I have spent the majority of yesterday wandering around and exploring Jiujiang. The city is completely baffling with no obvious centre and several clusters of high end shops throughout that serve as mini city-centres to their respective neighbourhoods.
As a result the city feels very patchwork, some parts are incredibly beautiful and well maintained and others feel somewhat downtrodden and dirty, whilst this is similar in all cities the fact that simply turning a corner can lead you from a beautiful well lit street, lined with expensive clothes shops and restaurants to a grimy back alley filled with street vendors serving greasy meat on sticks from carts, stray animals and suspicious characters is very unusual to my western senses.
However this works both ways and whilst exploring last night I turned a corner from a standard street and found my self in a beautiful park with slender stone paths and brilliant red arches. In the centre of the park was a temple to the Buddha, with a statue of the host sitting in the shadow of its locked gate smiling benignly.
I have also discovered that shopping in China really is something else. In many ways they have ideas that are incredibly logical and then couple them that are simply bewildering. My favourite is the inclusion of lockers in most big supermarkets. If you have a bag you simply go up to terminal beside these lockers press a button and recieve a barcoded ticket. At the same time a locker will open. When you are done shopping simply scan the ticket with the barcode and retrieve your belongings. This is such a simple way to both making shopping easier and prevent shop lifting. Now that I have seen it practiced here I am surprised similar things do no happen in the UK!
My other favourite thing is the complete and utter disregard for copyrights and other legalities, there something amusing about seeing a flip phone claim to be an iPhone or a Nike tick sewed back-to-front. However my favourite has to be the seat cover in a taxi I caught yesterday that claimed to be Addidas (spelt right?) with the Puma logo alongside. The fact the seat cover was adorned with pink and purple bead with the ostentatious claim all the more delightful!
However my least favourite aspect of chinese shopping is the way some shopping centres organise payments. In many of these centres there are small boutiques and stalls that resemble permanent markets back home. However none of them have cash registers so you must take your item to them which they then take from you in exchange for a handwritten note (this is not quick to write), you then must trek across the store to find the single payment point, join the line and wait, present your note, pay, recieve a payment note, return to the original store and collect your item!
I only wanted two bloody pads of paper which cost approximately 79p! What a lark! This was further complicated by my complete lack of Chinese language skills. Mime is at best a limited art!
After this I went to the only bar I can find in Jiujiang, The Nest in order to recieve a much deserved beer. The novelty of having a foreigner in the bar was not lost on the staff who literally formed an orderly que to approach and speak to me. As a result I can now order a beer in Chinese. And think I was tricked into telling a boy he was handsome much to the amusement of my hosts.
Jiujiang is a very isolated city by western standards, however I suspect this is the Chinese norm and beside myself and Donald I have seen no ethnicities other than Chinese. As a result I got a lot of attention on the street with people wandering over to ask me questions and test their English. So far this hasn't gotten annoying yet but Donald has assured me it will.
The final part of my journey was to the lakes around which the city is built. The two lakes seem to be completely opposed to the city like quiet man surrounded by noisy neighbours. However the lakes are treat with incredible respect, there waters are clean, crisp blue and the land immediately surrounding them is green and lush. These are not man made lakes but the lakes around with the settlement grew and developed until it became so large as to tough Yangtze river itself and as a result they seem to have the gratitude of the population who go to incredible lengths to maintain them.
So in conclusion China is still as strange as it was on day one but slowly I am becoming comfortable with the strangeness and seeing the method behind the madness. Over the next few days I intent to practice my chines and hopefully be speaking if not reading at a basic level by Christmas! I hope all is well back home! Please remember to email, skype and keep in touch!