After many months of being ‘the only one of my kind,’ (wasn’t there a film with this line in it?), I was delighted to hop on and off a train and walk straight into a world (well, neighbourhood, forgive the artistic license) full of people who looked just like me.
It was refreshing, bewildering and exciting all at the same time.
Welcome to Africa Town in the heart of Guangzhou, South China’s largest city.
I’d been getting my boogie on in the middle of the dance floor and not paying much attention to the people around me. I assumed that I was in someone’s way so I bounced over to the left.
However the tapping continued. I turned and followed the finger to the wrist, spotting what looked like a very expensive silver Rolex, carried my gaze up along a shoulder and eventually landed on the face of a smiling Chinese man who was dancing in circles around me, happily and totally off-beat. Well, to each his own.
In stunted English he offered me and my Chinese friend hospitality at his private table which was laden with drinks and fruit. I initially declined, the live band were great and I didn’t want to lose my momentum but he insisted, this time in Chinese, that having our company would be his pleasure.
Mr. Gu was spending the eveing with two Chinese friends, a female and a drunk, irritating male. I guessed the men were in their early forties and the lady in her mid to late twenties. She was the only one of the three who spoke English well.
He told us that he’d been drawn to me because he worked for most of the year in Africa, in fact it had made him rich and after spending so much time there he’d developed a strong affinity with African women. Not really romantic, more like endearing friendship.
I had to disappoint him by telling him that I’d never been to Africa and that I was born in England, but he took it well.
We never did make it back onto the dance floor that evening as Mr. Gu wouldn’t take no for an answer. It soon became clear that the word ‘no,’ along with the phrase ‘my friend and I want to go home now’ was not in his vocabulary.
After chatting for a while using my friend and his female friend as interpreters and trying to ignore the obnoxious drunk friend, we ended up going to dinner at 3am. (chauffeur driven, I might add). In this part of China, late dining is not unusual.
Unlike most Chinese people, Mr. Gu didn’t bat an eyelid when I refused all of the five meat dishes he ordered, sticking instead to rice and vegetables.
When a young lady with a sweet voice and guitar came to serenade our table in exchange for a few RMB, Mr Gu initially waved her away but on noticing that I wanted to request my favourite Chinese song, he immediately called her back. She said she didn’t know it, but he gave her 50RMB anyway.
Later, Mr. Gu took us to his apartment in the grounds of a prestigious golf course to show us the night-time view across the city.
He told us of his love and respect for Kenya, the people, the landscape and the government, as well as how much he enjoyed working there. He also spoke of his love for his new fiance, his hopes that they would have a healthy son soon after marriage and how he’d been happy to give her mother one million RMB on their engagement.
All the while, the young lady complained in our ear about how the drunk guy was only using her and wouldn’t pay for her to study in America. But to be honest if she was looking for sympathy she was wasting her time. Where Mr. Gu was charming and considerate his companions were boorish and self absorbed.
Over the last four years I’ve heard many negative stories and ideas about black people in China.
Oddly these are most common on the internet forums which are frequented by white expats.
The fact that Mr Gu wanted to spend time with me, (even though he couldn’t speak English) just because he thought I was directly from Africa and gave us such a wonderful, unique evening, is something which these narrow-minded expats could never fathom, so I wouldn’t even bother to tell them.
For example, in many of my recently taken photos there’s a lot of images of soup. Looking at the thick, juicy liquid had me all retrospective within minutes.
As mentioned on my Home page, I was born in England to Jamaican parents and, in every Jamaican household, Saturday without Saturday Soup just wouldn’t be right.
This homemade deliciousness is a cut above your average tinned soup. It’s hearty, warming and extremely filling with each cook/family adding their own unique touch.
The dish is made with meat and or vegetable stock, Jamaican root vegetables such as yam and sweet potato, plaintain, carrots, onions and large chunks of mutton. Personal tastes are catered for by adding soft, tiny dumplings along with pepper for those who like it hot.
Saturday Soup was a great way to finish off left-overs from weekday meals leaving the fridge and kitchen cupboards, plus pots on the stove, clean and clear ready for Sunday’s more formal, big family sit down meal.
Here in China soup is not just for Saturdays.
Indulge any day of the week, with friends or alone.
Choose from meat, seafood, noodles or vegetables, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, just throw in all of the above, grab a spoon and some chopsticks and enjoy.
Yesterday afternoon, I paused for a moment from a day of following my passion. A day filled with glorious, creative writing. Nothing else to do. No-where else to be.
