The Friendship Road, part I
Although there’s still much to say about the Treasure Mountain Road and all the unusual events surrounding the Eastern Mountain and her brother, the Elephant, the story has to move on, as I have; a bit further north, and honestly not far at all form the hero of our last story. Yet it feels like a different world entirely. I was feeling confused with that sudden change of my habitat for quite a while, but now I know that the move has not weakened my connection to the City. Quite the opposite, it has opened ways for new chapters to be discovered and penned down here. A web-way of alleys and nooks I had not thought much about before materialised before my eyes the moment I did some casual exploring. Stories from ages past came back to life in my memory, and I can only pray for my accounts to remain as detailed as ever, so that I can share them all with you, Dear Reader.
Funny thing it is, moving houses. From my little haven opposite the Eastern Mountain, where I could see her rise to glory once more, step by step, from some flimsy wooden planks eons ago, to the shining (fake, I assume) gold, lining her many storeys; I even saw her lit with festive lights once or twice, much like the small radio station she shares grounds with. I vowed to myself I would not leave the City until she’s complete. I kept my promise, but in the end I had to bid farewell to her in search for a better life. For a moment I felt myself a traitor, and a feeling of heavy nostalgia crushed my chest every time I walked past my old dwellings in the first weeks of this revolution. It was, after all, an entire era of rise and ruin spent under protection of this benevolent deity of the City. A time filled with tremendous joy and heart-rending despair, triumphs that will be recorded in memory for generations, and failures that would break a weaker person’s spirit. But I am Lao Guiyang, chosen by the City itself to fulfil my mission and keep the story going. I do not capitulate.
There was something going on around my former quarters that had forced even such a stalwart warrior as myself to flee - a long, greenish wurm, slowly gnawing on the bones of the mountains had taken residence in my part of town, its mouldy teeth gritting and crushing anything it came across, its ever-hungry bowels wringing with sounds of true horrors. It had previously wrecked havoc in another area, only to come just to where I used to live. It is indeed, a mythical creature, as strange magic remains on the paths it had dug, making them a warp-way that can take you to another parts of the City in mere seconds! And as much as I love to make use of such tricks, to try to lie down and rest in a place the monstrosity has chosen is a futile effort; its shrieks and rumblings would make anyone’s life an anguish.
This is how I fled north. I didn’t know how I’d be able to cope without my favourite delicacies such as the pork intestine noodles just across the Hospital, or the cold noodles from the Tiny Gate, and without my dear friend, a Cat From Round The Corner. I miss her so dearly even now, as I’m writing these words, and I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done much effort to see her recently. I can only hope she’s still doing fine.
I remember how on sunny days I would turn left soon after passing the Hospital, down the East City Rd. It leads all the way underneath the Dusi Bridge, then through a number of narrow passages and through a marketplace, only to finally open up to the light and let me emerge just next to the River. It’s one of those rare places where houses from the old era still exist next to the more modern buildings, as if no time has passed. Their low, tiled roofs and whitened walls just are there, as the road twists and turns… It still is one of my favourite streets to walk. Maybe one day I’ll talk about it in length.
All these places I’ve mentioned feel like a distant past now that I have moved closer to the Elephant, and in a street with a name as jovial as The Friendship Rd. To tell the truth my first few days there didn’t really give me any feeling of deep friendliness, as all I got were suspicious looks and hastily covered faces (as if that’s going to help in any way, were I really a carrier of the deadly disease). I slept poorly, and every time I walked out of the house I felt something is terribly wrong and I’m not where I was supposed to be, even thought objectively speaking, the Friendship Rd. neighbourhood is so much nicer to live in than where I was previously. Still, it needs time to regrow your roots. Everything felt strange and unusual, even thought I had visited this part of the City on numerous occasions in the past - I just never really lived there, and that, it seems, changes everything.
My first memory of the Friendship Rd. must be from the times of my humble beginnings, when someone invited me for dinner at the corner of the New Print House Rd, on the second floor, in a place where there now seems to be a fancy western style bar. What we ate that evening was a barbecued fish, a staple of nightlife in the City, with a sort of sesame crackers on top that I failed to see served anywhere else after this. It was me and my colleagues from my first job; a friend of mine later mentioned that someone she knew used to own a bar in the same street. Was it the bar owned by that guy who tried to chop some poor bloke’s thumb off while the unfortunate was already being hospitalised after a heavy beating he had got hours before as the first part of the punishment? It was either something about money or disrespecting the owner’s wife. I think myself an unforgiving person, yet I wouldn’t go as far as cutting someone’s finger… then again I don’t have a wife and I’m not in the habit of borrowing people money so who knows? Whether this act of terror actually took place somewhere round the bar on the corner of Friendship Rd - I do not know. It would, however, tune well with the name of the street.
There is an entire section between the Black Spirit Rd. and where I am now that used to belong to a local tobacco factory. The old building is still here, just next to the Tiger Gate Alley, but it doesn’t seem to be operational; only thing is, every time I walk past there in the evening I can hear music and voices coming from behind the ancient, barbed-wired wall. Perhaps this is a matter worth investigating - or perhaps this is just another bar or someone is using that space to do some group dancing. I can hear the noises best when passing by a rusted gate directly opposite the parking lot at the back of the North Church (which should really be its front, but it’s hard to tell up from down in the entangled mass of the alleys). We are now in the Tiger Gate Alley, and if you take the first sharp turn left you will circle the factory grounds and emerge by the blind massage parol, right in the Black Spirit Rd. If you keep walking straight you’ll end up on the food street luoguo section, in the louder part of what I call the Northern City.
I call it that because it used to be the newer part of the polis, as opposed to the older, Southern one, located just by the river. Walls were build to encircle these new territories sometime in Ming Dynasty, and more gates were added: the old Northern Gate (now: the Fountain) wasn’t at the north end of the City anymore;, and where the Friendship Rd. takes a turn left towards the Potalaka Rd., showing clearly how the walls run in the past, the Red Edge gate was erected. There are two bus stops by the same name on the separate sides of the community, and this is because most streets here only go one way. What lies between them is the Tofu Alley and this is most likely where the original gate was located. That would make the Friendship Rd. the eastern edge of the city, running south to the Old Eastern Gate, which used to be my old neighbour. Once again I am to live a life of an outsider since my house seems to stand just outside the City walls.
Tough luck it is, but I have the Elephant guarding me from the other side, and although I can’t see him as my eastern panorama is heavily obstructed by the concrete giant that has perched himself between us, the thoughts of the venerable mountain being there no matter what happens make me feel safe and at home - have never become fully uprooted and suddenly the three miles that separate my one lodgings from the ones do feel like three miles and not three light years. These days, having gained confidence anew, I turn my eyes not to the mountains, but to the maze of the tiny streets that sprawls all the way from here to the Mighty Qing Rd. and the First Bridge. I have already discovered marvels, and it looks like there is no end to mysteries that fill this fresh and uncharted land. My thoughts go back to the Black Spirit Rd. which felt so distant before, and is now within my hand’s reach. Also, I have my eyes fixed on a certain Fish, dwelling not far from here, at the feet of the Black Spirit Mountain… There will be no boredom on the Friendship Rd, that much I can promise.
If you want to know, Dear Reader, whether I get to catch that fish or not, bear with me a little longer and wait for the next instalment of the story.