Friday, February 24, 2012

Photo of the Day--February 25, 2012

Dongguan. Inarguably the most bizarre, messy, and completely indescribable city I have ever seen. Having only spent about 18 hours there, I can't decide if I want to quit my job and move to some dodgy apartment block in Dongguan...or never go back. This is how it went down--

So we took the train from Shenzhen to Dongguan Station. The first place we went in Dongguan was the McDonald's in the train station. As I mentioned yesterday, I'd heard a lot about rampant prostitution in Dongguan. We walked into the McDonald's, grabbed a table, and within literally 2 minutes, a ~15 year old girl at the next table just asked us "Can we have talk?" Now in this situation, I would usually just be like, "meh, what's the harm in a chat?" and just see what the heck she wanted to talk about. But before a word could be uttered by me, John said, with a mouth full of Big Mac, "I am eating." And that was the end of that. Time in Dongguan: 6 minutes. Prostitutes encountered: 1. Anyway, so we were at Dongguan station. Our hotel was in Dongguan. We assumed, therefore, that the station we arrived at would be at the very least, in the same city as our hotel, by virtue of it being in Dongguan. Bad assumption. Upon walking outside and showing cabs our address, the going rate was 150 yuan, or about $23US. This is an obscene amount of money to pay for a cab in China. Like, a 2-hour cab fare. So we said screw that, and asked around a bit in terrible Chinese where our hotel was. We found a kid who spoke good English, who informed us that our hotel was a 1.5 hour car ride from here, and that we were in Dongguan, not Dongguan City. What. The. Hell. It should also be noted that this was the only time, ever, that I have felt truly unsettled/borderline unsafe in China. This place was dodge. Like, worse than any part of Southeast Asia I've been to that isn't called Manila or Jakarta. So sketchy.

So we got into a cab. And drove for 1.5 hours. From Dongguan Station. To Dongguan. Anyway, so we finally arrived at the hotel, to find a beautiful, as-advertised 5-star place. Really good stuff. The room was definitely not like a 5-star western hotel, but the building, location, and everything else was really nice, and the room was certainly not bad at all. And apparently, there was a random Indian man named Simplicio Egipto, who spoke fluent English and fluent Chinese, working the front desk. As you do.

After putting everything safely away into the room (certainly not going to be walking around Dongguan with passports, western bank cards, etc.), we ended up heading out into the city. For awhile we wandered, had a few beers, and tried to soak in the place. Which, as it were, is still being built. As in, the sidewalks are basically like walking through a minefield, or alternatively something like I would imagine the moon's surface is like--just large craters and mounds of dirt and piles of concrete slabs (which, of course, there are on the moon) that will, eventually, become a sidewalk. Good thing I wasn't wearing sandals. That would have been inconvenient! It turns out, also, that Dongguan, despite being a city of 10 million people, has no metro system. So basically we were forced to take cabs anywhere, which, really, was pretty fine, given that cab meters started at 6 yuan (~$1) and went up remarkably slowly. It was like <$4 to get anywhere.

We ended up at this street which is very appropriately named "Bar Street". I don't even know how to really properly sum up this crazy, crazy place. Basically, it was a mix of lots of Russian prostitutes, Chinese men looking for Russian prostitutes, lots of Chinese women (many of them prostitutes) and 2 white guys named John and Blaine, wondering why the hell they were in Dongguan. We met this really random group of Chinese people, one of whom was involved in the hardware industry with Sherwin Williams paint, so we chatted a bit about that over a good deal of Jack Daniel's. As the night continued, things got quite messy, and after taking a cab back to our hotel together, I somehow lost John. What? Yeah, we got to the hotel and all of a sudden John was gone. So I gave him a call. And he had no idea what part of town he was in. But it wasn't near our hotel (also, should be noted, our hotel was like 40 you could see it from quite far away).

Eventually I just went to bed, assuming John would return from wherever he was at some point throughout the night. This was as good an assumption as the one about Dongguan Station being in Dongguan. I awoke the next morning to find that John was not, in fact, in the hotel room. His bed remained completely made, so he hadn't been back at any point. I was, at the very least, quite sure he hadn't gotten involved with anything too seedy, as he's not a scumbag, and he has a wonderful girlfriend, but even so...bit iffy to find that your friend was apparently homeless last night in Dongguan.

