The first day we arrived at the university we now we live we woke up early and took a walk out the Big West Gate. This is what we saw:
It was a big shock that first day because it seemed so dirty and so foreign. Later, we were told that last year it was a paved road, but over the summer they decided to upgrade it so they tore down buildings, tore up the pavement and have been working on it ever since. Kind of.
For the first few months we saw a lot of work being done. They dug a huge hole down the center of the street, laid a pipe, brick and rock, and then filled in the hole. They did a ton of work in a short time and we fully expected the road to be done by Christmas. Yeah right. They haven’t touched it since.
But regardless of the state, we have come to love the West Gate road. The street is filled with teeny little eatery, shops and markets that we go to on a daily basis. The school is located on the outskirts of town so if you miss the cafeteria eating times and don’t feel like biking into town, the West Gate is the only place for you to get something to eat.
In addition to the teeny restaurants are little food carts. Everyday, usually around 2 p.m., vendors begin wheeling their carts up to the gate loaded with food. They stay until they get tired which is late into the night. (The other night after KTV one vendor was still out there at 1 a.m.!) There are stands that make fried dishes with meat and veggies, there are fruit stands, women selling steamed taro in giant rusty barrels, grill stands with meat and veggie on a stick, people making giant savory pancake/burrito type things, a roasted nut salesman (the local specialty), and many, many more.
In fact, the food stand lineup is constantly changing, which is good for us. The first few months we were here it was nothing but fruit, fried noodles and stuff on sticks. It was okay for a little bit, but we did get tired of it. (To be honest, I am still uncomfortable with the sanitation level of the meat on a stick so I eat it rarely. The meat just sits there all day uncovered in plastic case. Also, since the stands just basically park on the side of a dirt road there is no running water and dirt covers everything, so overall it is a pretty filthy place.)
Gradually though, we have seen some new faces. Some haven’t interested me much, (like the guy who had a plastic box on the back of his bike filled with chicken feet, heads and guts, or the people that sell a bowl of gelatinous goo that you can add sugar and other flavorings to) but some have been very, very good, like the fried bread people which is our new favorite.
Also a sort of festival atmosphere has arisen. Students realized they could set up a little table outside the gate to sell stuff. It’s mostly little chotchkies but new people go out almost every night so you never know what you are going to see. Some of my students have even gone out to sell little notebooks, cute socks or hand warmers.
So we love going out the West Gate. (Except when it is raining and the street is a giant mud puddle, then we avoid it.) We’ve almost forgotten how run down and derelict it is. That is, until the other day when we took a walk during the day.
I guess they are still planning on upgrading the road and the buildings so they have started tearing down some of the shops and the street looks pretty awful and third-world-ish. We almost forget that we live in China sometimes as we get more comfortable living here, but then, every now and then it sneaks up on you and you realize, oh yeah this is a long ways from Peterborough New Hampshire!