Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sunday Walk

Back on Bainbridge Jackie and I had a tradition of taking Sunday walks. The Murden Cove to Rolling Bay trip was a favorite because we could always drop in at the Rolling Bay Cafe and get something to eat and drink while we sat and enjoyed a brief rest in the Bay Hay gardens.
Here in China it's not the same, but we do try to get out for walks when we can. There's no coffee shop or gardens, but the Shenbei New District has some charms to offer. Yesterday I decided to chronicle our walk in photos so I could share it on my blog. My guess is that in two years the same journey will mean something completely different as I learn more about China each passing week (and as local development changes the face of this community). For now though my commentary will be based on my huge ignorance and the assumptions I make.

Picture 1: It's officially autumn here. Our friend Jessica, the Canadian, told us that the trees by Qipanshan Reservoir were changing so that became the general direction (NE) of our walk. As we left campus we saw this little maple in its subdued shift from green to red. On campus we have gingkos which went yellow and shed their leaves a couple weeks ago. We also have a lot of locust-like trees, many that have suffered from some kind of rot and are in bad shape. They still have their little green leaves. The trees that were brought in to replace some of the ones that died came with no leaves. I'll find out what they are in the spring.
Picture 2: The first area we pass as we go east from school is our little downtown. There are two blocks of shops a hundred yards from the school's entrance. There we find mini-WalMarts, mini-Best, mini-McDonalds, cash machines, a post office, KTV, and assorted restaurants (the Red Pillar, the Muslim place, the Mongolian BBQ,...). The Keyigou store pictured here is one of the mini-WalMarts because it has an upstairs and sells groceries as well as housewares.
Picture 3: As we walked east we passed by the gold-foil wrapped tree trunks of one of the most luxurious new developments. At least it looks luxurious. We haven't been in to see the buildings. When we tried the guard started talking to us and pointing somewhere. We mimed that we just wanted to walk (“Let your fingers to the walking”), but he shook his head no. Others told us later that we'd have to go to the sales office if we wanted to visit. The gold foil is definitely classier than the typical whitewash that normally goes on tree trunks. Charlie told us both are designed to prevent infestation from caterpillars.
 Picture 4; It is now peak cabbage season. As you'll see in several of the following photos, cabbage is a staple here. I first noticed it when I saw random rows of cabbages laid out in the sun. Charlie told me it is being dried for longer keeping. Also the cabbage will be preserved (Cooked with water and salt.) so that it will last all winter. Here you see the cabbage being unloaded off some farmer or merchant's truck. You don't want to be accused of falling off the cabbage cart around here.
Picture 5: The next step in the life of a cabbage is to be stacked on the sidewalk to wait for a buyer.
Picture 6: Near this street market is the apartment block where the Canadians live. Could you have guessed? Funny thing, I was looking for the old maple leaf the first time I went over to Colin and Jessica's apartment. I was there the whole time with no hint of Oh Canada to be seen. It really put my preconceived notions about Canadians abroad to the test. Just before I left, Jessica took me on a tour of their whole place. They actually have two apartments. The second is across the landing. There they have space for laundry, study, extra kitchen space, and, ta da, a flag in the window.
Picture 7: Continuing east from the Canadians' place and the market street, Jackie and I passed a construction site. New apartments are being built all over the area.
Picture 8: It's common for the workers to live on-site. Here you see the garage bays haphazardly enclosed by scrap lumber. Judging from the laundry hanging out, some of the workers have families living with them. Given that our temperatures have been below freezing at night for the last week or so, the comfort level of these accommodations must be nonexistent. There are crudely strung power lines so electricity is available. There must be some water available even though no plumbing fixtures are in yet. The bathroom is around the corner, outside, on the ground.
Picture 9: The adjoining apartment block is finished. It's occupied by the regular tenants. They use the common space fully. This patch of ground has been put to use as a garden plot by someone. I think this may be more of the ubiquitous cabbage that hasn't yet fallen to the reaper's blade.
Picture 10: Another use of common space at apartment buildings is for storage of tenant goods. This courtyard is sprinkled with mounds of, yep, cabbage. Since it was a cold, damp day, the cabbage earned a covering to protect it from the rain.
