We load back onto our buses and leave the military museum, bound for the revolutionary film studios. The sky is grey, the town is grey, I bumped my backpack into a wall and now it is grey. We pass by one of the many chestnut and sweet potato stands. An olive colored truck pulls up next to the bus at a traffic light. Four old women and a man sit in the back on a pile of dirt, bright scarves cover the women’s hair, the man wears a dull green jacket, his head topped with a typical “Mao” hat. As they look into the bus windows, they smile and wave, a slightly embarrassed shyness crossing the women’s faces.
The light changes and we drive on. Men laying new paving stones in an undulating sidewalk. Reddening ivy climbing over graying buildings. Passing through a higher class neighborhood, smaller two-storey apartments in pastel colors, a basketball hoop in the parking lot. These, it turns out, are the housing for important visiting foreigners. Everywhere else, poor construction abounds and grey dominates. If this were a major earthquake zone, it would be flattened instantly.
A small bicycle repair business by the side of the road – a man sitting on the sidewalk, a satchel of hand-cut wire spokes and a few tools. Nearby, dark jacketed old men squat by the roadside, talking under the brims of their dark caps. In fields near the edge of the city, ladies in brightly colored puffy winter jackets gather the rice straw into mounds as geese feed in a nearby ditch. A few sheaves are laid out on the roofs of buildings to dry. Old men, bicycles parked by the side of the road, glean in the field, looking for missed heads of rice as a group of scarved ladies squat in a group, taking a break, sharing food and drink. By a pond, men fish with long poles. Women rest briefly, their yolks laden with buckets of water.