I daydream about the sedentary life as I watch an old couple do their daily chores in front of their old, traditional style house on a canal in Taizhou.
Not so long ago Jiangsu Taizhou wasn’t much more than little communities of old grey brick, ceramic roof traditional houses arranged along winding, pell mell allyways separated by canals. These neighborhoods are now being replaced with Wanda shopping centers, high rises, and modern, concrete and rebar cookie cutter buildings. This is normal, old buildings are demolished and new ones are erected. Cultures change, neighborhoods vanish, urban design morphs, architecture evolves, times change, the wheels of entropy spin on and on.
But as I sit here on the bank of a canal, looking across at a little old brick house that the wreaking crews seem to have momentarily forgotten, I can’t help but to feel a longing for what is fast becoming history. As I watch the old couple who live in this house go about their daily chores — she goes and refills a basin with water as he continues washing dishes — I can’t help but to feel a foolish sort of romance for this life. I will not cross the bridge and subject them to one of my impromptu inquisitions, as I am taking enough joy from just watching and daydreaming.
A old neighbor walks up to the couple and they have a quick chat, touching base on daily happenings. The neighbor walks on and turns a corner. An old woman then shows up and has a short conversation. Neighbors keep coming and going, the old couple continues to go through their work at an easy pace.
The sun is bright overhead, but the day is not too hot — it is just a slow, even cooking, like late summer days in Upstate NY. Everything has slowed, the nearest road is out of earshot.
If someone gave me an old house on a Chinese canal, friendly neighbors, daily chores, and a small place within a shrinking community I may give up this wandering and just watch the leaves float slowly by on the surface of the water before my door.
Travel is about watching other people live their lives, it’s about superimposing daydreams over observations and memories, it’s about being the subject rather than the object, but it’s not about being a part of the matrix of a community. We float through the world watching, learning, inquiring, but we seldom descend to the ground and take a role among our well-placed brethren.
Give me an old grey brick house on an old canal in China and I may become the landscape.