Everything I generally get up to

Uncategorized

Sunday 26th June 2016 – Xingcheng – 兴城

Should have written this yesterday but laziness got the better of me. Arrived in Xingcheng
at sometime soon after 4pm where my AirB‘nB host, Siqi (sort of pronounced
‘suh-chee’) was kind enough to meet me at the station to take me to her home, where I
was to stay. We got a taxi there which she asked me to pay for once we‘d arrived. Well
that was unexpected, given I’d have been more than happy to catch a bus and make my
own way there. Siqi lives in one of the many, many new high-rise apartment blocks
that are now all over China. Hers is in a seemingly very new neighbourhood where
much of the surrounding area is flat and rubble-like in appearance, as if in preparation
for further developments. It has a fairly ‘middle of nowhere‘ feeling which is standard
of quiet Chinese suburbs (though to be honest I‘m sure many visitors would feel the
same in any residential suburb of the UK too).

 
The buildings are a sort of sandy brown colour in a gated, and guarded, compound of
sorts. This makes it sound like some sort of settlement for the elite, so at this point I
should mention that many residential areas are like this—it‘s nothing out of the ordinary.
When we arrived there happened to have been a power cut so we took the stairs
to the apartment which is luckily only one floor up. Finally entering, I was greeted by
Siqi‘s mother, a friendly lady of short stature who was pleased to learn that we were
able to loosely communicate with each other. The apartment is of a good standard and,
while not especially big, is an ample living space. There are six or seven rooms altogether
including three bedrooms, a living room, a small kitchen and even smaller
washroom. The room I‘m in has its own bathroom. This makes the place sound quite
spacious, which I suppose it is for Chinese standards but it‘s still fairly compact in its
layout. They seem to be of a reasonably wealthy standing, but in all honesty I don‘t
know enough to comment on this. Given the rapid development of China it could be
that they’re part of a very typical middle class that I simply haven‘t seen properly yet
because I‘m choosing to go for all the cheapest options as I travel.

 
By this point it was about 5pm and to avoid sitting awkwardly in another person‘s
home (though her mum did say I can consider it my own place while I‘m here) I decided
to head outside. Siqi offered to show me the nearby shop which is only a hundred
metres or so away. Walking into the place, the shopkeeper said something along the
lines of, ―Oh he‘s returned?‖, to which Siqi said, ―No no, this is just a friend.‖ Moments
later Siqi explained that her husband is British and they all thought I was him
simply because I‘m white skinned. She then went on to say that her husband, who lives
in London, might not be too happy with her using her home to host foreigners such as
myself (and I‘m pretty sure I‘m the first guest she‘s had, at least according to the given
information on the AirB‘n‘B website). Things suddenly felt a little awkward, but I
wasn‘t exactly going to do anything about it—paying 80RMB a night to stay in the
room I got is a steal!

 
With the shop visit out of the way, and having returned to the apartment (where the
lazy old guards on duty also made comments about me, the husband, returning), I
asked which way the seafront was and again Siqi offered to show me. It was about a
mile‘s walk there, from the wide and mainly vacant street near the apartments towards
a mildly busy little pedestrianised spot leading down to the beach area itself, a fairly
well developed area with shops, a road and multiple restaurants lining the coast. To be
honest I didn‘t really expect Siqi to show me around. I don‘t know if she was being
polite or what but I had expected this “AirB‘n‘B” thing to be more of a guesthouse
experience than a homestay. Not that it‘s at all a bad thing, but going around with her
from the moment I got off the train has been a bit much. And she keeps on talking
about her husband. I think, being the first westerner she‘s interacted with since she last
saw him three or four months ago, my presence reminds her of her him (who she appeared
to be constantly messaging on her phone while we walked and talked). Siqi is
relatively short and slightly more stocky than the typically slim Asian figure, but not
in a bad way. I suppose one would call it ‘curvy‘. At a fairly confident guess I‘d say
she‘s around 23 years old (the wifi password for her apartment has the date 1993 in
it…). She showed me a picture of her husband—he looks like a fairly typical British
guy—and said he‘s 25 years old. They met via a dating website. In this modern era of
increasingly internet-based social interaction I see nothing much wrong with this, other
than the fact that she said he has little interest in China and that, when I asked her
about her current ideas on the UK (which she‘s yet to visit but will hopefully be getting
her visa sorted soon) she simply said that she doesn‘t really care, it‘s just where
her husband is. Hm. I wonder how she‘ll cope in the long run? All this being said,
they clearly like each other very much so I wish them all the best. They‘ll be living in
Greenwich, London, so life should remain quite vibrant for her, if not quite literally a
world away from what she currently knows.

