We arrived in Xin Du at about 9:00 am. Xindu is a small but bustling city right in the middle of a blank spot on the map of China.
I managed to find HuZho, where the KFC saved our life on the map (it's under the A) but xindu? Not so much. It's on the river that runs East and West across this picture. I think its just South of Liantangzhen at the very South edge of this map.
Xindu was dirty and dusty. Most of the streets were blacktop but cars and motorcycles drove over the curbs and across the vacant lots turning the whole thing brown and dusty. Sanitation was had buy scooping a hole in the ground and dumping trash into it. Once the hole gets filled, it's covered in dirt. I'm sure in the 4000 year history of this city, that's been a good solution for most of the time. In the age of the brightly colored plastic bag, well, redigging the same hole makes it look like a supermarket just vomited on your town.
In contrast to the brown and the dirt, were the brightly colored canopies and umbrellas over the shops and stalls. Green mounded hills rolled out in all directions. We driven through a brief, heavy rain and the town was cool and steamy when we arrived. It was the last day of the Spring Festival and red wrappers from fireworks littered the ground.
Minxi got on the phone as the bus pulled away and I stood for a few moments alone in the mud. There was the wonderful smell of cooking nearby.
I find it hard to imagine that I was the first westerner ever to visit Xindu but I was certainly the first that anyone could remember. There was a cone of quiet around me. Passersby stopped talking, peering at me out of the corner of their eyes. Mopeds did that slight swerve thing as their riders turned to look at me. How weird. Me. Just plain old me. Now I was the oddity. I was the attraction. Can it be that our world is still so large that in three days travel I can arrive at a city that has never seen a white face? It seemed so surreal. Here was a town, just a town having just a day. Not that different from my town really, yet the gossip, the chatter passing up and down the street was, "Lao hui. Lao hui." Literally, "Foreign friend. Foreign friend." Did you see the stranger down there? I didn't feel different than these people. I'm not different really. It made me sad in a way. All of us working so hard, saving, spending, struggling with life, yet here was a place that no one from at least two continents had ever stopped to say hi.
The day glowed with watery light and lack of sleep. I held Minxi's hand and smiled at the people that passed. "Ni hao." 'Be well.' I said, and they smiled back. Maybe I was not the best representative for the Western World but I decided to be a friendly one.
A few minutes later Minxi's brother and nephew arrived on their motorcycles to whisk us across the river to an even more remote world. There I was to meet the man. Minxi's father. I could have had Minxi meet me in Beijing but her father is an incredible man and I wanted to meet him and ask for Minxi's hand in person. I'd traveled a thousand extra miles and gone 24 hours into the hinterlands of China to find him. As we rode over the river with its rusted out barges and reedy beds, I was more worried about what I would say to him than of death by mad motorcyclist.