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East Lake

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The following is a recollection of growing up by what is now Chengdu’s East Lake, originally written by Ke Kexi and translated from Chengdu River Stories (page 172): 


When people today see Chengdu’s East Lake, they see almost two hundred mu (0.13 km2) of water. Before, it was a huge sand quarry, and everyone called it the sand company. Because they excavated the sand, the groundwater came up creating a wetland area with clear, still waters. In the summer, there are plenty of purple and white wildflowers, reeds and other water plants, and plenty of fish and shrimps swimming around. I often went there to play with other kids.

 

When I was younger and my mother wanted to cook beans, she’d give me a big bowl and make me go to the sand company to collect some grit. I was always very happy to do this task, taking the big bowl and running off. Every time I got to this heaven of insects, shrimps, fish and birds, I’d completely forget the task I’d been given. I’d take off my little shoes and throw them onto the rocks, then start catching fish. Sometimes I’d come across an old basket or plastic bag and dip it into the water, catching many small fish and shrimps. I’d put them into the bowl and cover it with leaves, and before long the bowl would be full. Tired of playing, I’d go home and lie in bed before finally remembering that I was supposed to be collecting grit. But I was secretly delighted, thinking how in another two or three days I’d be able to say to my mother that I was going to collect grit to cook beans.

 

In the summer, I played hide-and-seek with a few friends in the reeds. We’d play rock paper scissors and the loser would have to cover their eyes and count to ten, before going to find the others. We’d collect stones, sharing the most special ones with each other, and sometimes we’d cook grasshoppers that we caught.

 

The hole made by the sand quarry became increasingly deeper, with layer upon layer of different coloured sand, mixed up with screws, clam shells and coloured rocks, like the rings on a tree, making people think of dinosaurs and glaciers. We’d often take off our shoes and run from one pile of sand to another. Tired, we’d lie on the sand and look at the sun reflecting in the water, and the wind blowing the reeds. At the edge of the reeds there was a small ferry crossing, and the old boatman would shout out to his customers, seeming very distant and serene. We were like a group of happy tadpoles, not worried about being unable to find our frog mothers.

 

I don't know when the sand quarry company closed, I don't know when the groundwater came up and the rainwater entered and the area became covered in water. I don’t know when everyone started calling the area ‘water heart village.’ People who lived nearby came to fish, catch shrimps and swim. Students had campfires here, and fathers often took their children to fly kites by the edge of the lake.

 

In July 1981, Chengdu suffered a terrible flood. I was cycling to school with a friend, and on the way back a huge downpour started, completely soaking us from head to toe. When we passed in front of the statue of Chairman Mao on Renmin South Road, the rainwater had risen, covering two thirds of our bike wheels. By the time we got to Jiuyan Bridge and Wangjiang Park, we could see that the water had flooded over the ground. Back at home, we looked out over the city from the balcony of the sixth floor- wow! “River heart village” and the Fu River to the left had joined together, low-lying farmhouses were completely covered in water. Many farmers gathered in my father’s workplace’s canteen or the school to sleep. The current form of East Lake was created after the flood, and it is becoming a popular residential area. With its trees and butterflies, bushes and seagulls, it is a very pleasant place.


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