new bright sky earth

January 14th, 2008

lzh and I decided to get out of the house and do something yesterday. It’s been a hell of a long time since we went anywhere. Well, we went out on Christmas Eve… anyway, getting out of the house and doing stuff- any kind of stuff- has become quite a rare event in our household, a depressingly rare event considering the super-happening, mega-exciting city we live in.

Anyway, after the usual long and tortuous round of indecision, we eventually settled on going up to Bawangfen and doing some DVD shopping at that awesome little store we found on Christmas Eve. And so we jumped on the first bus up to Bawangfen. We got off at Bawangfen North, and lzh, on seeing the shiny, new 新光天地/Xinguang Tiandi shopping mall, decided she wanted to go inside and look around. We settled on DVDs first, mall second. So we crossed the road and wandered through the maze of lanes that runs through and between Blue Castle (appropriately coloured brown), Sunshine 100 and Wanda.

Unfortunately we took a slightly wrong turn- we were heading in the right direction, we just added an extra 100 metres to the journey- and found ourselves walking down a street between Sunshine 100 and what looks like a Western branch of Blue Castle (looks like, because it’s the same brown as the main part of Blue Castle on Xidawang Lu), running westwards from Blue Castle along the northern side of Wanda. This was a most unfortunate detour not because of the extra 100 metres it added to our journey, but because for some reason this particular road stank like the worst old-style, short-drop poopchute public toilet, and neither of us could figure out why. There was a small garden with paths running through it to our left, which would’ve been a pleasant place to stroll if it weren’t for the stench. Up ahead, at the northern end of Wanda, the roads were pretty rough and incomplete, thanks to the ongoing construction on the northern side of the road, but there was no sign of any broken sewer or any other possible source of this stench. But for whatever reason, it reeked to high heaven. If I were buying an apartment in that area, I would point out the coal-fired power station not 500 metres to the east and the sheer reek of that particular road and demand a hefty discount.

Anyway, stinky roads were not enough to prevent us from accomplishing our mission. We pressed on in dogged determination, icy wind tearing at our skin, stench melting our nostrils, and we made it into the relative safety of Wanda and around to Tiger’s DVD store. And our first impression was given reason to last. That is an awesome little store. Somehow they manage to combine an incredible range of films, perfect quality (so far, at least) and low prices. And if the price is ever higher on one film or another, it’s only marginally higher, and they tell you straight up why. And they’re happy to discuss films or make a recommendation. And when asked when Feng Xiaogang’s latest 《集结号》/Assembly would be out, the said on the 18th.

And the first thing I saw when I walked in the store was Martic Scorcese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Of course, I immediately grabbed it, although I did insist on carefully studying the cover, just for form’s sake. lzh ran around and chose a few films while I browsed. My only contribution to our haul was Bob Dylan and a Hayley Westenra CD- hey, it’s hard enough to find Kiwi films here, let alone Kiwi music. I was not going to let this chance slip. We watched two last night, The Home Song Stories, and 《命运呼叫转移》, which apparently has the English title Crossed Lines, and, I was surprised to discover, is actually four short films. Four quite separate short films, although one character does crop up in three of them. I’ll save the reviews for later, for now I’ll just say that both films are well worth watching.

The Home Song Stories is not light or fluffy viewing, though. Just as a warning: It contains five or six suicide attempts by three different characters, two of which are successful. And it is, apparently, based on the childhood of the writer and director, Tony Ayres. I also found it linguistically odd- Joan Chen plays a Shanghainese nightclub singer who wound up in Hong Kong and then emigrated to Australia with her two small children. But later in the film it is revealed she is actually from somewhere else, and was a slavegirl in some rich family, later married off to an old man. The thing is, in that flashback to her early years, everything looks decidedly Southern to me. And yet she speaks mostly Putonghua to the children. She does switch into Cantonese when talking to the other adult Chinese, but back to Putonghua when she’s alone with the children. Anyway, I’m trying to avoid actually writing the reviews right now.

DVDed, we wandered back over to Xinguang, taking the slightly shorter southern route, avoiding the stinky road.

I dunno, for some strange reason I actually enjoyed walking through that area, with all the shiny, new buildings and fancy cars and yuppie housing around me- and that small section of old housing, a school and a branch of Jingkelong on the northwestern corner of the Dawangqiao intersection. And I actually wanted to go inside Xinguang and see what it was like. I hate shopping malls, loathe them, and I hate fancy rich shopping malls even more, but for whatever reason I actually wanted to see the inside of this one.

