Nanjing, Mr. Gong Hongjian

Boats on the Yangtze river


In the remote western area of Hexi, a new urban district in the west of Nanjing, runs a narrow branch of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. Ships and boats, big or small, are moored alongside the river. On one boat, we see Mr. and Mrs. Yu, who welcome us aboard.


Mr. Yu, 65 years old, has been a fisherman for the last forty years. Compared to the earlier days, he is catching fewer and fewer fish these days. According to him, the heavy contamination in the Yangtze River is to blame for the decrease of fish. With the Qinhuai River, which flows through the downtown area of Nanjing, flowing into the Yangtze a few hundred meters north, the Yangtze river has to receive tons of polluted water each day. Besides, he complains, the newly established residential area, which is half a mile away from the river, has aggravated the situation.



Mr. Gong, a friend of Mr. Yu, is the owner of the boat. He was born in 1958 in Xinyi, a county in the northern area of Jiangsu and moved to Nanjing in the 1970s. His parent’s generation made a living by fishing, whereas he left the fishing business and started work at a chemical plant, which gave him a better job security. After his retirement in 2006, he bought this 24 meters long boat for 30, 000 RMB to pick up fishing again.


The fishing boat is not his home, but his working and leisure place. Usually, Mr. Gong and his fellow fishermen fish in the morning and sell their spoils on the market in the afternoon. He likes to invite his friends to the boat to drink, play cards or to “chew the fat” now and then.



Also according to Mr. Gong, fish catches are not predictable anymore these days. However, fish of big sizes is still not rare. In a large container on the boat next to his, we see a big fish, which is almost one meter in length and weighs around 4 kilograms. Mr. Gong tells that one kilogram is worth at least 160 RMB on the market. He also shows some smaller fish which were caught in the morning. They will earn him 30 RMB per kilo. If they are lucky, they can catch wild carps, which can be sold at 200 RMB per kilo or more.


Apart from the fishing, Mr. Fong is an amateur craftsman who makes ship models from wood. For the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he spent over two months to make two large models. Unfortunately, he did not finish his work before May and missed the deadline to denote the models to the IOC. Today, one ship is on the display in the hall of Nanjing Sports Bureau; the other is preserved in his private collection at home.



Since the ships were specially designed for the Beijing Olympics, they carried numerous meaningful symbols. They are both 2.08 meters in length, indicating the year of the event. They both have five masts, standing for the five continents that take part in the event. He engraved the Chinese Character “京” on the first mast, the Olympics flag on the second one and the map of China of the third; also the main one. On the roof of the three-story cabin in the middle of each ship, he carved four dragons, the well-known totem of China. On the rear deck, he placed a miniature bird’s nest which was also made by him.


Mr. Gong says he did everything he could do to donate his works. He asked the Nanjing Sports Bureau to negotiate with the IOC for many times, but the IOC declined him in the end. Only official donations rather than folk artworks were accepted after the month of May. Realizing that it was unlikely to donate the models to the IOC, he decided to present one of them to the Nanjing Sports Bureau.



Now, he has a bigger plan: to make a 2.14-meter-long model for the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics. He admitted that he was less passionate this time, because making a model in such size consumes both time and money. For example, to make the two models for the Beijing Olympics, he worked more than ten hours each day for two whole months. Since he pursued every detail of his works, he selected premium timber as material, which did cost him nearly 8,000 RMB.


Mr. Gong tells that he once cherished a dream of becoming a real craftsman. However, he soon found the dream to be a fantasy. Right after retirement, he decided to rent a room in the downtown area of Nanjing to sell his ship models. With only a handful of models sold, he quit after one year. He knew that the reason of failure were the high prices. For example, a simple model of 70 cm long was sold at 500 to 600 RMB. Considering time and money he had to spend, he believes such a price was reasonable. He shows us a model with a few decorations on it. “Even such a small model takes me a week,” he says, “I could spend the week fishing, which guarantees an income of at least six hundred. That’s why I now rather fish than making these models.”



