Getting around is relatively easy, if you have a little help. Initially, our Chinese friends told us which buses to take to get to school. On Friday night, we relied on Wes, who is in his 5th year here and knows some Chinese, to take us on our first cab ride to downtown Jiaxing. Cabs are ridiculously cheap. $2 seems to get you most places, no tipping involved. Best to keep your eyes on the landscape and not on the road as the ride is fast and furious, with major emphasis on honking to warn other drivers and pedestrians to get out of the way, only it’s more like, “GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!” Truth be told, we don’t actually know what the rules of the road are in China, but there doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation to ours. Possibly they are based on Italian rules: lanes are only suggestions; if there is space for a vehicle, go for it! Most drivers stop for lights but not always and buses seem to do whatever they want–lots of honking. There are overhead road signs in English approaching major intersections, so if you knew where you were going and were willing to drive, it’s possible. Foolhardy, but possible.
As we were walking around, Wes showed us the street level signs that not only point to specific destinations but also indicate direction. He taught us to read the symbols for east, west, north and south and said that they are fabulous for helping one get oriented and wishes all cities used them. It’s so easy to get turned around it a new place, it makes sense to have this easy guide posted at regular intervals. Wes also taught Geoff how to say, “I want to go to Jiaxing High School,” a phrase we needed to get home because, guess what? Smooth travelers that we are, we don’t know how home address! We knew that we could get there from the school and that is exactly what we did.
On Saturday, after cleaning the apartment and having a frapp and black bean scone at Starbucks, we headed back downtown, this time on foot. We walked the same route as we drove the night before but had more time to notice things. Huge banks and more banks, imposing government buildings and giant restaurants line one part of the road. A few blocks later, on one side of the street are high-end clothing stores with doormen and modern window displays. On the other side, street vendors sell fruit and vegetables on the sidewalks in front of far less opulent buildings. Three malls contain everything you might expect to find in Vancouver, including Carrefor, a French-based grocery store. There is an EP (Elegant Prosper Clothing) store in an outlet mall. On the streets, think of Denman: the shops are smaller and older and sell a range of merchandise.
Eventually, we got off the main shopping area and headed to an area David called The Beauties, referring to the old Chinese architecture in rows of old shops along the canal. We had no luck finding a cold beer, desperately needed at that point, so headed in a different direction back out to the streets where we wandered in to a tiny cafe/restaurant. There are hundreds of these all over China. In this one, there were four tables; we couldn’t see the kitchen but suspect it might be upstairs or under the stairs. In our eyes, the family appeared poor, their clothes worn and the place basic at best, but that’s a Western perspective and all relative. Far more people live this way than opulently, although judging from the on-going construction of high-rises, the middle class is rapidly expanding. (Ed. note – 2 16 oz. beer – $1.66 CDN total.)
Our final leg home took us over several bridges and along the Jiaxing Geenway, a series of paths running through the biggest park in Jiaxing, which borders our school and follows the road to our apartment. We think we have a decent sense now of the lay of the land now. We’ve got a map, albeit in Chinese, and our phrase book and if all else fails, we can get to the high school, then home. We are in business!