There is Nothing For You at Huagong Station

“Please stand firm and hold the handrail.”

Slightly anxious about the forthcoming U.K. general election (mainly because the only thing most British people are good at is making stupid decisions really loudly), I hopped onto a rented bicycle and tried to out-pedal my woes. I had, as usual, no idea where I was going.

I rode out past Happy Valley subway station, following Line 7 for twenty minutes or so, through muddy puddles and past huge cement trucks that trundled towards me from the opposite direction. My journey along this part of the line was abruptly cut short. A huge blue fence blocked further access in every direction except the one I’d just travelled in. The only escape was Huagong metro station, and even that lay concealed within a stretch of blue Labyrinth.

A mysterious man in a deck chair marked the entrance. Whether he was paid to be there* or simply enjoys sitting in the rain outside fenced off subway stations remains unclear. He didn’t smile. When I made it into the bowels of the station, I found I was Huagong’s only customer (perhaps its only customer ever). You know those seventies movies where a white guy walks into some ‘ethnic’ bar and the music stops while all of the patrons turn in shock and anger. That’s pretty much what happened on this wet, grey day in the Jing.

The cleaner, an ancient Mervyn Peake character who had been dutifully polishing ticket barriers that no human would ever pass through, nearly dropped his cloth as he stared at me the entire time I was there. I expected him to start pointing, letting out an unearthly screech like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Seriously, the first and last thing I saw at Huagong was this dude’s uncomprehending bald head as he stood in exactly the same position, mouth open, damp rag hanging limply from his hand.

The only other people at the station were two security officers, one male, one female. Both wore expressions that said “wtf is this man doing in Huagong?”

With the knowledge and freedom of a man just passing through, and the optimism of one who hopes never to return, I took one last look at the station, said a silent and emotional farewell, and boarded the train for Hufangqiao.

*(Possibly by David Lynch or the ghost of Federico Fellini)


A Room With a View


“I’m not doing this to break records. I’m doing this because I enjoy it. Not to mention the best reason for climbing a mountain…”

“And that is?”

[telly cuts out]

After living out of a battered suitcase since November, I’ve finally got an apartment. Moving house is always kind of stressful, and moving in China comes with even more potential snafus: having to stir instant coffee with a chopstick; trying repeatedly to register as a landed alien without all the relevant paperwork; remembering that you still don’t own a decent pair of shoes.

The first viewing began inauspiciously. I rode the bus through a neighborhood that looked like China’s answer to the question “can we shoot an N.W.A video here?” I began to think that the ‘scenic area’ was ironically named. “If this is Happy Valley,” I quipped to no one in particular* “then I’d hate to see the Sad one!”

Luckily, it turned out that the bus was just passing through some communist shithole on its way to the new apartment complex. Happy Valley Scenic Area is a veritable consumer kingdom, with the same shit as everywhere else: amusement park, KFC, Pizza Hut, even a Tesco (the first one I’ve ever seen in China).

The apartment is modern, spacious and bright. I assume that the estate agent was trying to sell it as thus in the first place, but my Mandarin is terrible.

We’ve got the Chinese version of Netflix**; great if you want to watch constantly buffering Tom Cruise films or the bottom of Jackie Chan’s canonical barrel. I tried watching Star Trek V last night but just at the point where I realized it was absolute wank (about three minutes after the credit sequence), the film turned itself off and I decided, presumably like everyone else who’s ever started watching Star Trek V, just to get on with something else.

*(no one in particular understands me here, let alone gets my sense of humour)

**(almost half as good as having Netflix!)