Please, look up to the sky;
enjoy the stars twinkling at night.
Little stars, like you and I Twinkling as to tell stories of little delights
One night many years ago, my grandmother took me to the border of a gigantic pit to cool off. That place was overgrown and undeveloped, nothing but a couple of plain country houses, emanating a bygone, unspoiled and tranquil vibe.
As we settled ourselves beside the pit, we felt as if the Jialing river waters were brushing past our feet. There was a complete silence except for some “toot-toot” coming from distant steamboats now and then.
Grandma raised her gaze and pointed at the sky, softly humming a nursery rhyme.
As I too looked at the same sky she was gazing to, I turned to her with a confused stare. “But in Chongqing, there are no stars in the sky,” I told her.
My grandma laughed: “When the waters of the Jialing River run clear again, you’ll see, that there are some stars that belong only to Chongqing’s sky.”
I was ten that year, and it was my first time in Chongqing.
Fifteen years later, when I was twenty-five, I came to Chongqing again. I wasn’t there to visit or go sightseeing this time, but rather to settle down permanently.
For me, Chongqing was strange.
Built on a hilly terrain, Chongqing is a magic mix of naturally occurring mountains and brick and mortar buildings with annoyingly uneven, irregular streets winding in between.
So, it is indeed far removed from other Chinese cities. But I found myself never trying to genuinely savor its beauty, nor did I try to explore its history and culture.
Maybe my many years of itinerant life can somewhat explain this. Although I grew up a lot, I still got stuck in a volatile lifestyle, where I could not see my future.
The moment we stepped off the train, I told my grandma that I wanted to return to that place we’d been fifteen years ago. She agreed, and the two of us went directly to the Jialing River without stopping to rest.
The Jialing River originates from Daiwang Mountain, at the foot of the Qinling Mountains in Fengxian County, Shaanxi Province. Its tributaries run through the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, Sichuan, as well as Chongqing, from whence it flows down into the Yangtze River at Chaotianmen.
Among all the Yangtze’s tributaries, the Jialing River has the largest tributary area, second-largest tributary length (after the Yaqiong River), and the second-largest runoff (following the Minjiang River).
That day, the Jialing River presented us with a beautiful sight. The pit my grandma and I had once sat by to cool ourselves, however, was no longer accessible.
Strolling along the footpath on the banks of the Jialing River, I gripped my hands against the railing. Grandma pointed to a mountaintop far behind me, saying, “Right over there is where we stood before.”
Since I’d decided to settle down here, I had to try and accustom myself to the place. With Grandma serving as my guide, we strolled side by side down the path.
Along the way, Grandma told me the story of the “Stone Sisters”—a touching tale about a pair of sisters waiting for their father to come home.
Even as the years went by, the girls continued to wait for their father, who had gone out fishing one day, never returned; even as they turned to stone, they still longed for their father’s return. Their daughterly piety moved both heaven and earth.
I was just twenty-five at that time, but I was mature enough to understand why she was telling me with this story.
The legend also helped me understand her unique and deep affinity with the Jialing River.
My grandma was born and raised in a village by the Jialing River, and continued to live around there after she got married.
As a wife from a farmer family, she used to wash clothes, rice and vegetables for her whole family, and also sometimes she caught the ferry that took her from there to the “outside world”.
During normal times, the river was calm, and played a great role in Grandma’s daily life. When the rainy season set in, the river grew turbulent with and incredible momentum, like Grandma’s beating heart which was hiding a dream: trying her luck at living and working in the big city.
As Chongqing’s city kept expanding over recent years, Grandma’s village has since been included in the landscape of its urban development, no longer being the small village it used to be.
We walked and walked until the sky darkened and the lamps on the banks of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers suddenly burned with light, I took a deep breath and readied myself for that long-anticipated gaze into Chongqing’s starry sky.
But to my great surprise, I saw my mother who was standing on a bridge waving at me.
Another two years passed by.
Everything started to fall into place. After two years of gradual integration, I was getting used to living in Chongqing. Those uneven streets now seem just like life, full of irregular ups and downs. Every time I got frustrated from work, I would go to Hongya Cave at night where the Jialing River meets the Yangtze River to get an eyeful of that imposing beauty.
When I felt the drive to do so, I would go to Chaotianmen in daytime to see the steam boats set sail one after the other, with their sirens wailing.
Everyone’s life, without exception, has its fair share of ups and downs. From this point of view, life somewhat feels like how Chongqing strikes people. In the city, there are winding streets and quiet lanes, there are also modern skyscrapers and bustling overpasses.
As the terrain rises and falls, some are backed by mountains of sand, some are located nearby rivers. Mountain, river and humanity are in perfect harmony, giving rise to Chongqing’s unique cityscape.
But at the end of that year, my grandma passed away in my arms. Life is full of both joys and sorrows. My mother and I had to force ourselves to be stronger. On the night of my grandma’s funeral, after the service, my mother said to me, “The Jialing and Yangtze Rivers are Chongqing’s stars. And so are you.”
After a long silence, I said, “I’d like to go back to a place.”
That desolate pit of the past has become a modern-day little lake in a leafy forest park. Around it, stand many densely packed skyscrapers, from whose windows shine like stars. Citizens stroll relaxingly along the shaded footpath, casting long shadows on the ground.
Now and then, a breeze would come from the Jialing River, bringing gusts of clean and fresh air.
Three years of living and working in Chongqing has gotten me successfully assimilated into the city, either from my accent or my dietary habits, and also eliminated nearly all traces of my past itinerant life.
Chongqing is undergoing a change which makes me not want to leave.
Chongqing’s main claim to fame, both in China and abroad, is its unique cityscape — Liberation Monument, Hongya Cave, Ciqikou, Foreigners’ Street, Yangtze River Cableway, you name it.
On the light rail trains running across rolling mountains, through residential buildings or underground, there are young people from all over the country who aspire to start out a career here, and there are also tourists from across the globe who come here to discover new exciting things.
Steeped in history and culture that dates back more than 2,000 years, Chongqing is a fantastic brew of old and new, and I feel very proud to be part of it.
It was already late at night, and everyone had returned to their homes, except for me. I leaned against a rock wall. The night time silence occasionally disrupted by the harsh sound of a passing car.
At long last I found one—a single star twinkling in Chongqing’s night sky.
Although very dim, it still shined at me. Only for me. I reached out, wanting to touch it, but it was light-years away from me.
The single star reflected on the surface of the Jialing River. Seeing that, I smiled to myself, thinking: now there are two stars.
I knew, the one in the river was me and the other in the sky was my grandma. I just knew it.
Now she’s in that heaven, standing in the place where Chongqing’s overpasses ends, winking at me, waving, and humming that tune.
Please look up at the sky; enjoy stars twinkling at night. Little stars like you and I Twinkling to tell stories of little delights
I closed my eyes and placed my hands over my heart, suddenly overwhelmed with both happiness and sadness, tears flowing down my cheeks.
“Grandma, I love Chongqing. This time, I mean it.”