It's 9:45am on a Sunday morning and Starbucks is empty. It didn't even open until 8:00am, which might be considered a crime by less open minded people. Soft instrumental piano with strings wafts over the store's speaker system. The walls are floor to ceiling windows, half of them face inside to the entrance to a shopping center while curved outside wall faces out toward the street.
Outside people mill about or walk slowly. It might be empty inside Starbucks but outside shows all kinds of life. Eight lanes of traffic are divided by a median filled with trees and shrubs. A continual flow of cars, buses, deliver trucks weave down the road, changing lanes frequently and cutting one another off. Horns honk at irregular intervals. Traffic stops for lights at intersections and pedestrian crossings though they are eager to start moving as soon as possible.
This is Gongbei. It's a subdistrict of Zhuhai right on the boarder to Macau. In addition to boarder crossing, Gongbei is known for it's shopping, food, and bar street.
Inside the mall a few workers prep their small stands and shops for the day. A moving walway slopes downward leading to the underground Walmart.
To either side of the street are wide walkways with palm trees planted at regular intervals. Pedestrians and bikers share the space with city workers cleaning or pulling large spools of wire through manholes. Groups wait at bus stops where everyone is looking at their phones.
A barrier of trees and foliage separate this walking path from a second pathway which runs alongside the tall buildings. On some blocks this second pathway is a parking lot and foot traffic is frowned upon. Here it's a couple steps down and contains outdoor seating for restaurants.
The buildings are mostly hotels or apartments by the look of them. Ground floor is usually reserved for small shops and stores. The wares range from women's clothing, to cell phones, to restaurants. Cold dry air pours out of the open doorways providing waves of refreshment in the otherwise humid air. The Chinese seem to have no qualms about "letting the cold air out."
Employees stand in the shop doorways trying to entice shoppers to come stop in. Above their heads large colorful signs with large Chinese symbols mix with logos and English words to create a visual cacophony of branding. Sugar by Maroon5 blares from a large speaker sitting at the entrance to a clothing store. Racks of clothes hang under the awning and encroach the parking spaces.
Down a side street there are even more shopping experiences. Some stores sell only women's underware, others sell milk tea, still others have cases of expensive looking jewelry. This road is brick, not meant for vehicle traffic but the occasional small delivery truck will honk it's way past pedestrians to get through.
A Chinese lady is talking into a headset, her voice amplified by a large speaker sitting near the shop entrance. Her shop appears empty and the repeated tones of the unfamiliar language make me think she's trying to entice new customers to come in.
Smells and scents of the city are constantly in flux. Wonderful smells from a nearby restaurant are immediately replaced by rotting plant material in a nearby puddle. Human filth, dead animals, and old fish will assault the senses one minute only to be replaced the next with pleasant food or nothing at all. Durian is a common smell near the fruit stands or in supermarkets. It has a strong sweet fragrance which also manages to be slightly revolting. (Durian tends to eb a polarizing fruit, some love it, others hate it.)
A stone walkway lines the coast of the South China Sea. Palm trees are planted at regular intervals along the inland side of the walkway. Locals walk with umbrellas, protection from the midday sun. Others bike the path, a few bikers carry umbrellas as well.
The path stretches along the coast for a couple of miles. A wide green park of trees and bushes hide the boardwalk from the four lane road which runs parallel. The tide is low and the water is calm here in the bay. The water is also brown. Signs warn against swimming but there are a few fishermen here and there. Stone stairs lead down to the rocky shore where litter is picked over by small crabs and other animals.
Three sleek buildings rise high into the sky just across the street. A fourth is under construction. The futuristic buildings look like they are straight out of Star Trek. The tops have rounded roofs that look like they might double as handles, should anyone need to pick the building up. These new buildings make the older ones look quaint and antiquated.
Gongbei is about a 45 minute bus ride from where I am staying. I suspect I'll be there often. Parts of the city look old and dilapidated. The climate is not kind to buildings. Yet this is a very beautiful part of China. I find myself constantly impressed by the land, the culture, the people, and the plantlife.