It struck me on the plane down here that I grew up in a medieval city, and that I find this scale of city comforting: which may be one reason why I so much prefer the hutong to the highway. I like tight and overhanging streets, full of people you can reach out and touch.
Chengdu is the only inland city I'm visiting on this tour, and not surprisingly I've been here more times than the other places put together: and I find these moments and 'me's crowding around me demanding to be heard, and remembered.
The first time was in 1994 when I came on a Shanxi Province Teachers Trip when we went to see some old dams and then took the Three Gorges. I came here in the summer of 1995, on a thousand mile trip from Lhasa to Golmud, to Xining, to Chengdu, to Kunming, where I was meeting my parents. I remember meeting my girlfriend then on a warm steamy night, just off the train. It was the last summer I saw my father. Two months after he left he killed himself in a cottage in the Lake District.
And I came here in the summer of 1998, drifting home from Hunan, with the seed of a novel in my head - the opening scene - where a factory closes, a man dies and it starts raining. And that seed grew like a weed, or a tall straight shaft of bamboo - into The Drink and Dream Teahouse. And I became a novelist. And I wrote a book I was really proud of.
This blog was originally written March 14th, but this blog site is banned in China.