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Welcome to my Neighbourhood

[ 11 ] April 16, 2010 |

I had always dreamt of living abroad.  I had imagined a romanticised life in a beautiful foreign country surrounded by gorgeous foreign people and spending every night eating delicious foreign foods.  If you had asked me a year ago where in a years time I would be living and working, China would have been the last thing I would ever had said.  Perhaps a popular destination like Hong Kong, staying at one of the many cheap Hong Kong Hotels for a few days but living in China? Yet here I am in China my first time living and working abroad. In fact it’s the first time I’ve lived out of home besides my short stints of overseas travel.

Before I set off to China so many people said to me “why on earth would you want to live and work in China?”  The only answer I had was simple “for an adventure”.  Now over a month into my new life, China has answered that question for me.

China is a land of contrast with something around every corner to shock or amaze.  Living in this country I am surrounded by fascinating quirks that feed my curiosity for culture.  The other day while strolling around my neighbourhood I thought to myself I wouldn’t have my first living abroad experience any other way!  What a privilege it is to see and experience this whole other life at the mere age of 21.

My new home and home for the next few months is in Keqiao a small city (by Chinese standards) in Shaoxing County in the prosperous Zhejiang Province in South Eastern China.    The city although not well known and not even a dot on most tourist maps is a great place to live lying on beautiful canals and wetlands surrounded by mountains.  This is a city steaming towards the future modernizing everyday with only a small reminder of the past remaining.

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Just beyond the school walls (top left) lie the canal slums.  The contrast from inside the school gates to outside is incredible.  Inside the school gates lies a fairly modern school equipped with flat screen TV’s in every classroom and black, shiny, expensive, new cars owned by the teachers. Yet right outside live people who are extremely poor, whose yearly incomes probably only total my month’s earnings.   They live in rickety leaking houseboats with little or no electricity with a public bathroom for the whole community to share.

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When I first ventured out after being cooped up and feeling depressed at being the only foreigner for miles I came across this slum only 100m from my home.  When I saw this public toilet block (green building) everything for me brightened up and suddenly I was grateful for what I had. How  could I complain about my squat toilet and cold apartment when right next door people were getting by with a public bathroom with no doors, cold and breezy and had probably spent most, if not all of their lives doing so.

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Across the road from my school lie the slums in ruins.  All over China slums are being demolished to make way for high-rise apartment blocks.  The sad reality is most locals don’t get the choice to leave and are simply kicked out to be left homeless with many too poor to afford the government replacements.  Homeless, these people are forced to move to slums elsewhere well out of sight of the middle class who choose to ignore the reality of the poverty right on their doorstep.

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Piles of rubbish line the road,even the hotel across the road dumps their rubbish in the rubble of the slums.  It is not an uncommon sight to see locals scavenging through the rubbish and rubble for anything that can be of use from food scraps to building materials.

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These traditional canal boats are not an uncommon sight on Keqiao’s many canals.  It is a tribute to Keqiao’s water reliant past sailing towards a car driven future.

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Every evening local’s by the dozen descend upon the river to do the days washing up.  Women scrub clothes in the filthy brown water while men from the local market rinse vegetables in the highly polluted waters (it is for this reason while travelling that you should always make sure your vegetables have been cooked!)

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The local transport of choice are these tricycles with trailers. Everything from vegetables, washing and furniture to children are transported in the back (i sure would hate to be the driver!).  I often see locals carrying obscene amounts stacked up far above what is a safe or smart amount.  I’ve seen driver’s with tables and wooden chairs loaded in the back stacked well above their head and overhanging on all sides much to the displeasure of taxi drivers honking their horns as they drive past.

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In complete contrast to the canal slums are these well-manicured parks that line the canals along the up market apartment blocks.  In the evenings locals stroll along (as do I) taking in the tranquility and serenity a nice change from the hectic working day.

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Every night this building is lit up by a beautiful display of bright lights while up beat music is blasted out of speakers whilst the locals do their nightly aerobics or ballroom dancing workouts.

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Lining the canal nearby to the modern, bustling Shou Ma Lu shopping strip are traditional market stalls selling terracotta pots, fruit, textiles and more. It’s so strange wandering around this old deralict area only to exit through an alleyway and find yourself on the flashy Shou Ma Lu strip surrounded by everything from cheap clothing, expensive jewelry, up market shopping mall, more than one KFC and of course KTV!

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Some of the last remaining traditional houses lie along this section of the canals.  As I wandered through the alleyways locals stared curiously at me.  Little did they know I was just as fascinated by the Chinese board games they were playing as they were seeing a solo foreign girl wandering past their homes.

I have so much more of my city to explore and thus far really have only seen a small glimpse of what life here is really like.  Keep an eye out for even more insights into my new home and new life.

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Category: China

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include http://ourtravellifestyle.com, http://vagabondfamily.org, http://nunomad.com and now http://on-our-way-travel.com. View author profile.

Comments (11)

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  1. tucky says:

    reminds me why i had sucj fun there

  2. Sasha says:

    Michael you really should come teach English over here, they’d love you!!! :)

  3. Great post Sasha. Such contrasting views side by side with each other. I’m a little jealous of you living and working there. If only I could handle teaching kids english :)
    .-= Chris – The Aussie Nomad´s last blog ..When Things Go Wrong =-.

  4. Sasha says:

    Thanks Chris! The contrast really is amazing, it’s similar everywhere I’ve been in China!!! You are just gonna have to do a trip to China and if we happen to be in the country at the same time (i’m already planning on coming back!)then i’ll give you a tour! My mandarin skills should be at least passable by then!! Lol

  5. [...] Mandarin or picking up any second language for that matter (though I’ve not yet given up!).  Living in China, I often find myself in situations when I start to wonder how I’ve survived living here for this [...]

  6. [...] Keqiao Hutongs, Zhejiang [...]

  7. [...] station I felt like I was in a whole other world and it certainly wasn’t China!  Coming from Keqiao, a fairly small rural city that doesn’t even have a train station of its own, I found the [...]

  8. Kat says:

    Hi Sasha, I just came back from Keqiao visiting my bf. Never even heard of the place before I visited there. Im from a chinese background and grew up in Australia. Loved what you wrote about the town! How long will you be there for? I will be visiting again sometime early next year! Felt rather lonely when I was there would love to make friends with an english speaking friend! Hope to hear back..

  9. [...] the people, where you eat, where you hang out. You can write about your neighbourhood, you can do a photo essay, you can make a video you could even write a song about your neighbourhood.  The only rule is to [...]

  10. [...] to moving to Shanghai surprisingly considering those months were spent in a small rural city called Keqiao in Zhejiang province and many other rural towns in southern China. Surely if there was anywhere I [...]

  11. [...] for the arrival of the Easter bunny and all his goodies leading up to Easter Sunday.  But in Keqiao where I couldn’t even find a foreign friend or even semi decent chocolate, my mission to find [...]

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