Beyond My Gates

Outside the gated community


I live in a gated community with lots of high rise condos and lush landscaping. Outside the neighborhoods look blighted. Dirty, squalid, smelly. Sad as it is, this is one aspect of the “real” China. It’s not my beloved Jinan, but Jinan isn’t the whole story of this changing, complex country.

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I don’t have to teach on Fridays, which is one good thing about this job. And after the last two weeks, I’ve needed some positives.

So I went to Guangzhou in search of Carrefour. I had an address for one of their locations and having a goal makes exploring more purposeful. I took the shuttle bus from this gated community into the city, found a Starbucks and relaxed. Before heading for Carrefour I walked around this huge sports complex, which was newly built. It’s not a cool looking as the ones in Jinan, but it’s big and new. I stopped into the Westin Hotel hoping to get a map, but the concierge was gone. Eventually, he returned and I asked him for a good English bookstore. He managed to inform me that there was one across the street. I was surprised that his English was so halting and it turned out his recommendation was subpar. The shop had a few shelves of English books. It was tiny with few Chinese books if you consider Xinhua’s usually have several floors.

I got some lunch, just chicken with cashew nuts, and then thought I’d take a cab to Carrefour since this was my first trip there. I asked them at the Sheraton Hotel to get me a cab, but the doormen said it was hard to do that midday. Okay, I figured out the subway system, and I’m proud to say got to Carrefour by stopping Chinese folks and showing them the address written in Chinese.

While this wasn’t the best Carrefour I’ve been to in Asia, it did have a lot of what I needed at a good price. I got a baguette, olive oil, red wine vinegar and some other items.

As I headed back to the metro, seeing my baguette a Chinese man asked, “Vous-êtres française?” We parlez-ed a bit before switching to anglais and parting. A nice international moment. I hopped on the subway and had a crowded but uneventful ride to the bus station.

On the shuttle bus back to Jade Green Island (I chuckle as I say the name of our gated dream world/neighborhood), I chatted with the woman beside me. She spoke pretty good English and really wants to come live in the U.S. She’s teaching her 8 month old English. I mentioned that I wished I’d learned a language young, but that 8 months old might be a bit too young. She really doesn’t want him to learn Chinese. She’s tired of living in Guangzhou and so wants to migrate. Her husband agrees and they take English lessons together. She’s a law professor. Turns out she lives in the building next to mine. I hope we see each other again. Once I get a phone and my a/c’s installed, I may have her over.


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