Alex and I live in an area called Lishuiqiao South, and we really like it here. We have a fairly spacious one bedroom apartment with a kitchen, a full size fridge, and a pretty big TV (Alex’s concession). We’re a 5 minute walk to the subway, our apartment complex is right above a gym where we are members, and there’s a Western restaurant down the street where we can order burgers, burritos, or sweet potato fries whenever cravings hit. Basically, it has everything we could want. But our area, like a lot of areas outside the city center, has undergone some major changes in the last three years. When you talk to people who lived here one year ago, they tell you there used to only be a pharmacy, a fruit market, and a liquor store. Now there are over a dozen restaurants within a three minute walk, at least 5 grocery/produce stores in the area, and around 3 real estate agencies. Basically, everything is new.
Perhaps this is most clear when I think of our local police station.
When you live in China, you must register with the police every time you change your address or update your visa, meaning Alex and I have been twice so far. It’s about a 20 minute bus ride from where we live, and the route is full of small stores, preschools, and other signs of civilization. The police station itself is in the center of a park area with a small copy shop outside because, when living in China, you need multiple copies of every document you own. The police station seems to be a pretty standard set up for the urban area it services. However, three years ago, it was situated in the middle of rice fields. What was farmland on the fringe of the capital has now been consumed by the growth of the city.
On one hand, this growth is evident of a vibrant, bustling, growing city that is so exciting to be a part of. On the other, it shows you how the character of the area I am new to is rapidly changing as well. This was evident when I went for a run around our neighborhood last week when the pollution was low, and I decided to run by the river in view of our apartments. While I’d seen the river from a window before, I’d never seen people fishing in it. When I got close to the river, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Nearly a dozen men had brought poles and tackle boxes to fish that day.
As a foreigner and also as a new member of this community, sights like these bring their own set of questions. I ask myself, “Is this just a China thing?” or, “Have these guys been fishing from this river for years, and it only seems out of place because I think of our area as a city?” Right now I feel really under-qualified to even guess at which one is more correct, but I am looking forward to delving deeper into the meta-culture of China as well as the local culture of my neighborhood as Alex and I work and live in this new place.