Living in China: Stories and Photographs: Hong Hu, 3 Gorges, Beijing, Shanghai
A Story about Hong Hu, in Hubei China:
This is what it is like at the moment from Dawn to Dusk.
I'm sitting here in my cold cold flat, freezing my buns off because my airconditioner does not work (but never mind, somebodywill fix it - probably by summer, in time to give me nice fresh hot air).
I have a cold, I don't feel well, and I'm bored. I should sleep, but I don't want to do that either. My one comfort is that I'm not home in Australia, listening to endless commentary and watching video re-runs of Saddam's capture, as speaker after speaker from all around the globe say the same things over and over and over again, to have it then rehashed by the television news anchorman(person).
Damn Saddam! Damn the Americans too! I had just sent off 28 emails to various newspapers around America, bringing to their attention the fact that so many Americans are taking an interest in my work, while little has been published in the local media. I first tweaked their interest and aroused their curiosity with the email subject line: "News Tip - Newspapers fail to deliver the news". I challenged them to outdo the mega internet news sources. I gave them opportunity to meet the needs and interests of their regular Joe Blows. And then Bloody Saddam had to get captured and now the whole world is interested in nothing else! Damn him! Damn him! And blow this whole question of the death sentence. It is too good for the man! Lock him up and throw away the key and give him unlimited time to think about what he has done, and even if he considers himself a god, he will be a lonely one. Here endeth the lesson!
I have written a few stories about my travels in China, and tonight, I want to write a little about Hong Hu. As an Australian I am inclined to say that it is in the middle of nowhere, but in China, while you may be a long way from Western style civilisation, you are never very far away from anywhere else. No matter which direction you travel, it is only 10-20 minutes by car to the next township or village.
This is taken on the road to Wuhan. There are many little places like this.
A few kilometres down the road at the turn off to Chibi. I snuck up behind these boys and caught them for a quick photo shoot.
Hong Hu is nestled up against the huge levee that protects it from the Chang Jiang River. That is the Yangtse River to you 'Foreigners'. This life giving river is as capable of giving life as it is of taking it, and a few years ago it did just that, when several hundred civilians and soldiers died, trying to restrain her destructive inundation of the town.
This is taken from the Levee Road and gives you an idea of the height.
The next two show the river and the Island. The first is taken from the levee road at the eastern end of the Island. The other is take from the River bank at the end of town.
A view of the Chang Jiang from the back of the Town on the River bank
Hong Hu is famous for her lake. It is huge and sprawling, and filled with aquacultural projects and islands. Some centuries ago, it was the location of a sprawling village, but gradually the rising accumulation of water overwhelmed her history and her landmarks and alas, she is no more. No rivers apparently run into this mighty inland sea, and it is said of her that she is the purest of all the lakes in China, and whether true or not, it is proudly claimed that her produce, especially her fish, are exported to the far reaches of the globe.
This old river is cut off now from the Chang Jiang It is controlled by Locks or sluiceways. It is full in summer and empty in winter.
The peoples of Hong Hu are, judging by their appearances, a mixed bag of cookies. There are the really tall folk, the tiny vertically challenged (as well as the midgets), the round faced, the thin faced, the pale and the very dark, and even the odd assortment of dark skinned Muslim folk from up north. On occasions, one is even privileged to see the Mongolians with their brightly decorated clothes, and their overflowing stalls full of trinkets and baubles to delight the cockles of the enchanted.
As towns go in this area, Hong Hu is of average size, but it is, as anyone will tell you, just a little city, which, if compared to some cities in similar locations on the Australian coastline, is anything but little. Because it sits against the river, there is no main road running through the city centre, which, given the state of the existing traffic, is a marvelous achievement, probably due more to luck and poor design than actual planning. You know you have arrived at Hong Hu when you arrive at the roundabout just up from the school in which I live. Removed at the end of 2004
This road coming from town. It intersects with the road leading into town at the roundabout. Turn left and go to Wuhan. Turn right and you will go to a 'T' junction. Go left to Chibi or right back into town. But if you go straight ahead, you will pass by my school and end up on the road to nowhere.
