Posts Tagged ‘Xishan District’

Remembering China # 3: Dong Ting

May 26, 2013
Dong Ting

Dong Ting, Wuxi

Before arriving in China, I dreamed that the country consisted of beautiful, whispering bamboo groves, full of quaint little tea pavilion’s and lakes. The above photo was the reality.

This photo was taken in Dong Ting – our home while we lived in China. We could never actually tell what it’s name was, as it was either Xisan (or XiShan) district, or Dong Ting. Dong Ting we were told at one point, was where the local government of the district was – and there was in fact a government building of some description several blocks away – but in China, unless you speak Chinese (and possibly even then) – nothing is every completely certain or assured.

The above street was very typical for most cities we travelled through. Rows of low-rise apartment buildings, and beneath them, small, garage-like shops, which had anything from scooter/bike repair shops, to restaurants, to general stores. Many of these shops were permanently dark, making you think they were closed, when in fact they were only saving power. At night, they were generally only illuminated by the most minimal lighting possible.

These stores tended to change on a very regular basis. The buildings above them were often dirty – just like the roads and the sidewalks. The smog in the air often collected in the grout between tiles, or in the sills above windows, so that the grime would streak down the windows themselves.

The sidewalks were always small, intricate bricks – the type of thing that could only be put down in such quantities in a country like China, where there were no shortage of hands to do the work. Because people like to ride their scooters on the sidewalks as often as the road, many of the bricks were broken.

If you look closely, on the left hand sidewalk there’s a brick sticking out  – somehow when it’s been laid, it’s just been put in around the wrong way. All the bricks around it moved closer to fill the void. I feel quite close to this particular brick, as I stubbed my toe on it no less than 3 times – and each time bloody hurt thanks!

You’d often see manhole covers in the middle of the road open, with a few sticks of bamboo jammed into them to warn people. The same with potholes – when they got too deep – the old bamboo stick method worked a treat.

Behind these rows of buildings were often more rows of buildings. They are generally placed so that they form a compound of sorts. In the middle of them, you’d find a few courtyards, often with outdoor gym equipment in them. At night, many of the Chinese would gather to socialise, dance and do exercises. In the morning, these places were for tai chi.

River Town; rekindling those memories.

September 2, 2011

I have been reading a book named River Town, by Peter Hessler. It recounts the two years Peter spent serving in the Peace Corps – namely, teaching English in the remote city of Fuling. Situated along the banks of the Yangtze, Fuling is biding its time until part of the town is flooded as part of the Three Gorges Dam project, and the impending rising of the river is a repeating theme throughout the book.

While I have not yet finished the book, I am really enjoying it. I am constantly surprised by how similar Peter’s experiences are to my own. For much of his time in China, he was one of only two foreigners in the entire city – something I can distinctly relate to. While we lived in the city of Wuxi – or rather the CBD was a 20 minute bus ride away, our day to day life was in the suburb of Dong Ting – or Xishan district – different depending on who you asked.

While the locals considered this area ‘country/rural’, it was built up and busy. There are many expats living in Wuxi, though not many in some of the more local suburbs. Many expats stick to the expat compounds or high rises closer to the city itself. Those of us who lived in places like Dong Ting got to experience a very local China. In particular, we were always the centre of attention. It was normal for us to walk down the street to the local supermarket, and have every single eye within a 100 metre radius focusing on us.

In his book, Peter explains that he went to lengths to study the language – something that I wish I had done. While I had enough Chinese to get by quite easily, I certainly didn’t have enough to breach the cultural barrier and really befriend anyone the way he did. I went to China hoping to come back with a ton of Chinese friends. I have a genuine interest in the culture, particularly in the cultural differences between my own culture and the Chinese, but could rarely explore this.

In fact, rather than coming home with a lot of Chinese friends, I came home with only a handful, and most of those were former students who I have kept touch with via email. In many ways I feel like the year we spent in China was a wasted opportunity, but in others it was something that was life changing. It gave me so many new perspectives, and more importantly, it created a solid link between myself and China. While there are many other places in the world I am looking forward to exploring, I absolutely can’t wait to return to China. If given the choice, I would fly back there tomorrow, if even for just a few days. I am almost positive it would feel as if I had never left.

The more I read Peter’s book, the more I am surprised by the amount of things that it answers for me – things that he has been able to come to understand thanks to his grasp of the language. I feel envious that he could do that, and hope that one day I can do something again similar. For anyone interested in a really accurate portrayal of China and the Chinese – from a down to earth, local perspective, I really recommend you check out River Town. If you have read it already, I would love to hear what you thought.


%d bloggers like this: