I had thought that by now I would have known every part of Liaocheng, but still every time I go out for a bike ride I end up in a new part of town.  I hugged the canal east of school yesterday an eventually found myself in a neighborhood on the edge of urban Liaocheng, where the apartment buildings meet the fields.  It was about five in the afternoon, quitting time, dinner time, time for a smoke and some tea and a bowl of noodles.  All around me people were on their way from work, heading home with their faces to ground and a determined rhythm of pace.

Despite being a so-called “small city,” Liaocheng is as busy and bustling a metropolis as this Vermonter has ever lived in.  All around me life bustles with alarming vigor. The car horns never shutup.  The trucks never stop rolling.  The loud speakers never stop reciting the same sentence over and over again (Corn, roasted corn, five yuan!)  But at this point in my journey I feel as though I have finally become part of the craziness instead of just a bewildered observer. I swerve in and out traffic, dodging donkeys and taxis and semis.  I shout at the waiter to bring us some napkins.  I haggle for a new pair of socks.  I spit phlegm in the street gutter.  I shout and “ganbei,” swig my baiju and slam down on the table.

Rutland, Vermont is a small city, but in its own way it has the same sort of hustle and bustle that Liaocheng has, that any place where people live amongst one another has.  Route 7 cuts through the town on its way to New York and Burlington, Vermont, and at night the streets get so quiet that they set the stop lights to blinking yellows.  At certain places you can see the lights blinking on down the road in synchronization for miles, and it’s almost like watching the town breathe as it falls asleep.  It’s moments of peace like this that I feel most at home in a place, when I can watch it wind down and reflect on the days triumphs and losses.  If it was all craziness, all the time, there would be no time for reflection, and no way to actually know a place, no way to be settled.

Cranes lie motionless as the sun goes down on Liaocheng, in wait for the next day’s work.

A farmer hard to finish before she goes back home.

Nainai sits, waits, observes, contemplates

回家  Hui Jia “Going Home”