Thursday, November 29, 2007

Goodbye Gongbei

My final week here has been a heady mixture of melancholy and anticipation. While I'm eager at this point to return to my family and friends, the imminent prospect of leaving Zhuhai behind has been making me feel understandably downhearted.

I even felt sad taking the bus to Gongbei Tuesday afternoon for what I expect will be my final shopping trip here and passing the familiar landscape for the last time — a mood that was enhanced by the sentimental-sounding Chinese tunes playing over the bus's speaker system. My sorrow was tempered by a growing confidence that I'll be coming back to teach here again at some point. But even if I return, I won't be teaching this particular batch of students again (although since they're all freshmen, I may see some of them around campus if I can get back here within three years). You can come back to take a dip at the same spot in the stream, but the water's going to be different then.

The shopping trip turned out to be a bit of a bust: I was hoping to buy some cheap shoes to take back to Chicago, but most of them seemed shoddy even by Chinese-manufacturing standards, I had trouble find ones in my smaller-than-average size, and I couldn't bargain the price down to what I was willing to pay for the second-rate product. My clothes-shopping expectations have been spoiled by the five-story Beijing Silk Market, which offers a better selection, higher quality, and easier bargaining thanks to most vendors' knowledge of basic English.

So, characteristically, I went back to the DVD stalls, where I can always find my size and I've figured out the going prices. By this point, I'd bought all the must-have items, but I picked up a few more music videos they recently added (including Scorsese's Dylan documentary: The extra live performances that weren't included on the PBS broadcast were worth the US$3 alone) and some French classics that I'd passed up because the packaging didn't indicate that they had English subtitles (this time I asked the clerk, who said that the Chinese-language labeling promised them; we'll see).

I walked back to the bus stop through the back alleys that I'd found so exotic (and that I'd photographed extensively) on my first visit there. I still get a huge kick out of the rude, bustling scene — and I'm still stumbling upon alleyways that I hadn't explored before — but they no longer seem so quaint that I feel compelled to pull out my camera every few seconds.

I'll likely be coming back to the city before I leave China next Monday — I think Mr. Jeung wants to see C***o and me one more time — but I don't think I'll be venturing back to Gongbei — at least not this time around.

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