The road on the right of the building does not yet seem to go anywhere and no one knows where it will go. Presumably it is going to be an important road, as it has required the street in from of the school to be widened considerably. (Apparently it will be a new main road into town: 2006)
The town is of course a city, and as such, it has 'suburbs' or 'little towns' surrounding it. These usually consist of one or two streets lined with a variety of shops and food stalls.
In Hong Hu, to the best of my knowledge, there are six (6) markets. There is no other word for it. They are markets, wherein one may find an assortment of fresh produce and meat. Neat little rows upon rows of vendors plying their trade, all begging you to buy from them at twice the price of the fellow next door. (well to the foreigner at least).
This photo is taken at the laneway entrance to the market where I usually shop. These vendors in the front with trolleys, will scurry off if the police appear. They have no licence to be there.
A long distance photo
The secret of successful purchasing in these places, (and note I said purchasing not bargaining, for while that is what the Chinese do, YOU, the BenDan WaiGuo will get cheated no matter what price you pay), is to ask, at various intervals, 'Duo Shao Qian?' (Door / Sow - as in the pig/ Chen) and compare prices offered. Of course this is an utterly useless exercise if you don't understand what they are saying! BenDan WaiGuo!
For 'us' locals however (by which I mean resident foreigners - that was the 'royal us', for I am at the moment and fearfully for sometime to come, the only WaiGuo here), the smart thing to do is find out who is honest and just deal with them. They appreciate the business, and they know others will try and steal you away. But when you show loyalty to them, they stay loyal to you.
Buying Meat is an interesting experience (God I hope no Rabbis are reading this!). I don't eat Fish or duck; the Ox meat is disgusting, and the chickens have an odour and taste stronger than the 'mere skin and bones' which proudly are referred to as chickens (winged variety of course - that was a little local Chinese humour. The other variety of chicken has two arms and two legs and costs more money for less time that it takes to eat a drumstick). This only leaves PORK! I hate pork! It stinks! I had tasted it before and to me it was on par with mushrooms. Both taste like dirt! But after 8 weeks of starvation, I began to learn to eat it, and am now reasonably adept at preparing it in several ways. But to buy pork, now that is a different matter.
The first thing you do is go to the first in a long line of vendors and ask 'Duo Shao Qian?' and he will tell you that it is 7.5 yuan. You then ask the vendor next door, who will tell you that it is 7 yuan. The next will say 6.5 and the following will say 6. The next will also say six, and then you either buy from him, or go further down, and buy from the first person who says 6 or 6.5 yuan).
Now the Chinese will stand and 'fight' (read bargain), over point one (.1) of a Yuan (you-en) or even .01 of a yuan for a tiny slice of pork. [Point one is 'Yi mau'(pronounced 'e' - 'mao'/ .01 = yi fen - pronounced 'e' - 'fn' as in fun without the 'u'). The foreigner does not do this. He neither buys one slice, nor argues over the equivalent of 1.5 cents or .15 of a cent. Using all of your body language skills, you indicate to the vendor that you want the whole bloody whack of meat that he has sitting there. At first he naturally thinks you are joking, but when you finally convince him that you are serious (it helps to flash a 100 yuan note and point to the whole slab of meat), you must wait a minute or two while he recovers from the shock, and then calls everyone together to witness this 'marvel of gluttony'.
When the transaction is complete, he is happy (because if he had known you were going to buy so much - he would have lowered his price), and you are happy, because you don't have to go through this for another month, unless the power goes off for more than a week, thus requiring you to ditch all the rotting meat you have in the freezer and start the process all over again.
Having accomplished this marvelous feat of 'interlingual' communication, you must carry your 15 'jin' (7.5 Australian Kilos) of carcass back home, and then begin the process of removing the 4 - 7 jin of fat that lines it. For this you need a very very sharp knife, a great deal of skill, and lightning quick reflexes or lots of bandages (whichever of the two is the most readily available).
Whilst the fat can be slowly melted down, I usually cut it up into 3 or 4 sections and give it away to the local labourers. (Don't be surprised if the occasional one turns up at your door with a handful of weeds as payment - sorry I meant to say - nutritious greens!)
