After living in Dengfeng for 6 weeks, I thought I’d do a photo blog to give you an idea what a rural Chinese kung fu town is like.
Dengfeng is a small town that sits in the Henan Province of China, with best proximity to the famous Shaolin Temple. Dengfeng is only accessible by bus or car from Zhengzhou, a large Chinese rail hub. Dengfeng and the surrounding villages are mainly rural and sit in somewhat of a basin amongst the Song Mountains, which can be seen in almost all directions.
Although Dengfeng itself has lots of different shops, the roads sprouting out from the town are lined with kung fu schools and shops. There must be close to 100 schools tucked in and around the area, from the grand theme-park looking ones to the most basic. I reckon there’s probably a 1:1 relation between shops and schools too. You typically see several shops in a row all selling similar merchandise – clothing, swords, staffs, pads and human looking punch bags.
You can tell the town isn’t used to tourists. There are no English signs, most people will stare inquisitively at you as you walk down the road and the odd child might shout “hello” as they skip past. It tends to be the younger generation, having learned English at school, that I can communicate best with. It’s only when you’re in a town like this that you realise it has a more balanced demographic. I’m used to the demographic of a City of London residential neighbourhood – therefore skewed towards 20-40s and only a few babies and elderly. Here, you have more of a balance, with families being carted around on scooters and makeshift tractors which move close to jogging pace, in front of a cloud of noise and smoke.
Buses service the area with master bus drivers. I say masters, because they’re masters in fuel efficiency and dodging people/motorbikes. By fuel efficiency, they purposely cut out the engine when going down hill or coming to a stop. I can’t complain about them though, because you rarely have to wait more than 5 mins for a bus and will take you for a bargain price of 1 CNY (about 10p) per ride. By dodging skills, they share the road with lots of mopeds (some silent electric ones) and people scooting about their business.
Road rules are very different to what I’m used to. Traffic lights are highly informative, telling cars how long they will be red or green. This gives rise to the common sight of either an old person diagonally running across a large junction clutching a small child in each arm or a Shepard herding animals in the same way. However, if you’re green it seems like you have the ability to cut across stationary roads any which way you can. Whilst you think you have to look for cars coming from the middle of the junction a moped might be cutting right across, going up the road the wrong way in order to make a turn. It means furiously looking in every direction and crossing roads like the infamous game “Frogger”. It’s typical to see cars and mopeds driving up the slip roads in the opposite direction. Having broken all the directional rules, they more than behave when it comes to speed and alertness. Cars are used to pedestrians and mopeds so tend to drive at a pace slow enough to trip you up rather than kill you and horn lots. When I say lots, I mean lots and lots. They horn when they about to move, when they overtake, when they want you to move. Their highway code is effectively mirror-horn-signal-horn-manoeuvre-horn.
In town, the pavement is used by everyone. Mechanics use it to sprawl out their work and fruit sellers to display their goods.
Children are left to roam and play on the pavement. I witnessed a child hitting something plastic with a stick, only to find that when it exploded, it was a cigarette lighter and he learnt a lesson in combustion. Luckily, aside from a few surprise-inflicted tears, the child was fine. The elderly sit, talk, play Chinese chequers and otherwise relax.
It’s taken me a while to realise where the restaurants are here. Restaurants come in three categories. They’re either (a) dingy, largely empty shops void of picture menus, (b) a hole in the wall or (c) well presented establishments but completely hidden from the street view.
Funnily enough, I’ve never seen so many road sweepers, who desperately keep the roads clear, but neglect the pavements.
Dengfeng is the first place I saw the most “practical” baby clothes around. Babies are dressed in pants that have a huge slit at their base and rear. The idea is to remove the necessity to have nappies. They do this by excreting at will, in the middle of the street through the gap. If you’re lucky, it’s by a drain. If you’re unlucky, it’s into a parents lap or a passer-by. N.b. I could bring myself to take a picture of it, so the following photo I simply swiped from the net.
The town seems to be sucked into the furious building phase encompassing most of China. Rubble tends to be part of the ascetics here, with most buildings looking part-finished alongside a stack of bricks, stones, slates or sand “dumped” right outside. I don’t know if most stacks are there because they’ll use them to build more in the future, or because they can’t be bothered to move them after having used what they needed already.
From what I’ve understood, the government are going to swallow up a large amount of land in the area. They can do this, because land is owned by the state government, who have the absolute right to evict you (with some compensation) to find a new home. The government is looking to take over land in the area to boost tourism by building modern hotel facilities to cater for tourists. At the moment, there are little options for tourists. If you knew that the amount the government would compensate you was based on the number and size of buildings you had, you’d realise that your best bet to cash in on an opportunity is to construct lots of buildings on your land, very cheaply as close to the compensation date as possible. That is happening right now, so you sadly have some of the better views of the area needlessly being spoilt by temporary ghost houses.