Sunday, 26 October 2008

Xu Xu's big day in Zhuhai

The grand day began in Macau, that outpost of Portugal which still retains so much fine european architecture, the plaster and paintwork constantly under attack from the humid air and rising damp, where a good coffee and a decent slice of bread can be found in the same establishment, that gambling haven now drawing in more bucks and bigger developments than Las Vegas, like The Venetian with it's indoor canals complete with puffy clouded blue skies painted on and european featured employees singing and punting camera toting tourists up and around the bend, while less game punters look on with amazement, content to browse the super luxury brand stores catering to the mega rich or casino lucky or desparate... yes it began here on a local crowded bus, which was unneccesary really, I could have gone to any big casino and boarded a free shuttle bus to the frontier (or to another casino, the ferry or helipad to Hong Kong) but ol' Xu Xu wanted local an' he got it. The frontier pays lip service to the days gone by, there is the old border gate on the Macau side, which is now just a monument, this border (pictured from the Chinese side) is an airport-esque development which during opening hours has a constant stream of mostly mainland chinese coming and going, you might want to allow an hour to get through..... the city on the other side is Zhuhai, gateway to China, and also a "special economic zone". All this meant to me was that I could get a special three day visa to enter Zuhai at the border, without the hassle of getting a normal Chinese visa. Just needed to find the office in the immigration building, fill a form, hand over either HK$150 or RMB$160 (Macau Pataca not accepted) and wait five minutes. Sorry Americans and British, you're looking at about HK$1000 for the same visa. While waiting in line to have passports examined we are entertained by a video featuring Jackie Chan and an Australian family with the message that buying counterfeit goods is a really bad idea and could get you into whole lot of trouble.
Once through (actually before) the plate of hot chillies I ate the night before while half cut caught up with me, so I made for the conveniences. I had heard from many sources about the state of toilets in China so thought I had better use the government's best in the immigration building. It wasn't a good sign of things to come. There was one western sit down type (although I do also like the asian squat), but the seat had been stolen and the last time I had seen such filth was in a small Moroccan town. At least there was a door. No paper though so I decided to wait. Right on the Chinese side is a two storied underground shopping mall. This place is big. As soon as you go down the escatator you will find a miriad of stores selling cigarettes, liquor, food, clothing, bags and watches, the last three at least for the most part being FAKES. If you are in the market for some counterfeit Rolexes, Omegas, iPhones, Louis Vuitton, Prada, you name it, then this is a good place to start. You need to have honed your haggling skills, and quality varies from poor to pretty good, but it's a fun place to spend a couple of hours, the shopkeepers will be constantly calling out to you, some will speak english, many won't.
Perhaps now I will write a few words concerning public behaviour. Living in Taiwan I have become accustomed to a certain amount of spitting, pushing, and general rudeness. Perhaps my standards are too high, but there is no nice way to say this. Many Chinese men are purely disgusting in the way they behave in public. Spitting, swearing, discarding rubbish, pushing, I don't want to generalise, but even if it's only 30% of the population it's more than enough people who show less respect for others than your average street dog or cockroach. There can be an amusing side to this, when in Macau I happened to be walking past a bus stop when a large group of Chinese workers had finished work for the day on a maaasive casino development, and were getting on the bus. The scrum was amazing, I've never before seen people climbing over each other to get on a bus! One bloke would get on, then grab the arm of his mate still three people back, and try to pull him over the top of the others! It actually meant that the bus filled up very slowly, as it was difficult for any one person to get his whole body through the door!
Leaving the underground mall I went for a walk around the local streets. Perhaps I picked the wrong street, as less than an hour later after buying a cache of toilet paper and finding another grotty toilet in a department store I discovered a zip open in the back of my bag and my camera gone. A few days later that pisses me off more than it did at the time, the loss of the pictures more than the stolen camera.
I struck an arc up a narrow alley which took me past a local brothel, the girls lined up outside for my perusal. Macau has it's share of these too, when I'm with Jenny I don't attract any attention but when alone it's a different story. In Macau however the girls merely called out to me, here in Zhuhai I was grabbed by the wrist and prevented from walking any further! It was quite amusing and after a few seconds the girl let me go. Prostitution is open, obvious, and big business both in Zhuhai and Macau. Even in the Venetian casino in Macau, the biggest in the world, I was approached by a girl asking if I wanted a massage.
That afternoon I stopped for a beer in the pedestrian street which is lined with kiosks which double as bars and cafes. The friendly serving girl was from Hunan province and she told me about her time in Zhuhai, about the sort of people who go there, the prostitution scene, the counterfeit goods (a couple of years ago there was a spate of fake beer). She didn't have a passport and had never been to Macau or Beijing or anywhere outside China. She had also had her purse stolen on the same street where my camera was taken, and said it was a notorious strip for pickpockets.
While having my beer I saw a local cop encouraging a homeless man to leave the pedestrian street by kicking him in the arse when wouldn't walk fast enough, a local prostitute finish her carton of drink and just throw it down on the street, not drop it, but but give it a good chuck in a busy street as soon as the straw came out of her mouth.
At around eight in the evening I made my way back over to the Macau side of the border, wondering if they would have any interest in whether or not anybody had stocked up on counterfeit goods. They were not interested, although I never saw any such products for sale in Macau.
Despite having my camera nicked, I actually had a fun day in Zhuhai, and would go back given the opportunity......

1 comment:

sansIcarus said...

I imagine going back for photos would be a good motivation?