Glamor and Mud

(Updated as well, in October 2016, just to get all the photos in one place, and also to combine a lot of smaller posts into one. Sorry that all I’m finding still are very low-res photos. Hope they at least read better now, although in truth at the time part of what I wrote about was the posting process and how frustrating it was from China, and in the early days of blogs with lower bandwidth…)
You may recall the shots of construction and big buildings that I took from Nanhu Park back when you, my  readers, were telling me you wanted PHOTOS of Nanning rather than words. In one of these shots, you see what looks like an abandoned lot with grass and construction stuff strewn around, and in the hazy (after I got home from my run, I heard it was 94% humidity that day) background you can sort of make out some of those buildings. I think that skyline is less than five miles away, though I’ve not measured it.
The other shots include one of my favorite contrast shots – beautiful flowering tree next to lamp-post from streetlight, with shack in background in little hollow among the hills and mud where a family is living and making do somehow. Also in this shot: more views of construction, and a large wooden spool that for some reason is sitting on the sidewalk right next to the entrance to the (very glamorous) complex where my MSF housemates and colleagues and I have been spending many weekend afternoons by the pool, and several weekend evenings playing (finally, yay!) tennis. That’s the yellow building you see in the background, and in some of the previous shots; across the street from the big columns and the woman with the wheelbarrow you just saw. This is literally the end of the line for glamor development, until you get to Riverside Drive, a bit further on.

What I hope is the last shot here shows the glamorous part of what I think of as Riverside Drive (its real name isn’t shown on my map), of which you’ll see a good deal in the next set of photos. I think the relatively manicured and clean beauty of that shot contrasts nicely with the other photos in this set. This street here is maybe 1/2-mile long, and leads down to (or back from) the river and Riverside Drive.

It is lined with the cinder block shacks you see — right now almost all of them are empty. Once more folks move in here — when the development along Riverside Drive is complete, when the road that connects up to downtown is done, when all the many other buildings you’ve been seeing are occupied — no doubt many little shops of the sort that are omnipresent throughout China will go in. But for now, it’s what you see…including the women selling vegetables and meat by the roadside. (Oh, and by the way, since this road deadends in the dirt field with the blue arrow you will see in the next batch, it’s not like there are tons of cars on here, either; I’ve never seen one car yet, I think, but some motorbikes of course.) I think most of these folks live in the green hills and shacks you see in photos later on, many of which are back behind these rows of cinder block squares. Comment from Francoise when I showed her this shot: “what you can’t see in the photo is all the flies buzzing around the meat.” This is when I’m glad I’m only eating the vegetables – which you can’t really see here, but looked gorgeous.

I’ve got a basic circle loop that I run in either direction depending on my mood. Today I ran down this road first, past the building where we go swimming and play tennis, and over the course of maybe a mile I see so much contrast it’s boggling. In these shots you see the beautiful streetlamp designs that light this completely empty road at night, and some of the beautiful flowering trees that have been put in lining the road. You also see, in one shot, one of those same lamp-posts drawing up the margin on the left side of the shot, while we look uphill to another cinder block building where folks are living and carving out an existence somehow.

If you knew this street, and Nanning traffic as I do, you’d laugh at the pedestrian and wheelchair crossing sign. It’s lovely in concept, except for two realities: 1) There are NO CARS on this road — yet. (Don’t worry: they’ll come; as I said, this city is growing very fast.) 2) There exist in all of Nanning no more than 10 drivers that would take any notice whatsoever of those signs or act on them if they did take notice of them. To call Nanning’s roads a chaotic mess of terror is to somewhat understate the case, I think. My two acquaintances who’ve been here longest (English teachers at Guangxi U who’ve been here three years) tell me they think it’s simply that all the roads, and all the cars, are so new to folks that they just don’t know the rules of the road yet — they tell me most of these hard-surfaced roads, and the cars that go on them, have really just come since they’ve been here.I include the street sign of Qingshan Lu and Qingxiu Shan because that’s my street, and Qingxiu Shan is Green Mountain Park – uphill from this sign is the intersection I showed you earlier. I also include it because it, too, is funny to me in such a traffic-free context. But I do admire the advance planning that’s gone into building these roads and infrastructure for the needs that will surely come.

Then there are more contrast shots: the one with all the plastic hanging, and the brick shacks is a place where I think the family is raising fish in fish ponds to sell at the market. Having seen a woman washing her clothes in one of the ponds, though, I’m no longer as sure as I was the first time I saw this. Across the street from these ponds is the graveyard you see. This is interesting because, according to Keith in Hong Kong, graveyards have not been permitted in the PRC: some time after the Communists took power, they made the (to my mind, extremely logical) decision that China could not afford space for all the graveyards its population would need, so they’ve been encouraging (or requiring) cremation. This means graveyards are a very rare sight in my experience of China — except the old tombs around Xian up north, for example. And I assume that, when the development fringe reaches the few hundred yards further to where this graveyard is, this graveyard too will vanish. Perhaps I’m wrong.

