Monday, 2 March 2009

Some other places I went to in China

So my knowledge of what's currently rockin' in the UK basically extends to the fact Jade Goody is at death's door, but is somewhat ironically the only person who still has any money left, meaning 21st modern Britain as we know it will in a literal sense finally die with her (or is the credit crunch actually what made her ill???)

But also I am quite certain that the other question on everybody's lips is "yeah, but what's going on with Andrzej in Korea?"

Patience my lovelies, patience. It's a sprint, not a marathon. Out of an urge for good housekeeping, I am going to cover the last three places I went to in China, and do it quickly. However, I suspect I may end up writing some sort of summary of my feelings on China that'll sort of drag it into overlong territory, but you can ignore that, if you'd like, especially as it'll probably turn out massively racist.

"But er, why exactly do you want to go to Shanghai?" Was a question I asked people quite a lot. Nobody really came up with a good answer beyond "it's the only other place I've heard of in China besides Beijing". Which is fair enough, I suppose. Anyway, given all I knew about it was that it has a lot of skyscrapers and was apparently quite fun 80 years ago if you were a wealthy European imperialist, I was going to skip it, but then my own lack of knowledge of places in China came to the fore, and I was sternly told my near enough everybody who'd spent more than five minutes in the country that I was an idiot if I didn't go to Hangzhou, which is only an hour away. Plus the Swedes would allegedly be in town so, y'know...
Anyway, Shanghai: there are lots of skyscrapers there, and it's quite fun for Westerners/wealthy European imperialists now, if it's a knockoff watch, a whore, or an overpriced beer you're after. Sadly I partook in none, though not for the want of various locals' offering - around The Bund (where all the skyscrapers are) you can't move more than a metre without some dude trying to sell you illicit stuff, with most of them repeating the mantra "watch, bag", which I spent at my first night thinking was a warning of some sort. A very persistent guy attempted to haggle down through sexual possibilities, so convinced was he that I wanted a "nice Shanghai lady", concluding by adopting a decisive 'alright, I'm doing you a favour mate' final offer of "just blowjob, then". I realise a lot of these posts seem to relate to my undue fascination with the global sex trade, but I do wonder if that was technically really the best way to go about sex-haggling.
Anyway, I wasn't blown away by Shanghai, but I wasn't expecting to be, really, which sort of took the pressure off, but matters somewhat salvaged by cool girl at my hostel called Lou, who I spent a fairly entertaining evening grumbling about Chinese queuing with; a really nice old traditional garden in the old town which ticked all sorts of Orientalist tourist boxes; and the belated arrival of the Swedes, who I got tipsy with for one final time on what may well have been the cheapest beers in town. A special mention to one guy in the bar we were drinking in, a wigger from some sort of indeterminate spot in Europe who was, rather brilliantly, dressed up in the various insignias of both the Crips AND the Bloods. It could have been a plea for an end to the violence, but in any case I suspect an afternoon in Compton wouldn't go so well for him.

I would like to think that only in China could there be a city of six million people topped off with a centuries-old tourist attraction that I'd never heard of, but I'm probably wrong. Anyway, Hangzhou is home to West Lake, a really, really lovely lake (obv) topped off with varying pagodas and manicured gardens of several thousand years pedigree. Somehow it hasn't been bollocksed up too much via the medium of smog and concrete, so much so that I even spotted some wildlife, a sort of indeterminate chipmunk/squirrel thingy. Relaxing, though I am reliably informed that there is NOTHING to do there once you've worked your lake fetish out of your system.

So I got stuck here. And almost all the time I DID spend here was dedicated to trying to leave. And the one tourist attraction I wanted to go to beyond a morbid examination of the out of season beaches (they had the water portion of the Olympics here - fuck knows how polluted the seas closer to Beijing must be for that decision to have been made) and a place called Beer Street (Qingdao is home Tsingtao, China's closest approximation of good beer) was something called Myths Of The Chinese Underworld, a semi-dilapidated underground animatronic exhibition of ghouls and demons. Allegedly. Nobody in Qingdao had heard of it and it wasn't mentioned in any guides, but Qingdao is where Lou (from Shanghai) had been teaching and she showed me pictures and I was vaguely obsessed with finding it. Unfortunately I was shafted by a taxi driver's bafflement at her written (in Chinese) directions. In any other town I'd have probably blamed her, but given another Qingdao taxi driver took five minutes to understand me when I pointed out the ferry port on my very large, very bilingual tourist map, I'm not so sure. THAT ALL SAID I am not especially down on Qingdao, mostly because in retrospect I can accept that I was to a large extent the architect of my own downfall and BTW did I mention that I stayed in an old observatory? I didn't? It was good. Very good.

What I am self-aggrandisingly calling an epilogue
Um, yeah, China is a weird place... I had a great time there, but am a little troubled by the fact that a lot of it did not involve doing as the Chinese do (ie I did tourist stuff only). And it's also true that any attempt to view China as a homogeneous whole (as opposed a visit to six cities so different and far apart they might as well have been in their own countries), or to give any sort of pithy answer to the question "what are the Chinese like?" tends to result in a shrug. 
Certainly as somebody who tries to be politically correctness and that, it was a bit disconcerting to finding myself occasionally grumbling about 'the Chinese' in conversation - many, particularly hostel staff, were totally awesome individuals (hence why Beijing was a comparatively relaxing experience), but as a rule people weren't very friendly, viewed foreigners as a curiousity, and culturally there's a lack of relaxing social spaces (bars, coffee shops) as we understand them. 
You could of course  easily say the British are unfriendly and intolerant of foreigners, but whatever the case, despite the fact I'd most definitely like to go back and check out the south of the country, Tibet, etc, there was a definite guilty relief in leaving. But I guess travelling isn't necessarily meant to be relaxing, plus the fact is awesome times were had and awesome people were met, and given Hong Kong and Macau are still ahead of me, I have two bits of semi-China to come on this little jaunt, and I'm excited.

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