Perhaps it was because I was wearing my nice, comfortable 棉鞋/cotton-padded shoes.

Anyway, we went inside, and the first thing we were confronted with was huge, shiny signs with all the big names of all the famous foreign brands. I think Prada was the first one. I also found the place surprisingly empty, considering the crowds on the streets outside. The cafes on the first and second floors were pretty close to full, but the rest of the place was almost empty. And sterile. Still, I was almost enjoying the stroll around the mall. And then I noticed something: All of the shop signs were in English only. No Chinese names. I’ve only seen this once before, in the preposterously named The Place. I don’t understand: We’re in China, and even though the CBD has a large number of expat residents, foreigners still make up only a tiny percentage of the population. What could possibly explain the lack of Chinese signs on these stores? Are rich Chinese really so desperate to pretend they’re really not in China or really Westerners that they have to minimise any possible reminder that they are Chinese in China? Do they really consider their own culture and language so tiredly second rate that, in addition to peppering their speech with English words, they have to remove all Chinese from store and brand names? Weird. And ridiculous, too.

Of course, all of the smaller signs, like those directing people to lifts and escalators and toilets, and those announcing hefty discounts in most stores (discounts my arse! Discounted from ridiculously inflated price to still far more than its worth, but more or less what would be charged elsewhere) were either bilingual (and with its fair share of Chinglish) or mostly Chinese. But still, to see all those shop signs and brand names in English only was strangely disturbing.

And then we went down to the basement, which was a whole different experience. There were people- not quite crowds, but enough to make the place look busy. And there were lots of stalls and stores and cafes and restaurants. And the supermarket, of course. And the supermarket could be a dangerous place for me to be left unattended, there was so much good food and drink. We wandered through and picked up a couple of things, but not too much, it wasn’t cheap. Then I was getting tired, grumpy, and incredibly thirsty.

We found Charlie Brown’s cafe, got some drinks, and sat down. Actually, I was impressed. It felt comfortable and light and relaxed, a nice atmosphere to sit and rehydrate and recuperate. And of course, there was lots of Peanuts stuff all over the place.

And I noticed in the O2Sun bookstore a translation of Iris Chang‘s The Rape of Nanking for only 28 kuai. I’m not sure if it was timed for the recent 70th anniversary or not, and I’m in no position to comment on the quality of the translation, but I was interested to see it displayed prominently there. And I was the only person to pay even the slightest bit of attention to it… I wonder if there’s any connection with the lack of Chinese shop signs on the floors above?

Oh well, then we headed home and settled in for a lazy night of DVD watching.

But I’m intrigued by yesterday’s wander around that small section of the CBD. I’m intrigued because I actually enjoyed it, and I’m intrigued by what I saw there.

One of my plans for the winter holiday is to get out and about and reacquaint myself with this city. I think I’m off to a good start.

Another plan is to spend at least two hours each weekday, with the possible exception of Friday, studying Chinese, preferably from 10 am to midday. Failed this morning, but there was a contingency for today written into that plan, because I had to hand grades in. They’ve been emailed, so starting tomorrow or possibly this afternoon, considering the airborne crud the southeasterly has brought up from Tianjin… And there are a few other things I intend to keep myself busy with, too. In other words, I do not intend to slack off. We’ll see how successful I am. And if I am successful, and provided my timetable for next semester doesn’t change between now and the end of February (and I hope it doesn’t- it’s a pretty sweet timetable), I should be able to keep that study timetable going, with only one minor alteration.

3 Responses to “new bright sky earth”

  1. Jeremiah Says:

    Funny. We watched Home Song Stories last night, too.

    Good movie, but DEAR LORD–what a depressing way to spend two hours. For the entire last half of the movie, I just started annoying YJ by shouting out other random catastophes that could befall this family: Little boy gets his arm caught in a trash masher; Aussie grandmother kills them all with a mop handle; Daughter ends up in hostess bar with five drunken All Blacks; etc.

    Thus when we learn what happened to Bill at the end, I just burst our laughing. I feel horrible, it was a truly touching movie, but after awhile I simply went into ‘tragedy overload.’

  2. Matthew Stinson Says:

    Any chance the street was home to some 臭豆腐 stalls? I’m reminded of a certain stretch of Binjiang Dao in Tianjin that reeked like a sewer because of 臭豆腐-selling stand.

  3. wangbo Says:

    Jeremiah: Exactly. Although I managed to keep my mouth shut, mostly. I limited myself to, “Oh, she hasn’t done it again, has she?”

    Matthew: No stalls in sight, let alone 臭豆腐.