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Lazy Day on a Chinese Lake

I wanted to go to the lake, for no other reason than to sit on the shore, throw a pebble in the water, and watch the circles of waves increase, wait until the last one died, and do it again. It’s about an hours walk through rice paddies to get from town to the little village at the shore of the lake. It’s still overcast, but a pale sun is trying to break through the grey sky, turning the distant country into a black and white photo. Right in front of me, the bright, green fields sting my eyes, but in the distance, the mountains are sharp-lined, black paper cut-outs, glued against the horizon. Bent-over people are working in the fields, others carrying heavy loads back home – lines of hunchback baskets on the red mud-road. Some stare at me, and occasionally I get a vague smile or a weary nod. But here, there are no more ‘hellos’. Here ‘hello’ is still an unknown word.

About an hour later I get to the little village. The village itself isn’t that little actually, but everything in it is. Small houses and narrow streets. Tiny temple, mini market – five vendors sitting on the street. But the fish look fresher than they do in town, as do all the other things they have in their baskets – though I may be wrong about that, since some of the things they sell, I’ve never seen before. Kids are playing in a little, shallow canal along the street. They run off when they see me approaching – half screaming, half laughing. The only one that stays behind is a little girl in a pink-flowered dress. She’s licking a large cone of pink-coloured ice cream, the same colour as her dress. Holding it with both hands, she stares…smiles shyly. As I move out of sight, and the kids return to their game, she returns to her ice cream. I walk on, but it’s a labyrinth of narrow streets. Not by figure of speech, it really is. The streets keep turning, and whichever path I choose, they all eventually dead end. So I get nowhere, but this is not a bad place to get lost. Some villagers try to point me the way, even though they don’t know where I’m going. But I’m enjoying this walk, so I’m not really lost.

The streets get narrower and narrower with every turn I take. As a test, I stretch out my arms, and lay my palms flat against the walls on both sides. I look up and I realize I’m not in a street anymore. I’m under an archway of thick spider webs, in them hundreds of spiders. For another two hours I wander through this maze with no road to the lake, and after I walked every road in the village, I find a narrow breach in a wall, behind it – finally – a path to the lake. I sit on the shore and throw a pebble in the water. I watch the circles of waves increase, and wait until the last one dies.

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