i started my one day weekend with 4 uninvited strangers coming into my apartment this morning around 8:30.
i heard the lock jiggling but didn't have time to do anything before they just walked in. fortunately i was dressed (i'd been up since 7:00), but had they come any earlier, it would've been even more awkward (living alone, the bathroom door is never closed). it was two 2 real estate agents bringing a couple to see the place. they didn't realize somebody (ME!) was living here, and was about to leave, when i told them they could check out the place. the couple had that arrogant smugness of the nouveau riche, didn't even look at me while they took a quick tour. these must be terrible real estate agents because i was selling the place better than they were. "this place recently got wifi," i added as selling point. they left soon afterwards. it just seemed kind of weird at the time, but now that i think about it, this is a terrible invasion of privacy. how many other people have keys to my apartment? i'm going to have to start bringing my cash with me again everywhere i go. what i'm going to do tomorrow is ask the office admin if they can replace the lock on my door, it'd made me feel a lot safer and not have to worry about my things getting stolen.
after opening up a new bank account (took about an hour of of explaining to the bank clerk i can't read or write chinese then waiting for my number to be called and finally waiting for them to figure out how to open an account with a taiwan-china visa document), i returned home to eat some meat buns before going to chongqing. this involved taking a taxi to qiyan bus station (RMB$5.90, less than 2 miles) then taking a bus (RMB$31, one hour). i arrived in chongqing city (chongqing is also the province name, although it used to be a part of sichuan) around noontime, right next to the hongqihegou metro station. i spent the next 5 hours doing what i do best, which is exploring the city at my own pace.
i bought a pair of folding scissors from a street vendor for RMB$5. this was exactly what i'd been searching for since i arrived in china. not only while i use it for personal grooming, but you never know when a pair of scissors might come in handy. up until now, i basically used my teeth if i wanted to cut anything.
i chatted with a group of motorcycle taxis. what they do is technically illegal, and when i asked to take their photos they hid their faces and said i should take photos of only good things. when i asked one of them his name he quickly left. they all spoke sichuanese, which i could sort of understand, but only about half of it. they couldn't fathom how i could speak chinese fluently yet not be able to read and write. they were equally stunned that i was 39 years old and not yet married with kids. even more confusing, they couldn't comprehend why my company didn't hire a "beautiful girl" to stay with me while i worked in china (is this standard chinese practice? i speak with HR tomorrow).
i also went to the bus station to figure out where i could buy my return ticket back to changshou, and the time of the last bus (8:00). when i asked if the bus departs every hour, the clerk told me they basically leave whenever the bus fills up. i finally left the station and took the metro from hongqihegou.
when i came to chongqing 7 years ago, they didn't have a metro yet. chongqing's metro is especially cool because (at least from the stretch i was riding) it seems to be all elevated monorails that snake through the city and along the coastline, offering a scenic vista of what the city has to offer. i headed to the jiefangbei plaza, figuring that'd be a lively spot to people watch and compare how much it's changed since my last visit. i got off at linjiangmen but didn't see any plaza. what i did see what this amazing red and black structure that looked like it might be an alien spaceship crash landed in the city. it looks like a bundle of sticks, but each ends in a chinese character. from what i gathered this is the chongqing performance hall. i spent a long time just admiring it. at one point while i stopped to figure out where to go next on my tablet PC, a "foreign" girl asked me for directions in english. she didn't seem surprised that i answered back in english, and we both wanted to ask each other where we were from. emily turned out to be from massachusetts as well, amherst, studying art here in chongqing for the past 4 years. she said her chinese is terrible, and can usually get by on just english or having a chinese friend translate for her. she was late for a lunch appointment, i helped light her cigarette, and we exchanged numbers.
from this exotic looking performance hall, i went to the nearby coastline, looking into the brown yangtze river. here was a tourist trap comprised of a bunch of foreign restaurants like korean and brazilian food. there was also a partially finished bridge nearby, spanning the river. i didn't realize how hot it was until i felt my toes burning inside my black shoes. i quickly found some shade.