OK, so now you know how to buy meat in a place like Hong Hu. Doesn't sound that bad does it? Did I forget to tell you that in the markets there is no such thing as refrigeration? There are no nice stainless bench tops, no sterile cutting boards, no hygienic gloves, no running water or soap, no airconditioning, no dustcover; just lots of flies, dust, coughing, sneezing, blowing of noses (into the wind or on the ground - it doesn't matter). Ah, what's a little cigarette ash on the meat going to do? Seriously! Just wipe it off with your hands - it's as good as new!
This man is actually a customer. A long distance shot and enhanced.
Another long distance shot - but you get the picture.
This photo is of the people who run a stall just inside the market. They sell all the regular nicknaks - brushes, combs, slippers etc.
Of course, all of this is descriptive of traditional China. But not everything in China is traditional. There is for example, the Long Ke Duo (pronounced - Longer door) supermarket which has a sign for you to read as you leave the checkout: We are Happy to Survie you, Welcome Again
The first time I read it I did a 'double take'. I thought it read: 'We are happy to survive you!'. In this supermarket, as elsewhere, there is an abundance of staff, whose main duties seem to be to Follow you around (just to be friendly) and To constantly change everything around so that in two days time you have to search all over again for the same things you bought two days earlier.
At first, being followed around all over the place is unnerving. At first I thought it was just because we were foreigners, but no, non-discrimination is the go! Everyone is followed. I like to go into different sections (particularly in shops in Wuhan where they don't know me) and slowly make my way down an aisle. When I get to the end, I turn the corner of course, and there I wait. In the meantime, the staff have ducked into the next aisle and can't find me. After a moment or two I duck back to where I was and wait for them to come looking for me. When they turn the corner, I smile, wave and walk off.
Just a note for the traveler: In China, when you leave the checkout, you must go through security and present your receipt. Do not throw it away or put it in your pocket!
In the department stores in the big cities, when you wish to purchase something, the salesperson will give you a docket which you must present to the cashier, who will then give you a receipt to take back to the salesperson, so that you can collect the item of purchase. Don't lose the bloody docket! (Before or after you have paid for your goods.)
Now speaking of buying things: This week I picked up a two piece suit and overcoat that I had ordered. I paid 710 yuan [about AUD $118]. I had to ask around a bit to find the place, but with a student in tow, I set off to find it. It is located just off the main street at the river end of town about a block short of the Long Ke Duo supermarket. There is what might best be described as a 'Bazaar' (Bizzare is another acceptable description) which shares its entrance with a little side street containing all manner of reasonably modern type shops. The Bazaar is to the left.
One proceeds down the alley about 30 metres, to locate the shop on the left, although it is somewhat obscured or overwhelmed by the 'cloth merchants' out front and to each side.
This photo does not do justice to the normal state of cleanliness.
Here it is. The sign which proudly announces the service. It helps if you read Chinese though.
I received only one 'measuring' and as it turns out, that was sufficient. I include here the 'obligatory' photo session photo; obligatory, because if you have a camera everyone wants a photo taken, even if they never see the damn thing. But I have promised this lady that I will take her copies. Now I know that in the bottom photo I look somewhat ridiculous, but that is because firstly, I was only wearing Jeans and a sweater when I turned up to collect the suit, so I'm not wearing a proper shirt under the jacket - and - secondly, I had slept in this beanie the night before, and had had no time to shower before I went to collect the suit. My hair, which currently needs trimming, looked like a birds nest, so I kept the beanie firmly on my head.
At any rate, if you decide to come to Hong Hu, and you have a week to kill, come and have a suit made. Properly attired, I am quite attractive, or - as I replied to a student who remarked that I looked handsome in a suit, 'When the suit is worn by me, its appearance improves and it becomes quite attractive. Of course, this is not such a backward place that one cannot find a suitable Dry cleaner. I have my favourite. Not quite sure why I chose this one, but I guess it is as good as any other.
R.P.BenDedek is from Brisbane Australia and is the author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' at http://www.kingscalendar.com His academic articles set forth Apologetics for and results of his discovery of an "artificial chronological scheme" running through the Bible, Josephus, the Damascus Documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Seder Olam Rabbah.
He writes photographic 'Stories from China' and social editorial commentaries, both at KingsCalendar, and as a contributing newspaper columnist. He currently teaches Conversational English in China and in addition to his English Lessons at KingsCalendar, he has created specific sites for Students of English.