Another eventful week in China , which is probably a bad thing from the point of view of those who have commented that my reports are a little lengthy. I thought about cutting it to the bare essentials, but I know that different things are going to interest different people, and unfortunately I don’t have time to selectively target my stories. Probably best if you just skip any parts that don’t interest you (hint: If the sentence starts with Ford or contains the word engineering, move on).
As I said, it’s been quite a busy week. I asked one of the girls from the hotel out for a meal, which she accepted. Naturally I was pleased, and set about washing my clothes in preparation (those of you who have been romantically involved with me will realize the significance of this). So I turned up at the designated meeting place in my best sandals, combat trousers and T-shirt, to see Carry dressed in a very smart suit. Now to be fair, if I’d been in England I probably would have gone for at least smart casual, but I didn’t have any smart casual, so what could I do? And as I said, I did at least wash the clothes (even my underwear, not that any conclusions are to be drawn from this). We headed off for a lovely meal, in one of Chongqing ‘s nicer hotels. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but Carry was keen so I went along with it. The food was good, although I couldn’t bring myself to try the marinated ducks head. The conversation was slightly less easy, as Carry doesn’t speak fantastic English, and I speak rather less Chinese. This was compounded by her quizzing me about my long-term plans, with ‘When will you next come to China ?’, ‘Would you prefer to live in China or England ? I would prefer to live in China ‘ and “Would you like to meet my parents?’ coming in quick succession. Needless to say, I started to feel that what we were looking for in a potential relationship differed slightly. After dinner (which she insisted on paying for, despite my best efforts), we headed down to Chaotianmen Square , which is on the point where the Yangtze and Jialing rivers meet. It was very pretty, with the neon lights of the tour boats chugging up and down the river, and hundreds of Chinese people dancing in the square. It’s quite strange, they all seem to know the same dance, and stand in lines, dancing individually but in synchronization. Apparently they’ll do this for hours at a time. Still, it was fun to watch.
All in all I had a great night, although I’m waiting for her to ring me, rather than me call her. I’m really not keen to come home married!
Went out again Thursday night to say goodbye to a couple of the guys who’ve been working over here, and were returning to India and Portugal over the weekend. We went to a restaurant that was really hidden, the kind of place that you’ll never find without locals. The food was pretty good, we got the chance to sample bullfrog and snails, both of which are tasty. They also ordered bitter gourd, which the locals seem to love. Unfortunately it is the most horrible thing I’ve ever eaten, the closest thing I can think of to it is that white milk that comes out of Dandelion stems when you snap them (for those of you who have tried it). While the meal wasn’t the very best I’ve had out here, it was pretty good, and when the bill comes to 15quid for 10 people, you can’t really complain (beer was 8p a pint!). Needless to say we were up for some more fun after the meal, so we headed to KTV.
Now KTV is very strange, and potentially the source of much trouble. Basically, it’s a Karaoke place, where you can either go into a public room or get a small room for you and your friends. The trouble begins when you realize that the KTV name covers a whole range of establishments, from family places, to what are basically brothels. I daresay that if you’re Chinese you can tell which is which, but if you’re English there isn’t really any way of knowing (I’ve had one of the brothel ones pointed out to me, and it doesn’t look any different to the others).
I’m sure that sometime in the next couple of months there is going to be an entertaining story where I go to the wrong one, but we managed to make the right choice that night. Anyway, the Chinese take their Karaoke very seriously, and practice at it etc. This is unfortunate as Fernando and I couldn’t take it at all seriously and spent half the time collapsed laughing. I think we were forgiven for this behaviour, but it is honestly quite sad how seriously people take it. The humour of the situation was made all the worse by the attitude of the Chinese guys to the two girls who was with us. One of them was very pretty, but to say her head was stuck up her bum would be an understatement (of course this was the one that all the guys fancied). The other one wasn’t as pretty, but seemed much nicer. Every time the pretty one sang, all the guys would fight to duet with her, but every time the other girl sang they would wait about 30 seconds and then push the button that skipped her song. It was really unfair, but quite funny to watch.
At the weekend I bought a DVD player. This might seem a bit over the top when I’m only here for a couple of months, but I really need something that allows me to have a break from everything. The actual DVD’s only cost about a quid, although the quality is a little variable. I felt a bit bad about buying this almost as a disposable item, when I think that for the vast majority of the people here it would be an unimaginable luxury. I figure it puts some money into the Chinese economy. It also plays CD’s, so now I just have to track down the S-Club 7 CD they were playing in the supermarket. My life would be complete! Watched DVD’s all day on Saturday, which made me feel a bit ill.
Sunday (yesterday) was an amazing day. I headed up Sauce Mountain , and while I’m almost certain you don’t spell it like that, you get the idea. This is a big mountain that looks down over Chongqing city, with a Great Eagle resting on top. It’s a bit of a walk up there (I had to get the cable car over the Yangtze first, which is an adventure. The sign on the wall saying it’s safety was certified by some government bureau does not reassure when you see the state of the cars). I then walked for about an hour and half up the first mountain, taking a brief detour into the forest/jungle (what’s the difference?) in order to find a shortcut. Unsurprisingly the shortcut didn’t work out, mainly due to fear of scorpions/snakes/spiders, coupled with an awareness that the nearest decent hospital is two hours flight away in Hong Kong, combined with the fact that I was on my own and couldn’t speak to any people who were around, three reasons that conspired to make beating my way through the undergrowth seem unwise. I retraced my steps back to the road, and carried on up the mountain, constantly declining the steady stream of taxis/buses/odd Chinese vehicles, that wanted to give me a lift. To be fair, I can see that the sight of a westerner walking up a mountain at midday in 32-degree heat may seem a little strange, but I was enjoying myself.
