by Benjamin Ross
So the other day I am supposed to meet a Chinese friend at Dong Jie Kou, the mega-intersection which forms Fuzhou’s main shopping district. It’s also the geographic center of the city. I arrive 5 minutes before the scheduled meeting time. A few minutes later my phone rings.
“I am in front of the KFC on the southwest corner of Dong Jie Kou.” (I have to specify “southwest corner” because there is another KFC on the northeast corner as well).“Ben, I am here. Where are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“The southwest corner of Dong Jie Kou.”
“I do not know which corner is the southwest corner.”
Now we have to begin looking for other geographic markers. This is not always so simple in Chinese mega intersections such as Dong Jie Kou. There are KFCs on two of the corners, McDonalds’s on two of the corners, and major shopping malls on three of the corners. By my thinking, using cardinal directions would be the most logical way to ascertain an exact location. Not in Fuzhou. Dong Jie Kou, Fuzhou’s thriving mega-intersection, and logical point from which to determine direction.
“Where do you live?”
“The northern part of the city.”
“Where is the police station?”
“It faces the west side of the park.”
“Which side is West?”
“I’m trying to find your house. I’m in a cab driving up and down Wu Yi Lu. Should I turn east or west?”
“I don’t know.”
Regardless of the fact that most of the city’s major thoroughfares run either north to south or east to west in a neatly organized grid, virtually nobody, with the exception of cab drivers, knows cardinal directions. Instead, directions are given in relation to a well-known location.
“It’s across from the post office.”
“It’s next to the McDonald’s”
“It’s behind the whore house.”
The problem is that when you are you are in an unfamiliar area, or one where all the architecture is identical, this method does not work. I am not sure if this is just a Fuzhou thing, or a Chinese thing. A Chinese friend once told me “Northerners use north, south, east, and west, but Southerners only know right and left.” The only northern city I have spent a significant amount of time in Beijing, and I noticed that Beijingers, do in fact know cardinal directions.
“Where do you live?”
“I live just south of the north part of the 3rd ring road”
“Where is Hou Hai?”
“It’s northwest of the Forbidden City.”
“How to I get to the Qianmen area?”
“Go to Tiananmen Square, and walk directly south.”
However, I have not spent enough time living in other Chinese cities to confirm whether or not this statement about North vs. South holds any water. To me, cardinal directions make perfect sense for a city like Fuzhou. Dong Jie Kou is the geographic center of Fuzhou, its main shopping district, and the center of the traffic grid. Using the North Bus Station and South Bus Station as compass points it is not difficult to figure out which way is North and which way is South. If you know the names of major streets (which most locals do), all you have to do is stare at a map for about 15 minutes, and you can figure it all out. Why this method has not caught on with the locals is beyond me.
Posted 04.22.07 by Benjamin Ross. FuzhouExpat is posting this with explicit permission from Mr. Ross. Go tohttp://benross.net/wordpress/category/fuzhou/page/2/ for the original post.