China: Day 7

Time to implement our ‘typhoon’ contingency plans. I use inverted commas here because, although yesterday saw substantially heavy rain, it wasn’t quite the typhoon that was forecast [we later learnt that Taiwan bore the brunt of the typhoon’s wrath]. As the showers had almost come to an end, Xiamen was up and running again. The contingency plans, drafted over a late breakfast this morning, were necessary as our bullet train ride had to be rearranged for a later date. So today we thought that hopping on a bus for 20 minutes and heading for Zengcuo’an would be a nice, calm and rush-free way to spend our day. After all, most of Xiamen would still be in hibernation due to the heavy rain, right? Oh how we were wrong.

Following a quick visit to Bravo Burger (yes, I know this is the second time), that was made especially quick because the waiter remembered me from yesterday and asked if I wanted the same burger today. I asked him to surprise me with the best burger they make, but I seemed to have forgotten that Tiefu is the master food critic – the best burger on the menu was the one he ordered me yesterday! But just a short chat later, in the good ol’ Chinese way, we exchanged our WeChat IDs and promised to resume our conversation at a later date. This made me think about how different our cultures really are: the distinctions between being introvert and extrovert; open-minded and close-minded; trusting or doubtful. But no time for deep thoughts now, we’ve run out of time and have to catch the bus! [Yet that will feature in a reflective blog post upon my return to the UK].

Our rest was all too short, before we knew it, all 10 of us (students & Mark) were being hearded onto a bus by the collective movement of a crowd of people – from all directions. Another occasion I realise just how much I miss the British ability to queue. A polite and simple action that demonstrates our ability to refrain from making an unruly dash to the bus, the boat, or even the till. By the same token I loved how, in many ways, it feels like we are breaking the rules; no pressure to conform or to be polite, just “get on the damn bus”, as one of the guys muttered whilst being hearded like cattle. This chaotic and restrictive situation in which I found myself did seem oddly free. In a society that arguably has less freedoms than its Western counterparts, within it, liberation can be seen – it just requires an alternative perspective. Then, after a short adrenaline rush, we were on! Now just to endure the 20 minute claustrophobic journey. Thank goodness for air con, that’s all I can say!

Arriving at Zengcuo’an, we stepped off the bus into what felt like another climate. The weather had become incredibly humid in he last hour and that compensated for the drop in temperature – so no respite for us. However, all frustrations about the heat and humidity were lost as we caught sight of the markets. At the entrance road, vendors selling anything from live fish and kebabs, to scarves and toy cars began to make eye contact with us and invite us over. Having recently been to India and Ghana, I truly appreciated their passive approach to sales. I don’t know about you, but I am far more likely to buy something if I am allowed the freedom and time to browse without hassle.

It was then that I met my fan for the day. A quiet middle-aged lady, that was quite content with staring at myself or Mark throughout our walk around the village (yes, she really did follow us the entire time we were at this market). But she did so with good intentions as she politely asked to take photos with me, and then carried on, and on. I like to think I’m a man with much patience, but as the camera got closer and closer to my face each time, I asked the student helpers to tell her to calm down – with a obliging pose for her final picture, of course!

Anyway, back to the markets. And what a sight they were! An impressive array of multicoloured stalls, stretch as far as the eye can see, down many winding, narrow cobbled streets. At last, this is why I came to China. The buzz of the markets was fantastic. Every sense was on high alert. Fresh squid would catch my nose after every few stalls, being lightly fried with cumin and stacked on display skewers; and the Chinese lanterns and bright neon-coloured signs would catch my eye everywhere I looked – although I would struggled to understand a single symbol, they would still manage to fascinate me. I didn’t buy anything other than food (and most of that was free, in the form of many many tasters!), but I had an incredible time here. For a backup plan, I was entirely satisfied with how we spent our day today! But, as if we weren’t hot and tired enough already, it was now time for the journey home…

[Bus journey home:] We emerged from the back of the market streets, and despite finding ourselves on a busy main road, time seemed to slow down a little. The buzz of the markets was no more. We joined the mass of people awaiting a bus… (Tbc.)
After what seemed like an eternity, … [nerver again will I complain about a UniLink bus during the rush to a 9am lecture, ever.]

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