On Monday I made another trip to Zhuhai, determined to find the Gongbei shopping district that had eluded me a week earlier. This time I took a different bus that I had been told went to Gongbei, and once again I wound up in a completely different part of town. After a bit of wandering I realized I was back in Jida, the same district where I'd spent most of my afternoon the previous week.
The first order of business, though, was to replenish my supply of yuen: The cash I had brought with me from the States was running dangerously low, and I'd found out that I wouldn't get paid till the end of the month. My online research had disclosed that Bank of China ATMs accepted American cards, and it didn't take long to find a branch. The transaction went off with hardly a hitch: I knew from experience that PIN codes in Asia are numerical rather than in words, so I'd already transposed mine. However, my first attempt was rejected, and I was beginning to worry until I took a closer look at the keypad and saw that "1-2-3" was on the bottom row and "7-8-9" on the top. Once I accomodated the backwards layout, it worked fine.
Feeling flush, I decided to splurge on a taxi to take me to Gongbei. Even though I've read that taxis here are among the most expensive in China, it felt like a bargain at $2.50. Since I didn't—couldn't—specify to the driver where to take me, he must have figured, correctly, that I was there for the shopping because he dropped me off at the entrance to a huge underground shopping mall.
The bright, modern mall consisted of hundreds of—manybe even a thousand—small shops, glorified stalls, really, mostly selling clothes and accessories but also electronics, toys, and, as I'd hoped, DVDs (I'll detail my purchases in a future entry). The layout was extremely confusing, and when I foud myself passing the same shop for the third time, I figured it was time for lunch.
The mall contained at least a dozen different restaurants, from lunch counters like this to ones with full waitress service and vast selections. I was tempted to try the J-Kung Fu chain that had intrigued me when I was in Zhuhai last week, but instead opted for a more comfortable spot that offered an English-language menu with a couple of hundred items. I picked something not too exotic, Cantonese-style sauteed beef with mushrooms in black pepper sauce.
The entrance to the mall is located right on the border to Macau, allowing the territory's residents quick access to cheap Mainland goods. Just go through the doors at the top of the stairs and you're on your way there. (I expect to make the day-trip with C***o and Rongli in a couple of weeks.)
Heading in the other direction at the top of the stairs takes you across a large plaza (situated above the mall) that leads to Gongbei.
The architecture and palm trees evoke downtown Los Angeles.
Department stores like this one are common throughout the city; an entire floor is taken up with a vast supermarket that offers nearly everything you'd see at a Jewel or Dominicks, as well as exotic items you'd be hard-pressed to find anyplace in the States.
McDonald's and KFC go together like Bush and Cheney.
This store is full of Peanuts merchandise that's likely no more legitimate than the DVDs I'd just bought.
The large, modern shopping street had much to offer, but I was more intrigued by the alleyways jutting off to the side.
The alley led to an open area with tiny, rundown shops; vendors selling a rather meager selection of produce; and street food with a small seating area.
Another turn took me to yet another alleyway; it would be easy to get lost in this maze, although eventually you always find your way back to a main thoroughfare.
This fellow was turning out tasty-looking stir-fries for a steady crowd of appreciative customers. (I had to wait a while before I could get an unobstruccted shot of him at work.)
If I hadn't had such a large lunch at the mall I might've been tempted by the street food. Just as well, because the sanitation was substandard—that is, nonexistant.
This is the Chinese street life I miss in the wide-open environs of the campus—You never know what you'll see around every twist in the alleyway. And it goes without saying that there's nothing like this to be seen back in the States.
This woman's selling freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.
Delivering slaughtered hogs. And if they aren't fresh enough...
...try these chickens, killed, plucked, and dressed while you wait.
Not sure what these birds are—doves, I guess—but they'll be on someone's dinner table in a matter of hours.
After I snapped this shot of a woman selling baked potatoes, she let out a stream of what I had to assume was invective, which I took as a sign to cut short my explorations and head back to campus.
Fortunately, I had discovered earlier that the bus I had taken the previous week did indeed brush by the outskirts of Gongbei, which relieved my earlier qualms about how to get back (and which will greatly simplify future jaunts to the city). The only thing worth mentioning about the journey home was that the bus driver had to pull off the highway to buy gasoline—I've never experienced that before.
The one good thing about my confused and aimless ramblings around Zhuhai is that I'm beginning to feel I can find my way around the city, even if it's knowledge gained by fits and starts. Some friends of C***o and R****i are taking them on a tour of Zhuhai next Saturday, and I've been invited to join them; at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if could show them a place or two.