Picture 11: My mom asked if the local Catholic church is the official Catholic church or if it's the government approved Catholic church. I don't know. One of my colleagues has gone and said that they had a sort of Bible study service rather than a Mass. I am basing my assessment of its Catholic-ness n the presence of this statue of Mary. This is one of two full-blown churches close to school. There's a third house of worship that is a storefront meeting place in the retail part of the neighborhood.
Picture 12: More cabbage. The stuff just pops up everywhere.
 Picture 13: A colleague coined the term “trice-i-car” for these little jalopies. They cruise around very slowly because they can't go any faster. They drive at night with no lights maybe because the drivers are economizing or maybe because they can't power both the lights and the engine at the same time. Jackie and I aren't sure whether this place is just a repair shop or if it's the home base for a fleet of trice-i-car taxis. Whichever it is, there are always a bunch being worked on here.
Picture 14: The last development on our trek is called Tahiti. This is usually said with a tone of reverence. When we first came to Shenyang the expectation was that we'd be housed off campus. That didn't happen because, we were told, there wasn't any suitable housing in the community. Some of the teachers went to see for themselves and came back with reports of vacancies right and left. Tahiti took the cake though. It has landscaped grounds, a small lake with paths and benches, a mix of housing size and style though all adhering to a sort of Mediterranean theme, a rolling terrain with hills and views, and it has statues of elephants. I've put some pictures of the elephants in my Facebook photo albums. On this walk we went past some others so I've included those pachyderms in Picture 17.
Picture 15: This picture shows the worker housing. Unlike other construction sites, Tahiti is big enough to provide these prefab dorm units for its workers. There are also small canteens and shops for the workers. Isn't doesn't seem as if there is sanitation though. We see workers using the bushes as their bathroom even outside Tahiti.
Picture 16: The outflow of Tahiti's water feature. The “stones” are actually man-made.
Picture 17: The previously-mentioned elephants.
Picture 18: Even in the early winter cold young couples flock to distinctive locations so I wasn't so surprised to see this young woman and her attendants. The overcoat drapery, though essential, was surprising.
Picture 19: I pretended to be taking a picture of Jackie when my real target was this streetsweeper. There are armies of these men and women out cleaning up the leaves and debris on the thoroughfares. Some also mow and trim the roadside ornamental plantings. I assume they are employed through some enormous make-work program, but it's nice to ride a bicycle along a stretch of road that they've been over. And it's easy to tell the places where they've been absent.
Picture 20 (a series of photos with notes): The rest of our walk was out along a major road to a small turn-off that I wanted to investigate. Along the way we noticed many things that prompted us to talk about different aspects of China as we see it:
engineering (Why put the concrete lattice if it's just going to crumble off?)
construction (Why make this nicely paved road if you're going to let huge machines tear it up when a new development goes in?)
justice and legality (To what extent can people own private property and how is land use and public access handled? And why are rams—first on the left—prohibited here?)
agriculture: (It seems as though very little of the farming we see is mechanized or are those people parked on the side of the road and heading into the cornfields just going to help themselves?)
control: (Does banning something, like the porn here, just make it a forbidden fruit that encourages to want it more. This one tied in with our ideas and opinions on the legalization referendum in California. I was mildly surprised that Jackie was leaning in favor of legalization. She indicated that her support hinges on whether the activity or substance produces victims or not.)
religion: (Why are there Tibetan prayer flags lining the drive to this strange hillside compound? What is this strange hillside compound? Do Chinese Buddhists chant in Tibetan?) Jackie picked up one of these flags in order to do more research.
waste: (That's a perfectly good dildo.)
more waste: (Why do these shabby chairs, there were two of them, get better treatment than the dildo?)
Picture 21: And then we were at our destination. It turns out the road we were on forked and both forks petered out. One went to the site of a former building now demolished. The other went up to a small reservoir. Here's the entrance to the demolished building.
Picture 22: Here's the other fork.
Picture 23: Here's the reservoir (with Jackie gazing contemplatively).
Picture 24: While we were up at the reservoir a man on a bicycle went to the demolished building. I don't know if he was a security man or just a curious local. Here's his bike.
Picture 25: After exhausting all the interesting aspects of this destination, we turned around and headed back home. We caught some light snow flurries which hastened our pace. The round trip had taken about 3 hours.

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