Instead, Mr. Gong now takes making wooden ship models only as a hobby. He says he dares not to dream of someone buying his models at a considerable price any longer. That was the reason that he chose to donate, rather sell, his works to Nanjing Sports Bureau. He expected only the official recognition of his efforts. He felt sorry not being able to show us the photo of him and Xu Guoping, who was the managing director of Nanjing Museum and the child of the renowned Chinese painter Xu Beihong. “Now the simple wish of me is to win the recognition of people like him”, he says.


In the end, Mr. Gong says: “In the early years, I loved photographing, but I could not afford a car which could take me everywhere. Such was the same in my childhood; I loved school, but my family could not afford to pay for the tuition fee.”



Nanjing, Bicycle journey

Nanjing, Bicycle Journey


We meet two tourists beneath the Yangtze River Bridge. They are travelling on mountain bikes and stop at times to take photos; in this case the famous bridge.


When asked, they answer that they started travelling one month ago in Beijing (around 1200 km north of Nanjing) and are halfway now on their route to the their final destination, Guangzhou.



Nanjing, Wu Jia’Ai meat market

We visit a wholesale market for meat at BaoTaqiao Street, located on the east side of the Yangtze River. The place is deserted on the Sunday afternoon, except for the chaotic howling of livestock coming from one of the large, warehouse-like, buildings.

We enter the building. Once we get adjusted to the darkness, we see dozens of pigs crowded in iron cages.



We meet Mr. Wu, the owner of the pigs, and a colleague. Mr. Wu bought the pigs from Anhui Province and will sell them to butchers and supermarkets for 2,000 RMB each. Every day, he purchases and sells out 40 to 50 pigs, he says.


Nanjing, Tanker Shipping Sailor Training School


In the middle of a residential area, located in the west of the Gulou district in Nanjing and just 1.5 km from the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, a ship rises between the buildings. Closer inspection learns that it is only half a ship. Fourteen years ago the ship was built for training students at the Tanker Shipping Sailor Training School.


Mr. Qi is 55 years old and has been a teacher at the school for the past 10 years. He tells the school is affiliated with Sinotrans and CNS Holdings CO Ltd. Established in 1984 it moved to its current location in 1998. The school employs around 10 full time teachers and a handful of part time teachers. Though small, it is the only official training institute for sailors in Nanjing.



The school issues official shipping licenses. As sailor is considered to be a stable job, there is a steady influx of up to 300 students every year. Not only young people apply; the age of students varies from 18 to 60 years old. While some female students enroll every year, the male students outnumber them at least 1:10.


The school offers three different kinds of courses: the training of river transportation, coastal shipping and ocean shipping.


Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Qi used to be in charge of the supply of electricity on a ship. He describes his early life on the water as both “boring” and “free”. He tells that in the 80s and 90s of the last century telecommunications were not that advanced in China. He and his fellow boat mates could not surf the Internet, watch TV or even listen to the radio on the ship. All they could do to kill the time was to have a little drink, play chess or cards and read some books. However, they always had a good time when their ship was berthed at a port. They were usually given six or more hours of free time, which they used for short, yet exciting, visits to the city areas around the ports. He enjoyed a feeling of freedom in meeting people and discovering cities unknown to him.



This all changed after he got married. He felt bound to his family and did not enjoy the freedom anymore. He refers this period as a “hard time”. In the end he quit his job and became a teacher.


When asked if dealing with loneliness and being far away from your family for a long time is a subject that is part of the school’s curriculum, he explains that such subjects are not discussed with the students. Everybody has to deal with that in his or her own way.



Mr. Wang Xinqiao, 57 years old and a teacher at shipping schools for the past 30 years, joins our conversation. He speaks some English which he learned when sailing the world for 11 years as a young man.


We briefly talk about the school again. The level of education of most students is not very high. The teaching is quite relaxed; the subject matters they teach are easy to acquire. Classes are from Monday to Sunday, but teachers don’t need to work many hours in the office; they just come and go for classes.