamities, inequality and differences. To save our universe from ourselves: always greedy, impulsive, daring and unnecessarily emotional, never ceasing to yearn for things outside our reach. A noble goal, yet one leading to the annihilation of that core of life that makes us the most appalling, but also the most beautiful creatures in our known world. I feel it’s much the same with the City - and with countless others, that fall victim to the unbeatable disease called the Future. So I toil, so that once it’s all gone it will not be completely forgotten, and one day I will be able to tell stories of the true beauty and true miracles. Stories, that in the world to come might seem nothing more than fairy-tales of old. In the kind of world where it will be impossible for people and things to have souls, those will be welcomed as Revelations, a testimony to the true nature of the world.
However, this is all yet to come. Right now, the City still has enough spirit to see herself reborn even after her tissue gets brutally torn time after time, without remorse. It was only within days that the bigger part of the Sandy River St. got torn down, because it is necessary to build a parking lot near the hospital. A parking. Lot. In case you wondered, Dear Reader, yes, that’s what every city in the world needs. More cars. And while in this case it is perhaps justified as there really is no space for people visiting the hospital, it seems to be a part of some bigger dimness of mind that’s sprawling in many parts of the world - making a city a better place for cars. Again, in case you wondered - things like legs and public transport and taxis don’t exist and it is absolutely essential for every one of us to have our big arses delivered everywhere in fashionable fume boxes. Now before you shout “Bingo! Another poor loser complaining about cars cause they don’t have one!”, be ready for a cold shower: people with enough money can rent a car whenever they want, without a need to worry about it daily; it is certainly a great convenience and I can’t imagine many trips I’ve made without it, especially that I crazy love driving. Then again, if you’re a healthy adult that absolutely needs to take their car everywhere they go, even thought often it would be much easier to simply use taxi or public transport, then, Sir or Madam - you’re an absolute idiot.
After delivering this inspired piece of wisdom, I’ve realised that all I’ve been writing about so far was quite personal and not having much to do with the topic I chose for today’s Trial. Yes! It was supposed to be a Trial and it was supposed to start with me talking about Sandy River St. But how can I console myself after all the grief I feel when I see one of my favourite streets of the City turned to ashes? When I walked there yesterday on my way to the Flying Mountain (which is also, apparently, tagged to be “modernised”, how I hate that word I almost want to hammer my laptop so I don’t even need to look at it again!), the gaping hole that remains where the buildings stood imbued me with a feeling of such emptiness and sadness that I almost cried. Good thing is, after few days of emptiness I was relieved to see some of the street food vendors return to their spots “on the corner” - a sign that the spirit of the City still lives. Now I realised, that the Flying Mountain has to wait; all I wanted to write about for a long while now was how sad and miserable and empty it felt to see the Sandy River St. go, and how much a loved that little street and how I will remember it always, even if only in dreams. There we go then, a beautiful elegy.
I came to the City with a nasty cold, that one day one developed in a sort of a weird eye infection, I simply could not open one of my eyes lest I suffer an unbearable pain of thousand needles going right to the core. I was taken to the hospital which is just across the street from the Sandy River St. How I loved this little street! Busy, bustling with colours, smells and sounds, the City at its finest! I was planning on buying a duvet, so I checked a number of textile shops (which are still there, that part of the street still stands). In the end I didn’t buy anything, as everything was just too overwhelming at this point - I was a newcomer and the City felt like a lot to swallow in such a short time. It was always very busy with all the street food stalls and people (often patients) running around in their pyjamas even in the coldest months of winter. I feel like if you could choose one moment to serve as in inspiration for a painting called “The Miracle of the City”, a scene straight off the Sandy River St. would be a strong contestant.
Not long after I had to visit the hospital again, this time with a mild concussion I got when my motorbike fell into a depressed pothole on West of the Mountains Rd. You might think, Dear Reader: “Well the City hasn’t really been treating her kindly” or “Yeah okay now we know how she hit her head and now she’ s spouting all this nonsense!”. Well, perhaps it’s all true! One could say that the City had not been fair to me at all, yet I know that in fact it was the only thing that kept me going when I was suffering due to a mix of very unfortunate circumstances. If it had not been for this deep, unconditional love I would have left long time ago and none of this would come to light. I never (or at least: very rarely) do things I don’t like doing, and if I do something I do it because I want to. Turned out the head thing wasn’t such a big deal, I had a bowl of noodles in one of the street food stalls on the side-which-still-stands, and went home to rest after. The end.