i continued walking and saw the louhan temple i wanted to visit. it was next to a carrefour supermarket so i decided to get something to drink. chongqing supermarkets are much better stocked than changshou supermarkets, and prices seem cheaper too for common everyday items like dishes and utensils. i also bought a small can of hair gel (couldn't find anything that i liked in changshou, they all come in large dispensing bottles). from carrefour i could see the louhan temple. it seemed to be under renovation and didn't seem that interesting so i decided to skip it, figured i'd get something to eat first before trying to find that plaza.
outside i bought a set of utensils - butter knife, fork, spoon - for RMB$5 (that seems to be the going rate for anything i buy on the street, less than US$1). i noticed the fork had the "japanese airline" logo stamped to the handle.
i ended up going to a CSC restaurant, which i think stands for "chinese style chicken." my coworkers were talking about it last night, apparently they're opening up a few franchises in the US. i wanted to see what this chinese fried chicken was about. chicken didn't seem to be the featured items. it was more about generic western food, like steaks. i ordered 2 styles of chicken, crispy and deep fried. they gave me the crispy, which seemed a lot like KFC, but botched my deep fried order and gave me a basket of fries and some shrimp tempura. the fries were bland, even after i asked for ketchup (the condiment was equally bland).
after lunch, i soon found jiefangbei plaza. it was right there all along, i just took a wrong turn and was distracted by the alien spaceship. there wasn't as many people as i expected, and the place seemed kind of staid. gone were the myriads of small telecom stores that surrounded the square; in there place now stands high end name brand stores like louis vuitton and gucci and rolex, things that a typical chinese person can't easily afford.
i sat down with my cigarettes (courtesy of my shenyang cousin who sent me back to shanghai with 2 carton of yunnan's finest tobacco) and fake smoked to pass the people and to give me an excuse to people watch. i observed some young men seemingly stalking single girls. i wasn't quite sure what they were doing: were they propositioning these girls? or maybe offering them a job? i'll ask some of my chongqing office mates to see if they know.
after i had enough of people watching, i went back to the metro station nearby and headed back to the bus station. i bought a ticket and managed to catch the 5:15 bus. we got back to changshou in about an hour. since the highway exits near the new city, the bus pulled up to the side of the road to let off whoever wanted to get off. i jumped at the chance, since it meant i wouldn't have to catch a taxi back from the old city. outside were a rabble of motorcycles offering rides to disembarking passengers. i was pretty tired by that point, and figured i'd save time by riding a motorcycle back to my apartment. turns out my apartment was practically right next door to where we got off. the motorcyclist had the gall to ask for RMB$5, which is about the price of a taxi ride. i gave it to him, but told him next time i'd be walking. he did save me some time, because had i been walking, i would've most likely walked in the opposite direction first (unless i checked the gps on my tablet pc).
after dropping off my things at home, i went out to the supermarket. i bought some paper towels, cleaning spray, and some kleenex. as for dinner, i got a packet of spicy ramen, but bought some eggs as well (organic all-natural) plus some baby bokchoi.
i chatted with my parents on the phone briefly when i got home. what started as some minor house cleaning turned out to be quite the spectacle when i reached the bathroom. the bathroom has always been kind of a scary place for me, with the squat toilet and the toilet brush coated in the long hair strands of the previous tenant. i finally couldn't stand it anymore and went to work cleaning the bathroom to the point where you could practically eat off the floor. that involved - gross - sticking my bare hand into the recesses of the squat toilet with a scouring pad. in hindsight, maybe some gloves might've been good, but squinting so as to see as little as possible works too. plus i had the shower head running full blast on hot and flushing the toilet constantly. it's pretty clean now, but could take another pass. as for that toilet brush, as soon as i get enough courage, i'm going to throw it out.
i had ramen for dinner. the bokchoi was a little challenging, as i only had a butter knife and not even a cutting board. i used an empty cake tray and using the knife to break apart the bokchoi. as for the egg, the yolk fell out from the shell in this spectacularly bright orange color, sign of a good organic egg (half a dozen organic eggs for RMB$4.92, 2 baby bokchoi imported from yunnan for RMB$1.70).