I gave him a call to find that he was in "Southeast Asia". That is to say, he was in an 88 yuan ($15) per night hostel in a very, very shady part of town. Nowhere near the hotel. Well isn't that just peachy. So I went downstairs, found mad-dog Simplicio Egipto, and had him explain to John's cab driver where the hotel was. In his fluent Chinese. We never did find out where he had been exactly, why he had been there in the first place, or why there was an Indian man named Simplicio working at a hotel in Dongguan, China.

Our plan going into the trip was to do some sightseeing during the day, but we sort of came to the realization--there are no real sights to see in Dongguan, and furthermore, the city is so vast and so lacking of any public transport that, realistically, the few things worth seeing would be really inconvenient to get to. So we went to KFC. After enjoying some of the colonel's finest at one of the stranger KFC's I've ever been in, we started walking in some direction. John, struggling from last night, decided to hock a pretty substantial loogie onto the sidewalk. Now it should be noted, this is completely acceptable, common, and just standard in China. Chinese people do this ALL THE TIME. But, because this was Dongguan, and we had just had the most bizarre night of our lives, an enormous black woman walking by said "Ewww!"

Imagine that--you're in a pretty freaking Chinese part of China. You do something that's really Chinese/acceptable. And a...big? black? woman, who just happens to be in Dongguan, just says "Ewww!" It's possible that people reading this who haven't been to China won't really appreciate how unbelievable that is, but for anyone who has been, just one of the strangest things imaginable.

At this point we simply decided "well, we've seen part of Dongguan. Should we just cab it back to Shenzhen?" And in a move so cheeky that we had to pat ourselves on the back, we went straight up to a cab driver and just said "Women keyi qu Shenzhen ma?"--"Are we able to go to Shenzhen?" I gave him my business card, which has my office address in Chinese, and to our amazement, after a lot of Chinese that neither of us understood, he indicated that yes, he could take us to Shenzhen. For 120 yuan ($19). Now for those who recall, the cab ride from Dongguan Station to Dongguan City was 140 yuan. This is like double the distance. So we knew that we were going nowhere near Shenzhen. But it was also 11:30am on a Saturday in Dongguan, and we really didn't have any other pressing engagements, so into the car we got.

After about 15-20 minutes, it became pretty obvious that we were, in fact, going North. Shenzhen is South. Oh god...

We ended up in Shilong. Shilong is a random city a bit further North from Dongguan. He dropped us off at Shilong main train station, where, thankfully, we were able to get a train to Shenzhen. The strangeness did not stop there, however. Shortly after buying our tickets, John and I went to grab a drink/snack for the train ride. As we were walking back into the train station, John realized he had lost his train ticket. We started searching through his things, when all of a sudden out of nowhere, some small Chinese man walked up to John and handed him his ticket. Needless to say, this man was an absolute legend.

So anyway, that's the story of Dongguan. Having spent a whopping 18 hours there, I still can't quite understand how:
A) A city of 10 million has no metro
B) A city of 10 million has no airport
C) A city of 10 million can have the nearest major train station be like 45 minutes away
D) Why did we go to Dongguan?

Again, I thought it was a really interesting and bizarre place, but for anyone who read this blog with a critical eye, you will (correctly) point out--we went to Dongguan for some Jack Daniel's and KFC. And in John's case, an impromptu trip to Southeast Asia. Overall a really hilarious and worthwhile trip, and John put it quite well when he said "I need a night out like that every once in awhile to remind me why I love living in China so much".

And how right he is. Regarding the photo--nothing worth photographing in Dongguan can be captured with a photograph. That is, there is nothing to really see there, it's more the completely different/backward/insane nature of everything there. So unfortunately, today there is no photo! (Appropriate post title, of course). However, I am certainly a better writer than photographer, so it's not as though it's any great loss.

So that's Dongguan. Remember, if you ever go there, don't go to Dongguan train station. It's really freaking far from Dongguan.

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