The Have’s & Have Not’s – Changzhou, China

6 07 2014

The final and potentially most exhausting leg of our Asian odyssey takes place in Changzhou, close to Shanghai (relatively speaking). We landed in Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Greeted by the usual sour faced Immigration officials, I stood nervously in line awaiting my turn. There were two people either side of me who didn’t seem to have applied for an entry visa, thinking one was not needed. They were met with the appropriate level of officialness and disdain from the officials. As one of them was frogmarched off to a side office, I stepped towards my fate with a gulp and a lump in my stomach. Luckily my entry into the People’s Republic of China was much easier than my neighbours. Collecting our bags, we prepared to run the gauntlet of illegal taxi drivers before we found our driver.

The driver was obviously a ‘Crazy Taxi’ fan. Making his Passat drive at light speed in and out of trucks, in blinding rain I dared not look forward. Aggressively using the horn to declare his presence, signal his disdain or maybe just because he liked using it? When i dared to look forward, I really wished that I didn’t. What was really scary, our driver was driving the same as everyone else. Yet calm as a Hindu cow, I accepted my fate and fell asleep. 

Arriving into Changzhou, I was reminded of a featureless industrial estate. Large apartment blocks everywhere, wide roads with equally crazy drivers and very little else. Not to mention the monsoon type rain that battered down upon us. The hotel was grand and very 5 star. The draft of aircon and money greeting me, I was soon resting in my rather disappointing room.

Why do hotel owners put so much effort into the Reception/Lobby area of a hotel? Only to find that the rooms have been left identical for 100 years. Dusty and stinking of cigarette smoke, I tried to console myself with Facebook and catching up on work. I believe that the hotel’s Internet link consisted of a 56kb modem, because the speed was infuriating. That’s even before I mention the ‘Golden fireWall‘ of China. State control at it’s best, complete suppression of social media. Plus we had been told that the ship was two days late, not great news.

So the two days consisted of eating, drinking and sleeping within the same walls. Some interesting Chinglish descriptions though! Not stepping foot outside once, it began to feel like a luxury prison. Especially when the standard of spoken English amongst the staff was extremely poor at beat. There was literally nothing around us, except apartment blocks, an empty stadium and a dodgy looking KTV bar…no thanks.

Finally we were able to get out and work. The skies had cleared a little, but still overcast and grey. The light cast upon the land made it look flat and featureless. The equally crazy driver took us towards the ship, weaving around slow motorcycles and strange tractor trikes. There were some very luxury cars driving past (at speed). Many BMW’s, Mercedes, Jaguar’s and Porsche’s again.

The difference between those with and without money here was aeons apart. Those without  were selling watermelons, or a few dirty clothes on a rail at the roadside. Emancipated people working in rice paddies for a few Yuan each day, as luxury cars drove past them. Perhaps I have become sensitive to the gap between the have’s and have not’s following Manila, but the gap is incredibly huge. Plus it grows bigger each day. Even the industrial and financial powerhouse that China is, people are struggling to pay their way in this modern communist/communist world. What will their quality of life be in 10 years time, when China has moved on?

That to one side, the last evening on board we had an amazing Chinese ‘Hotpot’ meal with the crew. A large bowl consisting of thin soup, diners take turns to cook meat, seafood or vegetables and serve it to the group. Accompanied by an all too frequent frequent cry of ‘Gambei’, glasses were drained and refilled. It was a wonderfully social way to round off the trip and some very hard work.

Writing this at a dismal hotel in Shanghai Pudong Airport, with dirty walls and sticky carpets, not to mention a round bed (!) I am quite reflective upon the last 17 days. I have seen equal amounts of sheer luxury and desperate poverty. As I have said in previous blogs we are happy to moan about our lives, but live one day on the streets of Manila, the back streets of Hong Kong or the subsistence farming in China…then tell me your life is bad.

My thoughts now turn towards a 15 hour flight, and those that I love waiting for me.

I am a very lucky man.

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