National Geographic : 2013 Mar
return to river town 89 Dam is completed, and this changes the story. And I’ll never know what the Fuling residents of 1998 would have thought of the book, be- cause those people have also been transformed. There’s a new confidence to urban Chinese; the outside world seems much less remote and threatening. And life has moved so fast that even the 1990s feels as nostalgic as a black- and-white photo. Recently Emily sent me an email: “With a distance of time, everything in the book turns out to be charming, even the dirty, tired flowers.” one evening I have dinner with Huang Xiao- qiang, his wife, Feng Xiaoqin, and their family, who used to own my favorite noodle restaurant. In 1998 Huang acquired his driver’s license and told me he hoped to buy a car someday, which seemed impossible with his limited family in- come. But tonight he picks me up at my hotel in a new black Chinese BYD sedan. Huang drives exactly two blocks to a restaurant, and then we drive exactly two more blocks to his family home. These journeys may be short, but they FRoM NooDLEs To TILEs When the Huang family’s popular noodle restaurant was demolished as part of Fuling’s redevelopment, they found a new trade. “In two years this will all be big buildings,” Huang Xiaoqiang says. “And they’ll need ceramic tiles.” which will be three times as large as the Fuling I remember. “We’ve opened our eyes,” Liu says. “When I was in school in the 1970s, we couldn’t com- municate with outsiders. China has been an open country for a while now, and we have a sense of what foreigners think. I’ve read some of your book.” He continues: “Thank you for giv- ing us xuanchuan.” The word can be translated in different ways; sometimes it means “pub- licity,” and sometimes it means “propaganda.” Vice-Director Liu smiles and says, “Fuling is a good example of a Chinese city for Americans to know about.” The writer’s vanity likes to imagine per- manence, but Fuling reminds me that words are quicksilver. Their meaning changes with every age, every perspective—it’s like the White Crane Ridge, whose inscriptions have a differ- ent significance now that they appear in an underwater museum. Today anybody who reads Rive r Tow n knows that China has become economically powerful and that the Three gorges reminds me that words are quicksilver. Meaning changes with every age.