I have now given you two of my earliest memories, and I’ve realised they are both about the - as I called it - the side-that-still-stands. This is perhaps at the beginning I was a bit scared of the older, maze-like side which has now become the side-that-fell. It was by far the more beautiful one, the one expressing the true allure of the City. There was the mythical gateway to the heart of the quarter, the Sandy River Alley, a serpentine entity swirling along the bank of the Wall Piercing River.
“Wait, what river?” I can see you saying now, Dear Reader.
You probably never noticed it before, as only a small part of it is out in the open these days, the rest of it reduced to an underground sewer. Yet if you walk up the Potalaka Rd or Dark Spirit Rd from the direction of the North Chinese Nation Rd. have you ever noticed you actually cross a bridge? Now that is the answer you seek. The Guancheng River emerges on the northern side of the Potalaka Rd. and from there makes it’s way along the Sandy River Alley until it disappears somewhere beneath the great hospital. What becomes of it later, I honestly do not know, but I think it would be possible to follow it on a map for at least a bit.
But I digress - there it was, the entrance to this most ancient, most revered part of the Sandy River area. The little alley hidden beneath layers on layers of street food stalls and swarms of people. Famous intestine noodles on the left (it was always too busy for me to find a seat!) And another noodles establishment to the right. Then, the alley would become hidden from sunlight by the unmethodical construction of the old housings, crooked and twisted like an old witch’s hut.
I dared not enter that maw for a long time, but after I moved to the Friendship Rd. I found myself in a dire need of a good foot massage parlour. Now that’s not hard to come by in the City at all, but the word good is the key. Walking down the street one day, probably because the bus dropped me off somewhere at the Six Gates, I saw a sign on the red bricked building that indicated there is a foot massage establishment somewhere inside the patio. Since it was already the time of the great Crown Enslavement which we still suffer (how easy it is for people to get used to even the nastiest things!) I got stopped at the gate and had to state my purpose, yet the guards didn’t bother me much. The patio consisted of a couple of low storey, brick houses that looked like they could have previously belonged to some factory or workshop. One of them housed the massage parlour.
I quickly discovered that this is not exactly a place that specialises in a regular foot care and massage I was looking for. The ladies there were very nice, however, and we had a lovely chat while they were dealing with my nails the best they could. They cut my toe slightly in the process, but it’s been almost two years and my foot didn’t go black or fall off so I suppose the tools must have been clean. I did worry about it back then, though. Obviously, I did not return and found a much better place further down the road and close to my house, yet I still think warmly about that little visit in a shop in a patio, on the side-that-fell; even if I wanted to, I will never be able to see that place again. It fills my heart with some unfathomable regret and makes me wonder what become of all of them these days. I hope they’re all well.
Since then I started having that strange feeling that perhaps this place had not much longer to stand, and I became more keen to wander around and take photos. This was for the best, as the demolition plans began only a few months ago and them bam, there it was, all gone. The red brick building. The gaping mouth of the Sandy River Alley. The numerous shops along this side with food, pickle jars, medical supplies and other curios.
One day I was looking for a noodle shop in the Potalaka Street - I was craving a spicy chicken, and somehow I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was circling around the underground market near the Red Gate, when I discovered there’s a curious looking alley at the back of the building that leads down to the Wall Piercing River. I went down and found myself in a most extraordinary riverbank marketplace I’ve ever seen in the City. Following it up from this side led me to an ancient, narrow alley which - surprise, surprise - ended up nowhere else but in the Sandy River St. That was the Sandy River Alley! I did not look too scary when approached this way, and since then I’ve walked it at least a few times. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but the mere thought of this fossil being preserved in the heart of the City made me ecstatic. There was beauty to be found there that filled my heart with joy.
After I realised they are planning to tear down the side of the Sandy River Rd, I started fearing that similar fate shall meet the entire alley. The worst did not come, however, and only the entrance got hit, two buildings in total. The rest of the alley, deeper inside, is well preserved and unchanged. But for how long? I cherish the chance of still having this little gem next to my house and try to visit often.
In the ruins of the two front buildings something new is being built - it looks like it’s going to be the two restaurants that once adorned the entrance to the alley and attracted such a loyal clientele. Some of the street food stalls are back at their old locations, too. Every time I walk past, I will now chose not to see the emptiness of the construction side, or whatever that is they’re planning to put there; in my head I will forever see the red brick building, the two corner houses, and the liveliness that once filled up this side-that-fell.
PS: Photos coming soon!