 
As she continued simultaneously messaging her husband and talking to me, Siqi floated
the idea of getting some food from a really good place she knew, and at 100RMB it
was ‗cheap‘ too. Well, 100RMB is certainly not cheap to me, and I told her so, yet she
suggested it again and in a sort of awkward politeness I just went along with it. We
caught a taxi there, which I had to pay for, at which point I decided to frame myself
and told her it really couldn‘t be that expensive for me. With this in mind we still went
in and ended up ordering food, but only to the price of 35RMB each, which was actually
quite fair and provided enough to feed us twice over (the leftovers of which we
brought back). The restaurant was the sort that you‘d expect of any reasonable Chinese
restaurant in the world, with wide round tables, some of which had rotating glass
sections in the middle for easier sharing of dishes. I‘m not much of a foodie so I‘ll
simply say that the food was good and I‘m glad there was more than enough to take
home for later. We caught another taxi back which I paid for again. Somehow I didn‘t
exceed my budget for the day but I must say all these extra expenses have been a bit
of a surprise. Siqi is clearly only trying to be a good host, and as a person I have absolutely
nothing to complain about at all, but I think a bit more autonomy for me as a
guest would have been nice. It‘s my money I‘m spending, after all.

DSCF6513.JPG

The apartment block I was staying in with Siqi and her mother.

The following day, which is today, took me on a small quest to buy train tickets—
many of them—as a quick check of their availability revealed that it would definitely
be wise to plan ahead if I hope to go anywhere of particular interest. Well, I say
‘interest’ but my aim is to go to random, smaller destinations on the Chinese railway
network map, which I‘ve used for guidance. I now have nine tickets which will get me
to various destinations over the next couple of weeks, which I shan‘t list here because
lists are boring and every time I write about plans, the plans seem to change or go
wrong. One thing, however, that is not happening, is the intended stop in Dandong on
the North Korean border, but this doesn‘t mean I‘ll be missing that border altogether.

 
The walk to the ticket office was predominantly straight, along a wide main road leading
directly away from the seafront. The road has about six lanes, and has a sort of
lazy, outback feel where occasional vehicles drift by in no particular hurry. On either
side are low buildings, mostly grand in scale but not spectacular to look at. They all
seem a little old and washed out by the sun. Some buildings are clearly derelict, having
been taken over by plant life or by locals setting up basic homes around them.
Others are still functional and seem to serve fairly important purposes, such as the
state power grid, a dilapidated hospital of sorts, and an official government administration
building with an LED sign stretching above the whole entranceway, with
words scrolling across saying things which mean something like, ―Learn how to be
civil, advance the civilisation of China!‖ and other pro-society messages. My translation
has made the message sound a little blunt but the Chinese version comes across
better. We‘ve been led to think these sorts of things are a little evil or totalitarian but I
really can‘t see what‘s wrong with a government actively promoting socially conscious
ideals to its people (regardless of whatever other negative things the Chinese
government in particular my or may not be doing).

 
I bought the train tickets from the office (actually just a window that you stand outside
and talk through a little gap with a speaker through the glass) then hung around under
some shade at a shop nearby. The surroundings still had the sparse, lazy, washed out
feel of the road I‘d taken to get there. A fairly unexciting place to be honest; life here
is clearly of the slow, semi-rural kind. The weather was a little more humid today, and
very hot, but still not as bad as Tianjin. The owner of the shop got talking to me. He
said he used to know English but had forgotten it all now, and reminisced about a time
when he knew some foreigners, to whom he would always accidentally say, ―Very
good!‖ when he intended to say ‘thank you’.

 
After this I took myself to the seafront Siqi had shown me yesterday. This time the
intention was to be a bit touristic and get some photos of Chinese beach life, which I
think is much the same as anywhere else—people swimming, sunbathing, eating,
drinking and generally doing the sorts of things a person might do on the beach. There
were only two differences I noticed. Firstly, a lot of small groups of men, presumably
locals, sitting on the sand, mostly in the shade of the trees lining the road at the edge
of the sand, playing card games; secondly I saw that a lot of these guys seemed to
slightly pull their swimming trunks down to fully reveal their bums while they sat or
squatted to do whatever they were doing. A strange habit! Aside from this, it was very
much normal beach life. I bought a drink from a little family-run shop at the far side
of the beach front, at an area where twenty or so little old fishing boats lined the shore
in various places, and sat for a while on one of the two plastic picnic benches provided
by the owner. A couple of guys, including the shop owner, asked if I‘m Russian. This
is a common question around here, no doubt because north-eastern China is near Russia,
with the most direct historical ties, and my trip so far has been creeping in that sort
of direction.

dscf6468

Some typical Xingcheng streets.

dscf6455dscf6451dscf6459

dscf6458

Local governance .

dscf6462

A closed and forgotten hotel on the main street.

dscf6480

Beach life. Bums out.

dscf6487

These women were selling small, shelled and presumably edible sea creatures they’d collected that day.

dscf6501

Fishing boats.

dscf6508

The shop by the seafront.

Advertisements