Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Street View

After the previous posts and the ones to follow, you might think, yeah sure these things are pretty weird, but I had to go to extreme places to encounter them, surely not all China is like that. Well I've got news for you - all China is like that! To prove that, I'll just show you how my everyday route looks like from my apartment to the office I work at. The whole walk doesn't take more than 10 minutes, yet a sociology student could write an ace Phd. thesis based solely on that couple of meters of light morning stroll.

So every morning I get up and leave my flat around 8-9 am, which is situated at a fairly good neighbourhood close to the city centre. In fact, only a couple of years ago it used to be the city centre, before the good people of Guangzhou started to feverishly build skyscrapers on the bank of the Pearl river and shifting the centre over there. Even my building is largely inhabited by expats of various origins, and so its surrounded by restaurants from all over the world from Brazil to Malaysia. As you can see, it's fair to say that my street is a quite developed and international place - nothing weird about it however. Actually its weirdness comes exactly from its non-weirdness, as it is completely surrounded by all sorts of insane things (at least by western standards) - it's a calm little island of 'normal' in a raging ocean of Chinese chaos, that assaults all your senses to the point where they just give up and stop making sense to any of it.

There are two routes to the office. The first, more scenic one, heads along a massive avenue and it's paved by all sorts of creatures of the night, despite the broad daylight. If you choose that way, you will be approached by a score of Nigerian drug-pushers, crippled beggars, and prostitutes of dubious gender. In my experience so far, crime in Guangzhou seems to be more on the 'supply' side than on the 'demand' - barely any violent crime, but plenty of trafficking in illegal pleasures of any kind.

Now, I know that there are some who don't plan to binge in exotic substances and transvestites first thing in the morning, for them there's always the other, more traditionally Chinese route to take. For those of weaker constitution, however, I recommend the dealer/hooker option, as this second way can get rather messed up at times. It starts easy, of course, lures you in - no point in scaring away the dear visitor right away. The first stop is what I call the 'kid corner', where parents gather together with their toddlers. At this point it might worth mentioning that despite the 'One Child Policy' that's in effect in China, the whole country is swarming with kids and half of them seems to be running around screaming at this little square. With the second stop we smoothly skip a couple of generations, and arrive to 'Thai Chi platz' where ancient ladies practice something that is a free-form mix of the most peaceful martial art on earth and the sleepiest group dance you can imagine, all this with reptilian slowness to some Chinese classical music that was already old fashioned around the years of the Ming dynasty. They do this right in front of the most massively homoerotic monument that the visionary artists of the communist revolutionary movement ever managed to produce - and they, sure as hell, had a well developed kink for half-naked coal miners for some obscure reason.

The Chinese remake of Step Up is now in cinemas

Continuing our tour we get to the dumpling vendor, which is not strange or repulsive in any way, but it is an organic part of the Chinese street view so I have to mention it. Getting a dumpling is not that easy, however, since for the Cantonese the word 'queue' means 'that thing, that I don't give a shit about'. There is a queue nonetheless, but you'll find that you're always at the end of it, and you never get the dumpling - and frankly, that dumpling doesn't worth all the effort...

Right next to the dumpling booth is something much more interesting and gory: The Turtle Butcher. The turtle butcher consists of the following things: the butcher, a totally blunt and rusty cleaver, a massive piece of worn cutting board, and of course the turtle. I had the pleasure of seeing how the poor turtle is being dealt with, and it's not really nice. I would describe it as a long, cumbersome, and messy process in which they turn a perfectly nice turtle into a bloody pulp of guts and bones. As far as I could see the turtle doesn't even have any meat to talk of, why all the fuss? Then again, in China a shell-full of reptile gore is all it takes for a yummy family dinner. Unfortunately I could not make a detailed documentation of the - for lack of a better word, turtle autopsy - as the kind lady executing the said task, asked me not to take photographs. Normally that wouldn't necessarily stop me, but she waved the bloody hatchet quite menacingly towards me, so I thought better of it...       

If this jolly scene has cranked our appetite up for dismembered creatures, and we can spare the time, why not pop in the market that's just there in front of us? As opposed to the Qingping market that I have already wrote about, this market is completely ordinary - with a Chinese twist. What makes this market so different than a European one for instance, is not really the merchandise itself - they sell poultry, fish, fruit etc... and frogs, and eels and all that stuff, but that's not the bad part. The bad part is the ungodly condition the whole place is in, in terms of cleanliness! There are pools of congealing blood, rotting pieces of guts and rolled away heads staring blindly into oblivion everywhere. Giant roaches and rats the size of cats are jogging casually between the meat stands, feasting on the droppings, which is plentiful. The rancid smell makes your head spin even after weeks in China, and leaves you wondering whether there's actually a deadly epidemic breaking out around you at that very moment, and if not, why not? The place looks as healthy and comforting as a medieval village after a thorough viking pillaging. 

Leaving that animal holocaust behind us, and continuing our carefree walk to the office we see craftsmen of various trades earning their livelihood right on the sidewalk. There are seamstresses, tailors, shoemakers and even barbers and hairdressers! See, Mr. Drugpusher from the other street? You can make honest money on the street too, so put the smack down and grab a sewing machine like your fellow citizen! 

Actually I work in the rubbish one to the left,
but at least I get to look at the fancy one

Suddenly we arrive back to the 21st century, with huge blocks of shopping malls and towering skyscrapers, one of which has my office. I just have to cross an 8 lane avenue with booming traffic, and I arrive to the main entrance of the building, where there's at least two Porsches parking at all times. There's also a nightclub on the ground floor, called Lili Marleen (the title of a song that was really popular among the German soldiers in WW2) where the staff is wearing costumes that bear resemblence a little too much to nazi uniforms. Inside the lobby, on my way to the elevator, I have to pass the little supermarket that's also selling lube and vibrators. Not quite sure why, as there are only offices in the building, but I guess some things are better left unknown... And just like that, I have finally arrived to the office! A perfect way to start a grey weekday!        

Some more photos: 

Freddie Mercury is alive, and he's a Chinese melon vendor!

An eel/leech vendor got busted by the police. She got away but some of the eels are in custody.

Mr. Crabs is trying to leg it!

Hello ladies!

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