A taste of antiquity comes back from rubble
The clear water of the famous Grape Well - which has a history dating back to the Three Kingdoms (220-280) - drained away just hours after the recent earthquake in Sichuan.
Only a few dead fish were left lying on pebbles at the bottom of the dry, shallow well, which got its name from bubbles that appear year round like clusters of grapes.
Standing among the crowd surveying the damage was Peng Changjin, a 56-year-old vendor who has run a snack bar beside the well for more than a decade, making and selling rice jelly in a variety of flavors.
He decided to sell the last 300 bowls of the "Grape Well rice jelly "he had made the day before. With a refreshing and delicate taste, the local specialty helps relieve the summer heat, and the secret behind its fame lies in the well water.
"When I was a child, I used to cling to my mom all day long for a bowl of rice jelly," Peng said, recalling the greatest joy of his childhood.
Business was good, and Peng could sell more than 1,000 bowls of rice jelly a day in peak seasons. People came from surrounding cities and counties every day, he said.
Food aficionados can find some 20 rice jelly snack bars along a single street in Shuanghe. As the industry develops, authentic rice jelly made with Grape Well water embraces modern logistics and appears in popular shopping areas across the country, including Beijing's Wangfujing and Chunxi road in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.
The local government developed a farming area of about 133 hectares in 2017 to grow special grains for the rice jelly.
Fang Liang, a member of the township committee of the Communist Party of China, said that the estimated output value of the industry exceeded 500 million yuan ($73 million) last year.
The magnitude 6.0 quake that struck Changning county on June 17 killed 13 people, injured hundreds more and knocked down tens of thousands of houses. Approximately 250,000 people were affected.
After noticing the empty well, people bought out the supply of rice jelly almost immediately. But then a wonderful surprise came on the third morning after the earthquake, as water began filling up the Grape Well again, and was continuing to rise.
Experts found that water returned once cracks in the bottom made by the strong temblor filled up with accumulated soil.
"Although the water looks a bit muddy right now, it's sure to be clear again after a certain period of natural purification," said Qian Jiangpeng, deputy head of the Sichuan Institute of Geological Engineering Investigation.
There won't be any problem making rice jelly with the water after it's purified.
Reconstruction work in Changning is about to begin as relief and resettlement are still underway.
Upon the return of the Grape Well rice jelly, Peng had an idea to commemorate the rebirth of Changning and its people.
"I'm going to add the 'plain' flavor to my menu," he said. "It's a gift from nature, and we're starting over."
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