This is a tourist trap with a golden heart. From outside it looks like some place where all the couples, foreign businessmen, teens and rich Chinese travelers gather to buy overpriced shit and taste all kind of unhealthy street food, which eventually kills you. The wooden houses are build in old style but look brand new, there are poorly maintained temples and a few museums along the way (my heart cries blood), beggars and a huge noisy crowd just everywhere around you.
I always bargain but I had arrived to China the same morning and it still felt weird to be abroad. I felt like I was walking down the streets and that it wasn’t “Finnish” at all but somehow my mind was still back home. So it was a bit of a confusing day (or night in Finland), the worst times to buy souvenirs. But it was dirt cheap anyway, the most expensive thing I bought was a pink panda hat (for my god daughter not me! And why do I keep buying panda stuff for her anyway? She never said anything about liking pandas) and it cost 28 yuan. Hats cost between 20 and 30 yuan everywhere in China anyway.
Nothing ever starts well for me. The hostel staff told me to take bus 503, I missed the first like by 2 seconds, decided to walk to the next stop and missed the second bus as well… stylish. On the way I stopped to buy a bottle of water from this angry old grandma, she got some kind of anger attack when I misheard the price. Then in the bus some perverted man sat next to me, again someone’s elbow was jammed into my side (maybe just a Chinese custom?) and it felt like he was leaning into me. I’m not overreacting, his hand was dangerously close to my thigh and I kept glancing at it in disgust, pressing myself against the window. But he was just leaning into my side… I was prepared to yell “pervert” if he came any closer, haha.
Then I thought my stop was announced so I got up after the man, he was getting off too. Just perfect. I glanced at him as I stood up and he was looking at me and smiling. Dear god, I was like wearing the ugliest jacket and the oldest the most worn out sweats (My usual bum traveler style. When someone tries to sell me anything I can say “Do I look rich to you?” and it’s easier to fade into peasant crowd) to avoid this! Luckily I saw that it was the wrong stop and didn’t get off, meanwhile he was standing outside the bus and looking at me, as if expecting me to follow him?! What the? In your dreams, even if your face is okay… Weird disgusting idiot.
I sat next to this dirty looking average Chinese man, a worker. Description: middle aged, dark slacks, black shoes, smokes cheap cigarettes, black jacket, dark (tan or dirt) face, short slightly overgrown buzz cut and some stubble of beard or ugly mustache. Ps. They are sometimes even good looking! =O These are the safest type. You might think I am crazy, which I am but… In China these workers are usually the most fun people, they like to joke around, small talk and are just genuinely interested. No matter how many of these I meet they are never perverted, ever. But they will surely make fun of you (in a good way though).
Though there are all kind of shady people and when someone seems shady he/she usually is. Anyway, middle aged Chinese peasants/lower class are the best. They are nice too. At least if you can speak Chinese. Try to chat them up next time you go to China and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Okay, so I went to this Ci Qi Kou, old town center. At first it was just one little snack: classic fried potatoes with some spices (this time I was smart enough to ask them leave coriander out of it). Then I was suddenly holding some local drink and caramel dipped strawberries, half of the drink was soon spilled on my jacket. Then I stopped to sample Sichuan peppers and… my mouth died for 15 minutes. I had to sit down on abandoned stairs to finish up my caramel dipped strawberries, there was caramel everywhere! And after that I drank milk tea, ate chocolates too but the peppers were still burning. And you know, it really pays up to save all kind of shit from airplane, this is when I took out the wet wipe I had saved from the breakfast! The caramel was gone!
Then I saw this Indian guy selling filled roti bread, I choose one with banana. Once he saw me he started selling like crazy and I decided I must taste it but my embarrassing comment: “I will go to bathroom first, then I will come to back.” You should have seen his face. Anyway, I bought one, the portion was big and it tasted like crispy extra thin roti fried in lots of oil, with banana filling. Nothings special. But why was there an Indian man selling roti in a Chinese tourist village? Remains mystery. Typical China…
People were lining up for this weird hard cookie or bread thing, I sampled some but it didn’t taste like anything special. There were at least 5 shops but people bought only from two the most popular ones. And the whole area smelled like shit, literally. How did they cook those.. things and what were they? My interest died pretty quick and I faded from there, turned a random alley and accidentally, without any plan, ended up in the golden heart.
