City life and local culture
It’s late evening in the mega city of Lanzhou, China. I’m trying to get to sleep in my mobile bed, but the noise from outside has grabbed my attention. Car horns honk relentlessly. Various alarms howl different short melodies. Loud, Chinese chatter and bursts of laughter sound from the neighboring bars. In the background of all this there’s the constant boom of city traffic. I peek out of our little window and everywhere I look I see Chinese characters in neon lights, enticing night owls into restaurants and karaoke bars.
Just a minute a go we weaved our way through the jammed city. Traffic here is chaotic and a driver must be alert at all times. No one seems to bother with lanes much, you just go where there’s space and whoever is fastest goes first. We were a little confused by junctions where the signs for lanes indicate that those going straight should turn from right to the left and once the lights turn green on all sides the chaos is complete! They’re building a new metro line in Lanzhou at the moment and that’s why a road with two or three lanes can turn into a single lane all of the sudden and the risk of collision is high. In my evening prayers I thank God for keeping us from any dents!
Epeli is parked up in the city centre’s crammed but guarded parking lot. Since we’re outside a bank we’re in the reach of surveillance cameras too making our campsite reasonably safe, although expensive, because we had to reserve two spaces to ensure we can get out in the morning, without scratching the cars next to us. Two cones with “no parking” written on them get put up in the space next to us to reserve it.
I go over the day’s events in my mind. We got to admire the Neolithic fossils and dinosaur skeletons at the Gansu province museum and also got to know more about the history of the silk road and Buddhist art. We climbed up a narrow road to a small mountain and photographed the view of the city below from the top. We can see bridges crossing the yellow river, tall towers and curly rooftops of pavilions and temples. We sat above a canyon in what felt like not the most steady, squeaky, ski lift and we walked across the yellow river on a bridge built by the Germans over a hundred years ago.
It feels odd to think that to the locals we’re the attraction! Whenever we stop at a junction or get stuck in traffic, people around us wind their windows down and the camera phones come out! While walking in town or shopping at the local Vanguard shopping centre, we get stopped all the time because people want their photo taken with us. Never mind the times when we put on a bbq or just sit having some coffee outside the motorhome, that’s guaranteed to attract a crowd around us, watching our every move..
While thinking about all this, I fall asleep and sleep straight through until morning. As we wake up to the morning exercise music coming from the speakers in street corners, a Chinese surprise awaits us. Overnight, the parking lot has got jam packed and there are cars parked on all sides, so close to Epeli that even the doors can’t be opened. There’s a car parked horizontally in front of us and the non-English speaking parking lot guard simply shrugs his narrow shoulders when we try to question why the space isn’t empty, even though we paid for two spaces.
With some signs, gestures and a few stern looks we manage to get the parking lot re-organised and can finally leave. We explain these events to our Chinese guide a little later and he just smiles and states that this is just a part of Chinese culture and customs and that it’s better to try and understand it.
And I suppose that’s true, two people could never change the way billions of people do things and I wonder if there is any need to do so in the first place. Exactly these kinds of interesting little differences are the things that enrich our cultures and bring a sense of adventure to traveling!