Shantou (3): in the waiting line

19 Jun

The strange feeling I get from this place is this: everybody’s waiting for something. No one’s shopping in the stores – I saw a well-dressed man smoking in alley next to the store he was manning. Open-air fruit stall owners draped in raincoats waited on their motorcycles; strips of paper tied to fans spun above the fruit to keep the flies away.

Literal waiting isn’t a problem for the locals. The ferry to and from Nanou Island, for example, operates on a free-and-easy schedule, leaving only after everyone has boarded (so it doesn’t matter if you’re late, as long as the queue is still in sight), and operating only if there are plenty of people present in the first place. It’s perfectly normal as a result for the ferry to arrive and depart late. Everyone is placid about this. Teenagers and families cluster at the gate, pleased at the prospect of a day out.




We’d booked a tour of the island and a designated driver took us to port and my mother asked him how we would recognise our guide once we reached other side. He was very vague – not in the manner of making excuses, but because he didn’t see how it really mattered. He wasn’t certain about the name of the company or the size of the group, only that the guide would probably be holding an orange flag. It’s funny how the very developed-world idea of the traffic light being a symbol of the law – without it, there would be chaos – falls flat on its face in Shantou. Despite the lack of traffic lights and schedules, there are few accidents, because locals seem to naturally accommodate each other. When you cross the road, cars and motorcycles weave around you, horning only to warn, not express aggravation.

(We found our guide eventually. I liked how, when asked why the air-conditioning wasn’t turned on in the van, our guide responded that they much preferred the feeling of the outside air at this time of the year. My mum replied, laughingly, that’s a good excuse, and she replied, somewhat shocked: “这不是理由; 这是真的.” And I believe she spoke with her whole heart.)

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3 Responses to “Shantou (3): in the waiting line”

  1. Amy Eldridge June 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    I am enjoying reading your blog about Shantou. I just returned from there last week, as two of my adopted children are from this city and the charity I work with has several programs in the orphanage there. Thank you for posting photos and your thoughts. I hope you enjoy every moment in your mom’s birth city!

  2. butterbites July 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Thank you, Amy! I’m glad other people are visiting – Shantou seems to a be a place utterly unused to visitors from outside China, yet it is somehow charming as a result as well.

  3. mamz August 25, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    I forgot about the existence of your blog! But here I am!

    Had a similar experience regarding traffic in Vietnam; as my friend put it, “In Vietnam, traffic lights are just suggestions.” A lot of the girls in my class were nervous about crossing the roads but -perhaps I have a deathwish- I thought it was exhilarating! Every time I crossed the road I thought to myself this is the epitome of freedom hahah

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