Saturday 21th May 2011
9 days left traveling the world.
MP3 track of the day: Business - Eminem
Weather: Smoggy and cool; it's nice to be able to wear my coat again.
I was freezing last night; for some reason the Chinese had set the air-conditioning to eighteen degrees. I found myself, curled up within a ball, wrapped up in my duvet. I eventually woke around 7:30am to find the Malayan woman already gone out for the day; I shivered as I crossed to the door and then, once outside, I acclimatised to the normal temperature of Louyang. My first job was to photograph the city; I new this wouldn't take long as there wasn't much to photograph. As I walked around I by-passed McDonald's wondering if they had any Pineapple Pie goodness. They had.
Once back on the road I met a large group of Chinese students; as I approached they all formed groups of threes whilst staring, pointing and giggling at me. I would later find out that they were part of an initiative; 'love the community' was it's name and their task, for the day, was to help out … mainly on traffic duty. I walked past the group, ignoring the 'hello's' followed by a childish snigger, as I made my way to Louyang's main park. Located through an old – but fake - Chinese gateway music could be heard from within and people in costumes were handing out leaflets; it wasn't until I was in the park that I saw an isle of tents, each one exhibiting residential models. I had no idea what was going on but I decided to look around the rest of the park first before inquiring.
The park was pretty but no different to any other park I'd visited within China. Stone pathways curved around flower beds and a pagoda sat in the middle. If the sky wasn't so white some parts, of the park, would have been photogenic; instead I felt as though I was forced to take photos as a reminder that I'd visited, not as a form of art. The park was small; I'd completed the west side and found myself back at the isle of information tents; even now curiosity didn't get the better of me and I walked past heading to the east end of the park. This part was dedicated to a small amusement area with tacky rides; there was a haunted house which, at £1.50, tempted me in so I could judge the level of tackiness. I declined; being 9am in the morning I wouldn't bother as place looked shut. Before leaving the amusement area I stumbled past a small zoo; from the condition of the outer wall the zoo didn't look that well cared for. I just hoped that the same couldn't be said for the condition of the animals, but I would be lying if I felt that they were being treated any better.
I made it back to the line of tents and slowly looked into each and every one. If I was a betting man I'd guess that a new residential area was being erected and these tents were the possible contract winners; it felt as though today was their day to win the public's vote. All the information was in Chinese, so I can't be sure what was going on, though this little problem didn't stop a smiling 'tigger' handing me a leaflet. I did see prices, next to photos of dwellings like you would find in an estate agents window; I couldn't believe that the figures presented were the asking rent prices, as most were less than £100. Once out of the park I back-tracked and walked past McDonald's; not stopping I took a photo of Louyang's main road before coming to another park. I walked around said park – which was really a large rectangle surrounded by roads – in only a few minutes whilst photographing the objects of interest. Whilst within this area I saw some of the students from this morning, holding red flags, positioned at the four corners of a neighboring road junction. One was texting a mate, the other was drinking whilst the third was chatting to an official. The fourth wasn't much use either as he held his red flag down no matter what colour the traffic lights were on. The other interesting aspect about this junction was that it held four, female, traffic police. All, I reckon, were in their twenties and looked hot in their uniforms; with a 'Mcflurry' stand behind me I could have stood there all day but, in the end, I decided that it would have been a waste of time.
To finish my last tourist act within Louyang, I ventured north, to the train station, for a cheeky photo before coming back to my hostel. The good news was that my train ticket had arrived, it was for tomorrow and it cost £10 less than they'd asked for. The bad news was that it was a hard sleeper. At this point I was glad that they'd managed to get me on any train to Beijing, let alone the date that I wanted. As the receptionist passed the ticket over to me I paused and looked at it glumly; my final long distance travel ticket was in my hands. Flights get you to countries but it's the seven hour bus ride, or the eleven hour train trip, that really get you to your desired location. This was my final trip and I must have looked a little sad as I thanked the receptionist.
