Dragon Boat Festival

Nicholas Quirke was remembering on 14 June 2021 how he had celebrated Dragon Boat Festival the previous year, on a boat in Dragon Gorge eating zhong zi. This year he would be on a boat again and the plan was to get zhong zi to consume as they sailed down Xin’an river in the beautiful Huizhou landscape. They started the day though with a walk from their hotel along the shoreline of Qiandao lake. The heat was already overpowering and as always he was thankful for having a fan to maintain sone sense of cool. Where on the drive the day before the rain had been incessant their journey on this day was in the merciless sun. The scenery through Zhenjiang and back into Anhui province was beautiful and once they were on the narrow road alongside Xin’an river and on their way to the Tang Dynasty Shendu town from where they would take a ferry they lost count of the times they stopped to photograph the views and leave his DNA in year another corner of the immense country he had been living in. They were both surprised by the number of villages encountered and how densely populated yet remote from any city they were and it was hard for him to imagine how the communities could survive and thrive. They bought the ferry tickets but there was an hour and half wait and the heat was so oppressive they went in search of sorbet. The Main Street of the town which, seemed to be the town, felt deserted and when they got to the little parlour there was no one there. His presence was of fascination to the neighbouring stores and as they waited for the proprietor to come by they were quizzed about where he came from. Not for the first time they seemed to think he was Russian. They ordered a mango sorbet and a watermelon juice when the owner arrived who immediately departed to buy a water melon. A young boy stood staring at him for an eternity and the drink and ice desert when it came was like nectar to their parched throats. Icy cold it cooled them down for their walk back to the ferry. They paid extra again to sit on deck and were seated at a table withy a couple who were equally fascinated by his presence. Once again, he was without a shadow of a doubt the only Laowai on board. The journey down the river was exquisite. The scenery, the villages, the boats they passed by were mesmerising. The first township they passed by featured some fascinating garden designs that had clearly been done for the tourists and even the small water front cafe featured a cast of locals playing cards and enjoying village life. The second village they stopped at was home to a museum all about weddings and out the back was a 1000 year old tree which was the widest he had ever seen. He was familiar now with seeing the walls with faded, red slogans which were a ghostly reminder of the sabotage that the Cultural revolution wrought on the historic buildings. The final experience of the trip was the gala performance by the locals of a fishing village of the historic 9 ways to catch a fish, from nets, to spearing to cormorants. Accompanied by drums, music and to him an incomprehensible commentary they watched with fascination the re-enactment of ancient rural life. There were no fish killed and anything caught was returned to the water and though his vegan sensibilities were ruffled it was a mesmerising and elegant pageant. On the return journey down the river as he was sipping a tea he felt a leaf hit his face and get caught in in his glasses as he pulled it away and threw it to he discovered it was a huge winged bug which caused a commotion with the fellow passengers who witnessed the scene. They praised his composure in grabbing it and hurling it away. If he had known that it was terrifying looking bug he may not have been so calm. They day finished with a drive back to to Huangshan city where they ordered another takeaway. He liked the food a lot till he found himself chewing on a rogue piece of meat in one of the dishes. It put him off his food and he had a long soak in the bath and read to compensate. When he went to bed his stomach felt troubled but he was not sure if that was the meat or the coconut milk and mango bubble tea he had consumed. Needless to say it was a disturbed nights sleep that followed.

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