On Friday, November 11, 2005 I visited Quancheng Square in Jinan. I wrote a summary of my memories of that visit during a bus trip the next day, but didn’t get a chance to post more than the pictures while in China. Here are my observations, as well as some pictures of the square.
Jinan on a Friday night reminds me of New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve, without the confetti, streamers and noisemakers. A colored fountain, tens of thousands of people, people hanging over the gate balconies, a roller-blading contest for children. Everyone moves at a relaxed, steady pace and appears happy. Boy’s and girl’s, men and women, parents and children, couples and singles mingle here. People sit around a lotus fountain, the lotus being one of Jinan’s symbols. It’s Trevi fountain times ten with a family bent. I keep walking, trying to stay together with our group of seven, but its hard to do. No fear. We are the only westerners in a crowd of tens of thousands of Chinese, but do not feel observed or uncomfortable in any way. Trees with white Christmas lights line both sides of this mammoth open space, and fountains run longitudinally, bordering the main space. The cascading red and blue-lit water of the lotus fountain stops, collapsing into a still pool. The long side fountains start, and children laugh and run as they are caught on the bridge beneath the pulsating streams. Everyone laughs.
Click on the photo below to see my Quancheng Square video.
It’s crowded by western standards, but everyone moves at a steady pace, and no one collides, in a pattern similar to the downtown traffic witnessed earlier. We are drawn like moths to a flame into the center of the space, where a soaring steel sculpture stands defiantly, metallic blue against the black early evening sky. How can I get a photo of this, too high to capture in a horizontal shot, it’s bigger than life, and I turn the camera in a futile attempt to capture the scene. If this object was in the U.S. or Europe it would be world famous, but it’s here, and is an object of only local knowledge. It’s time for me to spread this local knowledge a bit, and add it to the distributed network of information available to those fortunate enough to connect. There’s nothing like enjoying your surroundings and finding a bigger purpose at the same time.
We head down the steps to a lower level mall, stopping in front of a McDonald’s. The sign in front advertises some sort of fish or pork sandwich creation for 12 Yuan, that about a $1.40 US. Peering in, it seems clean and fairly crowded. The group agrees to split up and meet again in a half hour, and I venture inside a jewelry store. I walk through the store but find nothing of interest. It’s ok, but prices are higher than those at the silk market back in Beijing. The jewelry store morphs into a Target type retail center, and I continue my stroll, moving to the right and walk down an aisle that goes on forever. Department after department of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing roll by on both sides of the walk aisle; Coats, sweaters, shoes, handbags in a never-ending stretch of practicality. The crowd squeezes in on me as I walk, a dense, but relaxed and happy pack of Chinese everyman engaged in their Friday night shopping. The crowd around me is quietly social. I could be lost here, inside this underground retail cave. I know that “outside” is above and somewhere to the right, I think. I turn right and head for an electronics store, beckoned by a display of music and video CD’s. I make my purchase, a 2-CD set of Chinese Folksongs, and start the purchase process. I’ve been exposed to the system once, and take my chance, hoping that verbal interactions will not be needed. The floor salesperson smiles and writes up my ticket, then holds my purchase while I venture to the cashier booth on the other side of the store. A marginally disinterested clerk takes my ticket and Chinese money and hands back change and the receipt, all without speaking. That’s fine with me. I return to the music section to find the salesgirl waiting with the CD ready for me. How does she remember who made the purchase and what was bought? I marvel at the social aspect of the transaction. Purchase in hand, I realize I’m late for the rendezvous with the rest of the group, and scurry around the mall searching for an exit. After a number of failed attempts, I finally find a ramp, made for autos not pedestrians, and climb back to the surface to this magnificent open space at the center of Jinan.