I walked slowly to my dorm, and put my camera away, before venturing back outside to find a holdall for my souvenirs. The ladies, on reception, had marked a shop where suit cases could be bought; I found myself, with two out of my four souvenir boxes, walking in the shops direction. Once there I found all the suit cases to be expensive; I would have been luckily to walk away with a suit case costing less than £80. I declined the saleswoman's offers and head back outside; pausing for a moment I tried to remember where I'd seen suit cases, on sale, before. It didn't take me long to remember that supermarkets, within China, sell everything and so off I went to my local.
The only problem with Chinese supermarkets is that you aren't allowed to bring bags, or boxes, inside. There were secure lockers - to place your possessions - however that would defeat the object; I needed my two boxes so that I could see if four would fit into a case. As I traveled down the escalator I noticed a small bag shop in front of me; at £40 I thought the hard suit case – with wheels – was still a little steep however it did fit my two boxes, side by side, perfectly. I then lifted one box on top of the other to check the height and that was just right too. I knew it would be perfect for my souvenirs but it did look a little too large for hand luggage; my souvenirs were delicate and so hand luggage was a must. I'm not very good at spending time over mundane things and so I paid the £40, placed my two boxes within the case and rolled it towards the exit. Once again I'll worry about future problems later.
I dropped my new suit case off, within my dorm, before going out for lunch; I had the rest of today, and tomorrow, to purchase clothes so I planned, this afternoon, to be a reconnaissance mission only. I had a list of items that I wanted; nothing much just a, few polo shirts, trainers (which I doubt that they will have in my size), a few belts and some more beanie hats. I went back to the shopping complex, where I'd bought my suit case, and started my observations. First thing I noticed were the shop assistants; some (mainly the old) were horrified that a non-Chinese speaking person had entered their store, others (mainly the young) giggled and said 'can help you I'. In either case I had someone follow me as I browsed their goods, occasionally speaking in Chinese to me. I hate people following me as I shop, as it puts me on edge; this was made even worse by the realisation that I hadn't shaved for a while, I had longish hair and a rip in my shirt. Still I continued to browse ignoring the assistants.
As I moved from shop to shop something wasn't right. I'd been lead to believe that clothes were cheap in China and, here I was, being presented with prices ranging from £9-£11 for a polo shirt, £6 for a belt and £36 for a pair of trainers. I've only just started to enjoy clothes shopping; previously I would order everything from a catalogue as it seemed the more logical way to shop (no crowds, less time, comfort of your own home and free delivery). So here I was not really sure what was a bargain, and what wasn't. Add to this that I was in a country that couldn't communicate to me and, all-in-all, it was proving to be more difficult than telling a Thai tuk-tuk driver that I didn't want to buy cannabis.
I browsed and I browsed realising that I must be in the wrong place; I therefore went back into the supermarket to find their clothes section. Once there some items were more like the prices I'd been expecting; I found a Lacoste polo shirt (the shirts with a crocodile on) for £4 and converse shoes for £3.50. I didn't like the design of the shirt, and the shoes weren't in my size; I left and walked around many more stores but not really gaining much ground. In the end I found a pair of trainers, and three shirts, that I liked but none of them were cheap enough for me to part with my cash. I returned to my hostel, empty handed, and inquired if the receptionists knew were any cheap clothes stores could be found. After much debating the receptionists marked a few stores on my map which I will check out tomorrow. For now I went up to my dorm to start searching the internet.
As I walked into my dorm I noticed that the Chinese group had checked-out and that the Malayan woman, still smiling, was on her computer. She noticed my new suit case and I showed her it's contents before leaving to book a hostel within Beijing. All was going well and my hostel had been booked, blog written and photos uploaded by 9pm. I spent the rest of the evening having a shower and an early night. Tomorrow I'll continue my clothes shopping before taking the 19:28 train to Beijing. Great Wall here I come!