What I love about China the most is the randomness. In Beijing go walk along this busy extremely touristy street with only expensive shops that sell over prised goods to fools. Then you turn a few corners and end up on a buzzing alley with locals going about their own business, dining in local restaurants and selling even better goods with local prices. weird toilets without doors… dog shit… that awful smell… In China, that random, unplanned turn could be your biggest adventure. (No matter how smelly)
Where I ended up there was no buzz, no tourists, no street vendors. A few (extremely small) grocery stores and an old man selling tobacco. But there was local life, just another day. Mothers and grandmothers hanging in groups, gossiping while taking care of babies. There were babies everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Mother cooking, elders playing mahjong and cards, betting on money. Pets running everywhere, laundry hanging above your head drying. I walked past people’s empty living rooms, it’s not like back home where we have these warm and cozy apartments. They have these boxes made of concrete, little tables and stools as if for kids only, an old TV, orange peels on the window sill’s, egg peels in the flower pots, kids coming back from school, racing each other, yelling.
I stopped at one building to watch some elders playing mahjong. They gave me a chair and started asking me questions. Turns out my Chinese is still okay even though a bit rusty, I could keep up some small talk, even understood their mandarin with tick accent. Perfect language practice.
Curious looks, fast paced mahjong game, mechanic almost. No one knows where Finland is located, I take out my decades old Nokia cellphone and tell them it’s from Finland. This time “Noqia” doesn’t ring a bell, usually it does. I offer them Fazer chocolate candies (the biggest chocolate producer in Finland), the old man throws the wrapper on the ground even though he is at a place where he and his friends hang out. No one cares if there is trash. Dirty rooms, lonely dog whining and barking after I pass by, two cats staring at me from the balcony…
Then finally, a moment of silence and old woman sitting quietly on a bamboo chair at a doorway, a grandma picking up dry shoes from the low rooftop with a long stick, a mother carrying her baby in a bamboo basket on her back. She seems to be in a good mood, smiles, urges her little kid to say “Hello!” I wave at him and say “Hello, hello, hello!” but he only wants my camera. The mother laughs at it and walks away. Other people mention: “Waiguoren. A foreigner”, as I pass by, whispering behind me, a kid exclaims the word mindlessly, as if it has become a habit he is not aware of anymore. I know it’s nothing bad, they are just curious, interested. They think I can’t speak Chinese, that I don’t understand. But I do, partly.
These tranquil golden moments. Even though it stinks, I still love China after all. Stares, I don’t even notice them anymore. I feel good, at ease, happy. I visit public toilet and don’t care even if I have to squat, it feels less troublesome in a country where toilets are never clean, anyway. I am even prepared with toilet paper, I know it’s something I must carry around.
While roaming the shopping street I decided I’d buy all souvenirs at once and send them to Finland in a package, saw the China Post everywhere anyway. So, I almost got everything in one day. As it got later and darker and kids were back from school I saw some of them doing their homework at the back of the shops, one mother was scolding her daughter for making a mistake.
In the end I walked to a bus stop, had to wait for the bust for ages (20 minutes) but it eventually came, thanks god. I was so tired I dozed off whole way. The conductor shook me awake on my stop, drowsy, slightly cold, and totally out of energy I somehow made it back to the hostel. As I went to remind the staff that my friend was coming late and that the door needed to be open for her, the staff started asking me what did I buy and in a old good Russian spirit I started showing off my haul. They were impressed I bought all that stuff alone, I don’t understand what’s impressive about that but anyway, Chinese never do anything alone.
It was a good day. I have missed China. It’s so human, everything, so incredibly human, raw, sincere and at the same time… a total scam.
Plans for the next days:
14th Dazu Buddhist Caves, hot pot, cable car and the night view of the city
15th go to Songji village, roam around, chill in tea houses, buy the rest of the souvenirs, take it easy, find a hotel to stay at.
16th back to Chongqing, check out the local market, maybe a museum…
17th morning Nanning and Hanoi!