Friday, 31 July 2009

DongGuan Dérive.

I arrived at the bus station in DongGuan around 1pm. It looked liked it was going to rain. Maybe just a shower, nothing too serious.

I walked towards the mamouth South China Mall. Currently the worlds largest shopping mall. Though when i visited it last summer to shoot some video footage, it was completely devoid of shops (except for a small department store.)

Very little had changed. Maybe one or two new shops had recently opened, but i think there seemed to be less people walking around compared to last year.

The whole mall is like an enlarged 4D cartoon.

Clowns are surposed to be entertaining, though they turn out to scare people. This kind of place is the same. It was built to entertain, to be fun. But is depressing and mournful somehow.

My camera ran out of batteries. So i went to the only department store to buy some more.

I felt hungry, and ate at the only place open that served food; McDonald's.

God this place was barren. Like a post-apocalyptic worldscape, where people once wandered and bought shampoo and slippers.

I had to leave.

The surrounding area looked very typical of Chinese suburbia. Similar in some ways to American suburbia. Possibly as alienating. But different, more high density.

I spent at least 3 or 4 minutes trying to cross the road.

I walked towards a store called Metro, which i also visited last summer. China currently seems to have a penchant for building such 'big-box' stores. B&Q and WalMart have also invated China.

Metro sells everything in bulk. I got stared at by the shop assistants for taking pictures, and carrying a large back pack that could be used to stuff full of bags of washing powder. Maybe the store assistants were just bored. I would be in their position.

I still thought it might rain, so i bought an umbrella. I walked outside and walked up what looked like a cul-de-sac with a demolition zone on one side and at the end, and apartment buildings on the other side.

I walked to the end of the road, where there was some farming going on, and lots of rubble. Despite the big supermarket chains moving into China, many of the Chinese still grow their own food on allotments. Maybe this has something to do with the famine of the 50's, or general paranoia about food security. After all, 1.5 billion people is alot of mouths to feed in a single country, and will become increasingly difficult in the future. Food prices have skyrocketed in the last 2 years, crop yields are down, and there are already people going hungry.

I walked down the sidewalk that ran along the never-ending line of apartment blocks trying to look for DongGuan's downtown city-center skyline.

Walking in China can be a bizarre experience. The pedestrian is dwarfed by everything, even the plant pots and street lamps.

I give up looking for the skyline. Chinese cities generally have no single area with tall buildings. Chinese cities are only and all tall buildings. So i wave for a taxi.

I spent 5 minutes trying to explain that i wanted to go to the downtown, the main street etc. etc. but the taxi driver just shouted things in Chinese. I called my assistant; Jenny, to help. She explained to the driver where i wanted to go.

20 minutes later i wondered if the taxi driver was lost, taking me to a downtown in another city, taking the long way around to clock up as many miles as possible, or if the downtown really is this far away. I guessed the last. Chinese cities are vast. Especially DongGuan, which appears to suffer from suburban sprawl more than any other Chinese city i have visited.

Eventually he dropped me off in the 'main area' of the city, which looked from my window to be a collection of elaborate shopping malls and colourful ginormous billboards.

I walked up to one of the malls, where a boy in a fluorescent orange polo shirt offered me a voucher to a fitness club.

I walked towards what looked like a subway entrance, which turned out to be the entrance to an underground mall. I took the escalator down, had a look, and decided to turn back.

I walked alongside a wall covered in mobile phone numbers. The unemployed (this part of China has many at the moment) post up or paint their mobile numbers everywhere incase an employer is looking for labour.

It seemed as if DongGuan was built for clowns. Every building was adorned with the same gaudy primary colours and oversized ornaments usually found in children's nursery schools. Why did everything looks so childish?

I explored a huge courtyard parking lot. Again there were oversized toys everywhere.

I walked towards what looked like a factory, but got shouted at by a security guard. I turned back and entered a shopping mall.

This mall was full of shops selling furniture and home appliances. I walked into a chandelier shop, took some pictures, and got asked to stop. I find it frustrating to be constantly asked to stop taking pictures, due to the fear that i might want to copy and sell what i'm photographing, especially in a country that plagerizes everything.

I crossed the road, and entered another shopping mall. Malls in China generally contain one or more supermarkets. This one had two. I entered Carrefour, and walked around.

Chinese supermarkets are always littered with advertisements and cardboard arrangements promoting new products that in the 'West' are dull, but to Chinese customers are new oddities.

I left the supermarket and walked towards what appeared to be a collection of pseudo-'European' buildings. I passed a number of businesses catering to cars.

The pic-and-mix collection of European buildings turned out to be yet another mall.

This one was certainly more decrepit, even more so than the South China Mall.

Next to the mall was probably the largest apartment building i've ever seen. I wondered what it would feel like to live in a tiny container in such an enormous building.

I realized quickly that most of the mall was vacant. That it obviously wasn't a place worth caring about, like many of the places that have been build during the past 50 years. Such places in China are commonly referred to as 'face-projects'; usually ambitious building projects pioneered by a wealthy city official with wild ideas and tax revenue at his disposal, built with an ego, but without keeping in mind how people will actually live with such a project, how it will be carried forward into the future, how it will interact will other surrounding buildings and spaces, and how it actually feels to live, shop, work or even walk through such a place. City officials in China are not elected and do not have voters to please, so they can do whatever the hell they want.

I continued walking, and reached a network of apartment buildings that seemed at least 40 years old, which appeared rare for DongGuan. I walked down one of the alleyways, and peered through a few windows and observed families as they held BBQ's outside.

I reached a dead end, and turned back on myself, to exit onto a main road. This always surprises me in China, how one minute you can be amongst little alleyways and children playing and old women hanging out washing, and then suddenly your out on a main road with thousands of cars and strip malls and neon lights.

I passed yet another 'European' themed shopping mall. I didn't go inside. Surely such places have been built for their aesthetic abilities to lure people to them, though they appear clownish and cartoonish. I generally feel places like these chip away at our dignity day after day, until we stop caring.

I continued down the road towards a number of giant balloons in front of a furniture supercentre.

I went into the furniture center, and got waved at by two young women who spoke English. They asked me to take a tour of the shop with them. They took me around and showed me a variety of furniture and appliances. Fake fruit and bread and animals were everywhere. They gave me a business card.

I walked along one of DongGuan's main thoughroughfares. Either side there was development going on; new tarmac been layed, apartment blocks been constructed, workmen painting and sanding.

I crossed the road, and was faced with yet another shopping mall, this one adorned with gaudy ornaments and oversized models of consumer products.

I was hungry, and dinned on noodles in a Yunnan restaurant, where i flicked through golf magazines from 2007 and 2008.

Upon exiting the restaurant i realized it had become dark, and so i decided to leave the city center, and head back to the coach station in a taxi. The taxi ride only took 10 minutes. I realized that earlier on in the day i had been ripped off, and had probably been taken around the city in a loop to rack up as Yuan on the meter as possible.

I arrived back at the South China Mall, which was now lit up with neon signs.

I walked back to the coach station along the highway and construction wastelands of half finished fake-Bavarian style apartment blocks. The huge neon sign for the South China Mall produced an immense purple glow of light pollution in the humid air, like some alien spacecraft that landed on a hundred foot high plinth.

I arrived at the coach station at 7:35, bought a ticket back to Foshan for 7:50, and waited for my bus.