In the Huangpu river, the body of a woman floating. Face-down, black and white checked shirt, mini skirt, her hand still clutching a metallic silver handbag. Lights of the police boat flashing red and white and blue. This is the first body outside of a funeral. The way you feel upon seeing a body: disbelief, shock. Pudong is clouded so you can’t even see the tallest towers. It all feels surreal, a different sort of universe. The lights of Pudong are dark, it is midnight, and what you have seen haunts you like a ghost.
On the first island, off a boat that rocked from side to side as though in a blender, we took a bus whose destination we didn’t know. From its final stop at the bus station, we walked through a tunnel and a farm, past baby goats and an army storage space that looked as though it were a storage house for farm machinery rather than for the locked plastic boxes they contained. The floors were unswept, the door left open. Some wood left in a room. A soldier found us and told A, “Let me see your photos.” A showed him and he said “Next one. Next one.” as though there were some secrets to be found through the lens of the camera that he didn’t already know.
Towards the beach, signs for bicycle rentals with only a phone number listed. No addresses. And a travel information building long left derelict, the window panes all smashed in so there was glass in piles on the ground, both inside and outside. And glass bottles too, as though they had forgotten to take out the recycling.
On the second floor of what used to be a restaurant, the remnants of a fire, blackened floors and damaged ceiling. A pack of dogs that barked at us then hid under the floorboards, unhappy at being disturbed. But someone had been feeding them—there was an ebike parked by the curving stairs, the railing unhinged and sagging, and food bowls scattered about.
The beach had an admission fee and a closed merry-go-round as well as an area where, during the high season, there would be shao kao, in an adjacent area with murals by local fishermen. Somehow the murals were all somewhat alike as though they’d all seen some Picasso paintings then tried to imitate them but using the sea as an inspiration. We didn’t go to the beach then but later, found another path further east, through a hole in the fence. It led us to two huge many-hued rocks on the beach, one topped with a pagoda. By the water, the rock was purple and covered with barnacles but further up, striations of pink and yellow and green. It was low tide and the sand was finer than what we have in New York.
Chongqing style grilled fish for dinner at 78 rmb and razor clams stir fried with scallions and garlic. At the hotel, our towels were tiny like washclothes and the water never quite got warm.
A leisurely ferry to another island, passing ones named Splendid Green Island and Flower Bird island. There are perched atop the hills spanning one island, neighbors with the buildings climbing up the slopes. The colors shifted dreamily, turquoise water, pale pink and blue sky without a sun. Along the way, packages get delivered to and from our ferry: dried noodles open to the air, boxes of eggs, engines and long cables go out and in return, a couple of bags of oysters, boxes of assorted goods, and even a three-wheeled cart, all rolled up a plank to go onto the boat.
By our dock, an entryway leads to machinery that take mussels still clinging to the rope to a finished, cooked state to perhaps be packaged for sale. Steam envelops the rooms and shards of mussel shells litter the floor. There are plastic baskets filled with live crabs but when I ask for a seafood restaurant recommendation, I am just told, “Walk forward. All the restaurants sell seafood.” Yet in the evening, at the restaurants, there are barely any crabs left.
Over the mountains that remind me of Jiufen, stairs past patios going up the mountains and tombs on the hills. There are terraces covered in the pink of dried shrimp and tiny crabs, some people calmly raking wavy lines through it all and laughing at us when we kneeled down to take photos. Following the road up, we are followed by a group of men who ask us where we come from. At first, I find it intimidating but once we answer their questions, they point us down the correct path, away from the army base, past the small temple, to the abandoned fishing village.
They are clustered all down the hill to where the waves crash upon the dock. Their windows are empty eyes from two story buildings, colorful mosaics on the fronts and sides in shades of pink and green. Vines tangle around the sides and into the doorways. Most of the buildings hold no furniture, only the remnants of sunken roofs and broken glass. The leaves of the vines are green shading to red and the village is silent but for the waves.
Between houses are wild chrysanthemums and many of the steps are covered with overgrown plants. Wild fig trees. But there are gardens here still being tended. Wilted bok choy and cabbage. We see the occasional gardener—I spoke to one and she said she lived in an adjacent village. It isn’t totally abandoned, there are a few houses with signs of life. A man lives in one of the houses, a banner hanging outside to perhaps inform the tourists from trespassing. He says that the village has been abandoned for 20 years due to inconvenience—no connection to a major road, hard for schoolchildren to get to school, the army base up top.
And on our last day, a walk to another island, past people mending fishing nets and dock workers. A group of men and one woman wave us over, offer us freshly caught and steamed crabs and we eat them standing up, spitting the shells onto the street the way they do, everything in one big pile to be swept away afterwards. Over the bridge to find that a pharmacy can only be found three towns over in Da Wang where there are murals painted on the walls and buses, even. Nets line the one highway we walk on, up and down the mountains—we kept thinking the dock from which to catch the ferry back to Shanghai was an hour’s walk away only to find it required another hour after that. There were so many small fishing docks there and out in the harbor, the mussel farms buoyed up by big styrofoam cylinders stretched out far far into the ocean.
Finally, the correct dock, standing alone without a town surrounding it. No other buildings, only mountain alongside. This last island was the wildest, I think, but we also walked alongside the ocean, a steep drop down. On the ferry ride back, a Shanghainese man talked to me about his love of travel, how he loves, too, the undiscovered places and not those that have been “opened” to the public with ticket prices and overcrowding and fake historic villages. “My friends think I’m crazy,” he says, “They don’t go out and travel and try to discover natural places the way I do.” It’s true that the travel mentality is different here and he gives me a few recommendations, writing them down in Chinese in my notebook. He tells me he finds most Chinese close-minded when it comes to travel, only going where everyone else has gone. And 6.5 hours later from when we reached the dock, we’re back home where everything feels so much more comfortable than it had before.
*I tried to put up photos but looks like my internet connection isn’t on my side. Sorry, maybe later.*