It is clear to me that no proper account of all those turbulent times and stories of Gods and Men of Guiyang cannot start with Treasure Mountain Road. It’s the City’s eastern border. It has a significant amount of majiang table and scooter retailers, food stands and restaurants including my personal favourite Pork Intestine Noodles, a university, the biggest hospital in the province (I wish I hadn’t known it that well), two temples in its immediate vicinity, and an Elephant. It connects two major hubs - Newspaper Community to the North with Oil Pressing Street to the South of town. Its name stirs imagination, too. A treasure mountain. Something I’d have dwelled on for months as a child, imagining all those secrets that could be hidden behind the veil of the mundane. It was a painful realisation to find out in later life that there is usually nothing to discover, or so I was told. Here, however, the streets did not play by the rules. They were everything I had ever wanted them to be: full of secrets, whispering voices and giggles, where an inconspicuous arch hidden between cluttering hovels could be a portal to another dimension. And Treasure Mountain Road was a gateway to all this grandeur.
Most importantly though, it was home.
My earliest memories of Treasure Mountain Rd. are vague; I wasn’t aware where I was, and, as it usually happens when one has no good understanding of a new location, couldn’t place the street in the bigger scheme of things. I remember taking a bus from Empire of Evil Gardens - where an acquaintance of mine had lived at that time - to the Old Train Station. The thing about taking a bus is that if you sit in the back you get to see nothing but the passing cars and road surface. If you sit in the middle, you might see bits of what’s around you, but usually not enough to get a good idea of a new place. There are a number of bigger and smaller streets in the City planted with lanes of massive trees on both sides, but Treasure Mountain Rd. was the first one for me to encounter. Their, as it seemed, evergreen leaves brought solace on a hot October day, and because I couldn’t see through much, I had an impression of going through a tunnel. The road seemed very compact at that time, full of things I did not and could not comprehend, but for someone like me, coming from a place of gray concrete, it had a certain charm.
I got off the bus at random, at what I now know to be the Old Eastern Gate. In this way, you may say, Treasure Mountain Rd. had magically transported me from a sad suburban enclave to the City of bones and flesh. This was the initiation.
If I said it was back then that I had decided to settle down in this cradle of miracles it would certainly sound good story-wise, but it would not be true. I find that in a place based entirely on fluctuations of reality, one needs to hold onto the truth desperately. So, it was a plain coincidence that made me fancy a flat on this very road I remembered as a tunnel of green.
First was the university. I was sent with my new-to-be coworker to look at some apartments around the Cloudy Rock, and presented with a humble choice of dark and damp burrows where I imagined I’d be struck down with pestilence after a week of living.
‘Just get the cheapest, and then you can clean it up and make it in whatever you want it to be’ someone told me.
As I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to get rid of all the mould on the walls and furniture however hard I scrubbed, I insisted on finding somewhere more habitable. Thus, I had already proved myself to be a difficult subordinate aiming to live in better conditions than my bosses. Luckily for me, I failed to mention how all those dingy apartments reminded me of the ones depicted in Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying which I had read as a child. As I can’t recall much of the plot except the above-mentioned description, I must assume I had always had a thing for high living standards.
But I digress. The university flat didn’t work out either, whatever the reason. There was one more choice, one I have found out about myself, further down the road. We were getting tired of walking and since eating three meals a day at designated hours is an unwritten commandment here, it was time for a bite. Culinary choices opposite the main gate must have overwhelmed me - I refused to eat anything that didn’t look at least remotely like food back home, probably for fear of stomach problems. It would take more than a couple of Snow beer bottles on Shanxi Road later that day to make my palate more open to local dishes.
The dumpling place we had eaten at that day became my first dining choice for the following weeks. Slightly run down, as all places here, but with a genuinely nice owner. It was there and with her help that I learnt some basic expressions and had a chance to practice my stuttering speech. I soon discovered the dumplings were always frozen and they weren’t actually that good at all, but I still kept on coming. Somehow, the place felt safe.
One day I stopped. I simply didn’t visit there anymore. Now I didn’t walk that way too often those days, but every time I did, I was filled with an immense feeling of sadness. First I took it to be guilt, but then the place had always been full of customers, mostly university students and kids from the adjacent high school. Then came the realisation - it was the ceaseless changing of the City that has changed me as well. One morning, or afternoon, or maybe sometime at night it was decided that I am to eat my dumplings elsewhere. Or not eat dumplings at all. I was to set out on a journey to see her marvels: the six Great Sisters, one of them reigning all the way to the South, sat by the brook with flowers in her hair; one, the Golden Sun, hidden behind the bottomless ravine cutting the city flesh in half. And the others, of whom I’ll surely write in length in time.
She has issued an order to go, and I - a fearful child - obeyed.
None of the great Guiyang mysteries have been solved so far, but we are on the right path. I leave you, Dear Reader, with some clues on to where we head next.