Sunday entertainment in Langzhou, from beach chairs and fortune tellers along the Langzou Riviera to cable cars and karaoke on White Pagoda Hill.
Entry into Lanzhou by train is depressing. It was the end of the afternoon, beautiful low sun light, but this could not compensate for the drab scenes of worn-out apartment buildings surrounding old, almost derelict factories that still manage to exhume huge plumes of dense, foul-smelling and foul looking smoke. Lanzhou today is the product of the Chinese drive in the sixties to concentrate industries in-land, away from the coastal areas that were believed to be vulnerable to enemy attacks, any enemy. This turned the quiet trading town, a logical element of the Silk Route, into the industrial hub of China’s West, with a population of three million. That not all is well with China’s socialism today is illustrated by the large amount of beggars outside the Lanzhou railway station, persistently and somewhat menacingly greeting all incoming visitors.
The next day was Sunday, traditionally a day for the Chinese to go out en mass, to whatever entertainment is provided. In Lanzhou everybody flocks to, what we dubbed, the Lanzhou Riviera, a broad boulevard along the banks of the Yellow River. The pavement is occupied with all sorts of simple fun fair games, shooting, ball throwing, ring throwing, fortune tellers, hand readers, what have you. The main attraction, however, is the narrow strip of sand along the river, resulting from low tide, or perhaps permanently there. This strip was covered with beach chairs and parasols, all for rent, whilst in one corner the obligatory horses and camels were stalled, waiting for a ride, or just for a picture taken. Now is the Yellow River not the cleanest in China, and although the name is derived from the large amounts of silt the river carries, other particles than silt are likely also part of the permanent load. Industries must have been dumping their rubbish directly in the river for years, and I doubt whether the town’s sewerage is treated before it ends up in the water. As a result, Lanzhou Riviera smells, and it smells badly, but this does not appear to deter the Chinese, who happily spend their time in the beach chairs.
Lanzhou Riviera is also the departure point for a cable car that crosses the river and runs up to the top of White Pagoda Hill, from where one has a brilliant view over the town and the mountains behind. Tracks run down the hill, past little temples and pagodas, which have been turned into tea houses, restaurants and bars, or are just being used as picnic spots. Some of the more enterprising outfits have installed the inevitable Karaoke machines, often easily within hearing distance of each other. The walk down hill, which could have been so peaceful through the tree-lined alleys, now became a noisy ordeal, dominated by young girls enthusiastically trying to outdo each other in singing. For us westerners a disturbing experience, but not so for the Chinese, who have no difficulty sitting right next to screaming television sets and loudspeakers, quietly sipping their tea or playing Mayong. Back at the Lanzhou Riviera the weather changed. A storm arrived from nowhere, with a devastating effect on tarpaulins and parasols, many of which ended up in the water. End of business, for the day, and within minutes the Lanzhou Riviera was deserted, leaving the entrepreneurs to pick up the pieces.
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