On top of this first (smaller) mountain I found a temple complex. It looked amazing from the road, very stereotypically Chinese buildings (I’ll try and send a photo sometime). I went in and looked around. It was quite interesting, although I don’t really know much about it as all the signs were in Chinese. I think it was probably Buddhist, and some of it looked quite old (although a lot of the painting was clearly new). I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the temples, which is a shame as the huge idols set in cubby-holes in the wall were beautiful (I was talking to Fernando, the Portuguese guy about this. He says that he always just walks round really quickly, taking photos as he goes. This leads to a stream of people following him, wanting to tell him to stop, but he makes sure they never catch up. While I can’t approve of this, it’s a funny image. If you imagine a very typical South European male (chauvinistic, womanising, cheeky/rude, crazy, good fun) you’ll have a fair image of Fernando). There were also some stunning Ming Dynasty rock carvings, although the faces of many of the figures had been smashed. I’m not sure when this was done, as there has been a lot of upheaval in China’s past, but the faces that survived hinted at what must once have been.
The temple was a beautiful place, and I was surprised at the devotion of people who live in a nominally atheist country. Actually, surprised would be the wrong word, as I understand the strength of religion. Instead, I guess it’s a mark of how China has changed in the past 30 years that people are able to practice their religion in public.
I headed on from the temple with the Eagle in my sights, although still some way distant. I wasn’t really sure how to get there, but it couldn’t be that hard. By now I was in a small town outside Chongqing . I guess they see far fewer westerners than in the city itself, with every other person shouting ‘Hello’ (in English) at me. This is a lot of fun, I always return the greeting in Chinese and smile, which they seem to love.
I think this e-mail is getting a bit long, even by my standards, so I’ll cut straight to the Eagle. The Eagle is intriguing, it’s a huge (60ft+ high) sculpture of an eagle, gold coloured, and perched on top of a mountain. It’s hollow inside so you can go up to viewing platforms on it’s shoulders, where you can look over the whole of Chongqing . Unfortunately three years of engineering have reduced my vocabulary to the point where I can only describe looking up at this Eagle from the gardens that surround it’s base as awe-inspiring, I’ll try and find someone a bit more poetic to put together a more stirring account of the emotions it inspires. I have no idea how old it is (although I’d guess not very), but it is truly one of the strangest sights I have ever seen. It also has some quite exciting paths round the gardens at it’s base. In several places the narrow path forms bridges over a 200ft drop. Fortunately there are handrails, unfortunately you have to lean over big holes in the path to reach them. A little exciting.
I’m nearly finished, so bear with me, this is an exciting bit. Having walked for 5 hours I felt that it would be reasonable to get the bus back down to town. I declined a couple, when one drove past that looked promising. As I ran towards it a woman leant out the window and started shouting in English. She was only making sure I got the bus, so I jumped on and started chatting to her. It turned out that she taught English at the University in Chongqing (she is Chinese), so we chatted about what I was doing in China etc. etc. I got off at my stop, walked away, and immediately started feeling like a fool for not getting some contact details. I caught the cable car back over the river, bought some food off a street vendor (which gave me a dodgy stomach), and started walking back to the flat. Now, serendipity is a wonderful thing (I love it when films have names that allow me to sound clever, I just hope I got the meaning right), and in the centre of town I met the English lecturer from the bus. Not wanting to miss a second opportunity, we swapped contact details, and I offered to help some of her students with their English. Anyway, the long and short of it is that I’ve been invited to go and stay in Uni halls for the weekend sometime. It should be a lot of fun, although the report is likely to be even longer than this one!
Congratulations to everyone who made it this far. For the sake of brevity I left out the pet market (not sure about the morality of selling kittens in string bags), people taking their birds for walks, the man carrying two huge bundles of cages, each cage containing a cricket (the noise was unbelievable), confusion when we tried to buy DVD’s in a rental place (we did wonder why they were so cheap), theories about why you only ever see small pet dogs, communist propaganda, restaurants that lace their food with opium, terrapins and turtles in the supermarket (how do you cook them?), Fernando trying to simulate (hip-thrusting) that he wanted porn DVD’s but instead getting directed towards an exercise video, the explosions that go all through the night (they’re blasting a tunnel under Chongqing), the coolest Chinese word – Chewy Pow Pow (bubbles), and what happens when Chinese people try to spell bubble (how do you keep a straight face when you’re on a date and the girl spells it boobies?), strange English names that Chinese people pick for themselves (Hurricane, Pike-‘Like the fish!’, a bloke called Sky and somebody in the plant who’s allegedly called Kerr (full name Wang Kerr)).
Maybe I’ll have time to flesh these stories out later in the summer, if not, ask about them when I get back
Take care, love to everyone for whom it’s appropriate, platonic good wishes to the rest of you