I thought we had the day all planned out. We were going back to West Lake for a more detailed tour including a cart ride to special sites, a boat ride, a visit to a famous tea house and dinner at the end. It was all mapped out and our driver was going to do the tour with us. I don’t know what happened, we lost our driver that the plan had been explained to but we were still going to venture forth with a different driver and take our chances. Not so fast as it turned out!
I have to sign out at the nursing station before leaving the hospital and when I tried to leave the doctor wouldn’t release me for this outing because I just had my lumbar puncture the previous day. I guess he figured that it would be a little too much and too soon. Wish we would’ve known that before we laid out our whole plan and booked our driver! Oh well, they did release me to go for lunch and a walk outside. We ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken which isn’t too far off from what we get at home. After lunch we decided to go for a little tour around the hospital neighbourhood and the adventure began.
I have written in a previous blog about the dichotomy of lifestyles that exist within a very small geographic area. Within a 5 minute walking radius around the hospital you’ll find high end high rise apartment living all the way down to make shift shelters utilizing blankets for walls. Our walk began at the garden plot we look down at from our room. I’m not sure who owns this land or who is responsible for the garden but it is maintained very well and I see people working in it every day. As we strolled down the path a little further we came across some very run down 3 and 4 story apartment buildings that you might associate with the “PROJECTS” in the Bronx, New York. Adjacent to these buildings was a new 10 story building under construction. As we continue down the path we approach some single and two story cement buildings consisting of mainly single room dwellings, some without doors, some with smashed in windows and all occupied. It is not clear how many people would live in each unit but we saw several people, including children that appeared to be just hanging out at home. They seemed surprised to see us, some were somewhat hesitant and others excited and curious! We may have been the only white people these locals had ever seen, especially the children.
As we continued on towards the end of the path we came across another garden plantation. It is now becoming evident that these are common throughout the entire area. Our paved pathway now becomes more of a dirt/gravel trail. Not to be deterred, TK continues pushing my chair towards what appears to be an unknown dead end! As we get closer we find an alleyway with what looks like vegetable stands on either side covered by a makeshift roof of scrap metal and anything else you can imagine that might be strewn overtop the lane to serve as shade or cover. I’m now coming to the conclusion that the individuals working these garden plots then bring their produce to these little markets to sell.
Again the people in this market seem astonished to see us but we continue to greet everyone with the traditional “ni hao” which means hello. Most return the greeting while others seem shocked that we can speak in Chinese, even though it was just a simple hello. All of the produce looks very good and obviously fresh so TK stopped at one stand to buy a few garlic cloves and a bunch of green onions. I don’t know what the cost was, one or two coins, nothing to us. The picture to the right is of the woman who ran this stand and behind her is where she lives. This is home to many, a shocking realization!
Walking further into the market we see that there are also live chickens and ducks for sale. Some running loose and some crammed into little cages. To the side we can see someone chopping up fresh meat (maybe pork??) with flies and insects hovering all around. Unsanitary to say the least, can you say salmonella. I guess people that live and eat here have adapted digestive and immune systems to be able to cope with the conditions.
We’re now coming to the end of this market alley and approaching a roadway. I’ve been on these streets before while driving into downtown and always been curious about these little communities but completely unaware that they existed just around the corner from what we temporarily call home. These roads are very narrow, barely enough room for two vehicles to pass one another and extremely dangerous as I’ve alluded to in some of my previous driving stories. I must be nuts, here I am travelling down these crazy roads in a wheelchair and not even in control of my own destiny. Definitely a leap of faith in TK and her wheelchair driving as vehicles, bikes, scooters and carts are passing us by and all beeping their horns!
All kinds of interesting shops and little businesses exist in these areas. We’ve come across little stores, bike repair shops, a welding shop, barber shop and beauty salon and even a pool hall. As with the market, all of these little shop keepers appear to live here as well. It’s hard to compare life here with what we know it as back home. I’m not too sure what a typical day is like for most of the Chinese that live in these areas but it appears like there isn’t much to do yet it seems they all survive! I have yet to see one person begging and as out of place as we must look, we have not been approached for money or harassed in any way! Having observed firsthand the squalor that so many Chinese people live in, they have and deserve my utmost respect. Quite an amazing and unexpected little adventure!