A fairly wide and full, muddy river runs through Nanning. Colleagues and friends who’ve worked here a few years tell me that as recently as two years ago almost all of the city was inland and north of the river; I know for a fact that until two years ago there was only one bridge over the river in town (a town that now has two million people, with the airport among other things on the other side of the river from downtown — compare this to Pittsburgh’s 500,000 people and countless bridges!). In any case, the usual route for my morning runs is down by the river; the reasons for this include very little (no) car traffic, and this is the only road I’ve seen in Nanning that is paved with blacktop rather than concrete. My old running buddies from Long Beach Front Runners will know how I feel about running on concrete! 🙂 (It’s many times harder than blacktop, so it kills your joints.) In any case, this batch of shots shows you a bit of the road and its environment. The paved stretch is maybe two miles long. The pictures below include photos of both ends of it: at the southeastern end it peters out into a dirt track (it’s the shot with the flags and ads in Chinese running along both sides of the road) that runs into Green Mountain Park, which occupies the riverbank for a good stretch starting there: you also see a river shot that includes a pagoda that’s in the park, with more of the brick shacks in the foreground.

My China guidebook tells me (in the two paragraphs it devotes to Nanning, capital of Gaungxi — this gives you a sense how appealing Nanning is to the casual tourist industry) this is the tallest pagoda in Guangxi. I often see folks on bikes and mopeds that are loaded down with vegetables and greens coming from that direction: no doubt many things I’ve bought at my (wonderful) local fruit and vegetable (and meat, somewhat but not much more grandiose than the shot you saw earlier…being a vege, I studiously avoid that part of the market; it’s terrifying) are grown on the riverbanks further along, by people living in the kinds of brick and tin shacks you’ve been seeing in these photos.

I’ve also included two shots that show the landscaping along the road: one shows large mansions, with dense and lush plantings in the foreground. These roadside plantings have just gone in since I got here in early April, mostly by groups of women wearing s traw hats who chat away in Guangxinese (which I understand perhaps 5% of). Since it’s gone in, these being the tropics, weeds have sprouted up, and judging by the actions of the two ladies whose photo I took from behind, some of the weeds are edible: they were collecting, at 6:30 in the morning. Actually, the riverbanks on this stretch — including the brick shack you see in the shot with the pagoda, assuming that photo loads right (it’s been having trouble…), include many spots where people grow vegetables to take to market. On this run, I saw a father loading up his son’s bike with some things that look a bit like fern shoots…and yesterday at lunch, Stefano and Katja and I had a dish of those very shoots, stir-fried (OK, not from that kid’s bike, but you get the concept) — they were really yummy!

The other end of the road — running west/north along the river, heading somewhat in the direction of town, though the river winds a LOT — is the big field of dirt you see, with a small blue sign showing a right arrow. I find that right arrow rather funny. Let me just say this is NOT the litigious land of the US here…there are uncovered manholes, uncovered drains on the side of the road, manhole covers that extend a good six inches above the surface of the road, bricks and cinder blocks lying in the middle of the road…and folks just navigate around them. (Including the fifty or more young men I assume were military, who were doing some sort of road race that morning — first other runners I’ve seen in all my runs!) Of course, like I said there’s no traffic here yet, but were this the US it would all have “keep out, construction zone, no trespassing, hardhat zone, enter at your own risk” all over it, and big plastic cones everywhere to warn those would-be trespassers…and if I fell in and broke a leg, I could still sue. Here, I know I’m on my own with my brain and my eyes.

I leave you with a few more shots taken along the road by the river. As you saw in the previous shots, this road has lovely landscaping, is broad and generally well-paved (except the few spots they keep having to re-pave because of subsidence with all the rains, usually around power or water manholes), and already has a decorative railing for what will, presumably, one day be a lovely, planted walk along the river. Right now, though, reality hasn’t caught up with all that yet. In one of these shots, you the really lovely, large and glamorous hilltop mansions with elegant metalwork terraces, while at the bottom of the hill below the road, you see an older brick building in which, yes indeed, folks are living right now. The shot of the river and its banks is taken directly across the street from this one: the cleared space and piles of dirt will one day be the berm and w alkway along the river. I’ve not read the urban plans, so I don’t really know that for sure, but I base it on what I can see, and on the lovely riverside walks and park that already exist in the heart of town: which I’m fairly sure (from what I’ve been told) were themselves only created within the past two years. In the other two shots, you are looking inland a hundred yards or so upstream — closer to downtown and the dirt-and-mud dead-end of the current road — and you see some of the brick and cinder block buildings that characterize the parts of the road that have not yet been fully developed. I assume that just last year or earlier this spring, the road here was all dirt track…and that folks were already living in the lovely mansions in the gated compound on the hill. If these photos have posted as I’d hoped, you’ve got four shots with this caption, and these are the last shots in the current installment.

I hope in the future to show more of downtown and the markets, perhaps. Hope you’re all well, and thanks as always for reading my blog and for your support! 🙂

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