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Chasing China

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

CHINA | Friday, 25 March 2011 | Views [73] | Scholarship Entry

30 minutes out of Shanghai and already it’s like I am in a different country. People working in the fields, buildings run down and broken, big block houses cluttered with evidence of the hard, less materialistic lifestyles. Past hills and through the cities, alongside canals and over dams, the elevated, high-speed train provides the ideal view of the diversity of China.

My train arrives in Nanchang and there is a sea of people on the platform. People sitting everywhere, spit landing at my feet, swarms moving, talking, staring until I reach the arrival hall. People are waiting for their families, hugging their arriving loved ones with joyous chatter.

The city is florescent: lights on each building, varying in style and frequency all this in the midst of the grey, rainy, traffic-filled city. It becomes apparent that westerners do not frequent these parts because as my taxi pulls up to the hotel, a face peers inside my window and exclaims, “Waigouren!” (foreigner).

The next morning, walking down the streets, I pass hole-in-the-wall businesses filled with pieces of scrap metal, trash filled streets, seedy bars, and alleys which expose the city’s poverty, tucked away under extensive, messy wiring; the back streets of Shanghai are the front streets of Nanchang.

I am learning that when Chinese travel guides refer to a city as ‘scenic’ its because it has a big, dirty canal running through some part of it, with lines of trees on either side. I investigate the paths and jetties of the canal and they are lined with human feces and the ashes of recent fires, clearly where the homeless sleep at night. And then I found the place, where dhows come to die.

Big, 3-storey river boats, that you could see, in their time, used to light up this Nanchang Nile. Now they are just rusted, broken shells, with harsh wiring jutting out their ceilings. One had been transformed into housing and was darted with wash buckets, clothing and simple pieces of furniture. I watched a lady do her washing on the balcony of this lost vessel, while a dog darted on and off, and the quarry ships moved slowly behind them. I have a feeling there is a whole hidden world of the homeless in Nanchang, those that have been neglected, just like the dhows, creating a life for themselves, how best they can.

Further up the road I find brick houses, with tin rooves kept on by stones, dried dogs heads in the windows, socks on the electricity wires, staring faces on the balcony. Small shop-fronts selling water and vodka, small restaurants with 3 tables and no patrons, and then directly across the road, grand, towering construction work of the soon to be modern, lavish, luxury waterfront apartment complex. There is a constant battle between the cosmopolitan and the dwellers, of the city.

Pleasant people, real lives, and the tease of beautiful countryside...I will certainly return to Jiangxi province and I will never forget the neglected of Nanchang.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011

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