This photo was taken behind the Ciyun monastery (慈云寺) in Nanan district (南岸区), Chongqing, on 30 May 2014.
There is a quote credited to William Faulkner, but which I have never been able to confirm, and describes perfectly the experience of walking through Nanan district: “A landscape is conquered with the soles of the shoes, not the wheels of a car“. Walking the steep and narrow streets of this doomed district is the only way to imagine and somehow feel how life was before urbanisation and modernisation brought all the artefacts seen in the background of this photo. This neighbourhood is a remnant of old Chongqing, tightly tucked away on the bank of the Yangtze in the shadow of a new bridge, across from the Jiefangbei CBD (located in Chaotianmen), on the other side of the river. Chaotianmen is at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers, at the tip of Yuzhong peninsula.
This old man spends a few hours a day taking care of his orchards, which are scattered around the neighbourhood. In spite of his old age, 93 years, he negotiates these steep steps with an astounding vitality. Looking at him, one marvels at his strength. But it also makes one wonder what the rationale is for building a city on such difficult terrain. A friend who walked the streets with me, who happens to be a geographer, suggested the easy access to water, to fishing and to trade routes as the most plausible reason.
The old man’s wife is 84 years old and also looks very healthy. The crutches are just temporary, as she’s recovering from a minor injury. Neither of them speaks Mandarin but the local dialect, as is often the case among the elderly. Looking at them, one just hopes that the bulldozers will not arrive before the old man and his wife have seen out their days in the only place that they have really known. To uproot them would probably break them.