Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wen Zhou

Gary returned from Shanghai around noon the following day. He asked me to meet him in the fashion district. I could leave my bags at the hotel, he assured me. That was a good thing because, originally we were only going to stay in that hotel 1 night. He extended our stay for the time I was to be there alone but checkout was at noon and they wanted their room back. Not knowing what Gary’s plans were I was unable to negotiate with the desk clerk. A quick phone call to my friend, who then made a quick phone call to the hotel front desk took care of everything. All I had to do was make my way to the fashion district. No problems.

It is a good thing that Gary was able to negotiate a later checkout time. I was packed and ready to go but he had left all his stuff there, taking only what he needed for his overnight stay in Shanghai. We’re good friends but not so good that I’m comfortable going through his things or packing his suitcase.

The purpose of our meeting in the fashion district was twofold: give him a chance to revisit his customers there and to see if, perchance I might be able to find anything in my size. No luck, as always… except for that blouse I found last week. He walked away with a fall line sure to impress his customers and a nifty pair of green sandals for himself. In an odd way they matched what he was wearing perfectly.

Back to the hotel, settle up on the bill. Pack our things. Have a quick meal at KFC: not that good. Wanted more picker-sticker bread! Load up the car and now, on to Wen Zhou, about a 4 hour drive away.

Wen Zhou is a tier 3 city, like Wuhan. As is Hang Zhou, it is an industrial town. It has a population of about 3 million, approximately 15% of them Christian. That is a significant statistic that I will get to in the next post or two. Wen Zhou is known as the birthplace of private economy because that is where the home manufacturing and small factory trend started. It is also a port city, being closer to the ocean than Hang Zhou, which ships its goods down the Yangtze before shipping out internationally.

The first night we were there we spent it in an outlying district, Wen Zhou East. This is where Gary lived and worked his first 2 years back from studying abroad. Our visit there was purely for pleasure, for him to visit with his friends.     

This part of Wen Zhou is a mean town, where people are said to drink the beer and eat the glasses. No sidewalks, no tree lined boulevards. Nothing nice, mild, genteel or inviting about this part of town. No traffic lights and no traffic rules: you brave traffic as it comes to you. If the drivers are not drunk or otherwise distracted, you might just survive crossing the street.

Besides drinking beer, KTV is the main pastime. In fact, that is where Gary found his friends: drinking beer at the KTV. They had already been at it for several hours, our arrival having been anticipated for earlier but again, we had met heavy rainfall and had to drive substantially slower than normal. We were escorted to the room his friends were at but midway there he was assaulted by two of them who unabashedly threw their arms around him and greeted him effusively.

This was a first for me. I’ve seen Gary among friends, among family and among business partners but I had never seen him cut loose and be totally caught up in the fun. He was like a completely different person! I’ve never seen him smile so unselfconsciously or sit, limbs akimbo. Again and again he was toasted and he returned the toasts till I wondered about his ability to drive (he reassured me we would stay in this part of town tonight: no driving necessary). He even sang a few songs at KTV, one of them a lovely duet with a girl he had dated years ago.

We left that KTV room a mess: spilled beer and spit sunflower husks. Dice flung about everywhere. A platter of fruit, now sadly wilted, on the floor. Full ashtrays and empty bottles. To be fair to Gary and I, most of that was existent before we even got there but we contributed our little bit.

Gary’s former boss, who had passed out at the KTV room had recovered sufficiently to take us to a surprisingly fine hotel for such a rude town. In fact, it was the nicest hotel we stayed in our whole trip. He had booked us adjoining rooms. I excused myself into ours while Gary went on to the next room to further enjoy the evening by playing cards and perhaps drinking more. It was great to see him have a good time with his friends.

The next day, his hangover alleviated only a little by coffee and a long shower, we went into Wen Zhou proper.

Wen Zhou looked like Wuhan must have prior to its building craze. Virtually the entire city is edificed with that sinister looking tiled buildings, testimony to the era of Sino-Soviet relations. There are no ‘ring roads’ here, what in America would be a looping highway around the city. Everyone drives surface streets and they are not well surfaced. There is virtually no government money spent here, perhaps because the population is minimal, and perhaps… well, perhaps they just haven’t gotten to that town yet. There are plenty of bus routes I was to discover later, and a lot of iconic Chinese architecture.

There is money in Wen Zhou though. It is quiet money, evidenced in the type of cars driven: Aston Martins, BMWs, Audi and others. There is not a large proliferation of shopping malls, like in most major Chinese cities and very few shops that I saw that sell internationally trendy merchandise. Most shops serve their neighborhood or their district.

Also, there is not much in the way of foreigner restaurants. Whereas in Wuhan McDonalds and KFC abound, one would be hard pressed to see such in Wen Zhou. That did not hurt my feelings at all.

In Wen Zhou proper, Gary was all business again. Apparently the act of renewing a car registration is not a light-hearted affair. It took him nearly all day to do so, and in the end it didn’t quite happen. A hurried visit back to the hotel room, a jump onto the computer, a few cuss words and a quick snatch of papers and he was off again, presumably back to the car registry bureau. Little did I know that he wasn’t registering the car but actually selling it.

Selling the car??? How were we going to get home??? Leave it to Gary to take care of business: he had looked into buying plane tickets back to Wuhan before he even contemplated selling the car.

See? It is a good thing I didn’t bring that large thermos jug full of hot water (see previous entry).     

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