I realised that nothing was switched on in my small apartment except the fridge, which is brand new, totally eco friendly according to the label and so makes no sound at all.
Everything else was off. Air conditioner. Heater. Lights. TV. Music. The only other piece of electronic equipment which was running was my laptop and, again, it makes no sound.
Still I’d been disturbed by something as I’d stopped typing to take a well deserved break. I just had to figure out what it was.
I turned my head in different directions and listened carefully. Stilled my own breathing to make doubly sure and yep, there it was. My every move, thought and carefully typed word was accompanied by the sound of three different types of drilling coming from three different directions and, it had been like this all day.
Sadly, this is not unique to my current living situation. When I first came to China and lived in Xu Zhou the local goverment were re-building part of a shopping centre, which was located within my residential community. The workmen drilled from 6:30am until 2:00am, under whose orders I’ll never know, but I’m pretty sure it’s someone who didn’t live nearby.
Since moving south to Shenzhen, the building works are just as much in effect and nearly everywhere I go has the backdrop of what I call the Bang Bang orchestra
In China it seems that building means progress and there are talks of whole, longstanding neighbourhoods being demolished to make way for more shiny malls. But what about the old, historic areas seeped in culture, tradition and value that could be razed to the ground in the name of moving forward? With such actions, in thirty years time, will there be any significant difference between China and the west in terms of aesthetics?
If you appreciate the glory of beautiful old Chinese buildings and want to feel five thousand years of history beneath your feet as you tread where Dynasty leaders once trod, perhaps you should come to China now before it all disappears.
Just remember to bring ear plugs so you can get a good night’s sleep in the midst of all the drilling.
As well as walking along the street, sitting in a restaurant or cafe, riding the bus or trying to cross any of Shenzhen’s massive roads without being killed by the crazy and relentless traffic; the underground transport system, or subway, is a very common place for me to make new Chinese friends.
On one occassion a group of about six people, men and women, spotted me from the other side of the carriage and approached me swiftly. They were dressed in business attire, and kind of smiling, but there were so many of them it was still a little scary.
What did they want with me? Had I done something wrong? Were they from the government? Had they been following me? Would I ever see my friends and family in England again? And what exactly did they have in their briefcases?
Just some of the thoughts that rushed through my mind as they advanced.
They stood in a semi-circle around me and the biggest guy opened with, ‘hello, you have a nice smell.’ Which made me want to sniff myself until I realised that he meant ‘smile.’
From then on everything was okay. After asking me the usual questions about where I was from and what I was doing in China, they revealed that they were from a university organisation and wondered if I’d give a speech there sometime in the future, giving me their business card before they departed.
The encounter following that a few days later was also pleasant but even more strange, albeit, in a good way again, thankfully.
I was standing on the platform thinking about nothing in particular when a young Chinese man (maybe in his late 20’s?) dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, came up to me.
His shy smile was quite sweet. Appreciating his bravery in approaching me, I smiled back.
‘Hello, can I talk to you, maybe practice my English a little?’ He asked.
‘Sure, no problem.’ People asking to practice their English with foreigners is a regular occurence in China.
But as soon as I agreed, the poor young man didn’t know what to say! Maybe he’d been expecting me to dismiss his request so he hadn’t actually prepared anything else.
He put his hands in his pockets, kept a vague smile on his face, shoulders hunched while a red flush crept up his neck and onto his cheeks as he stared at the ceiling. It was like all the words left his head and he’d become mute.
To save his embarrassment I asked him a few questions about where he lived and worked and how old he was. Turns out he was on his way to a job interview with an American company. So, I wished him luck and told him that I thought his English was pretty good.
The third major instance of being befriended by someone on the subway started off well, but turned out to be a little less positive.
I don’t want to re-live it right now but you can read about it on Jocelyn Eikenburg’s fab blog about interracial relationships; Speaking of China.
Oh the joys and the delights of surrendering yourself to pure pampering bliss at any time of day, 24 hours around the clock. The sheer heaven of easing tired muscles whilst sipping on fresh, hot tea and enjoying a spectacular foot rub.
All of this within the hushed, carpeted walls of a luxurious setting that will make you feel so at ease you might just forget about going home.
In China, along with several other Asian countries, this is possible and perhaps best of all, it won’t cripple your wallet.
Spending time at a 24 hour spa is an everyday activity in China, but for most westerners it’s pretty special. Click on the link to find out more;