They were cutting down trees last week. That’s why I had to park a block over by the 113 Middle School. It added 10 minutes to my journey. Such is life at the Carpark of No Parks. Nestled in a dated-looking compound constructed during the early 1990s, the architects of those days couldn’t envision a modern China with cars. You bought an apartment, a refrigerator, a microwave oven, and a bicycle. With these purchases, you were made.
Along came the boom years and everyone started buying a car. At first, they were Volkswagon Santanas (“lame” said an American living in Taiwan – they were driving luxury European cars there), then Japanese brands such as Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, before the arrival of German engineering (Porsche, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes).
I first entered the Carpark of No Parks in 2018. Yes, there is ample parking, right next to the classroom. Yes, traffic is great in the afternoons. Yes, you’ll have no problems etc. etc. Those little white lies (told to me by a parent) turned into the Wednesday of Many Headaches. Traffic was appalling – jams galore. Once you’d made it through the hell that is Guangzhou traffic you’d be greeted with an impersonal, unempathetic witches hat (an orange traffic cone).
This meant: “Don’t bother entering – you’re shit out of luck.“
On the rare occasion that a park was available, one had to muster all skill/patience to manoeuvre the vehicle up on to curbside corner – mere millimetres from another vehicle. There was the 200 metre reverse-round-a-corner challenge – instructions given in a dialectical form of Mandarin that even a local would struggle to understand. The upside of this exercise? Valuable parking practice (of course).
A small group of parking attendants policed the area. Their dark skins divulged their southern Hainanese origins. They wore jet-black uniforms, not unlike those of an elite police squad (or the Khmer Rouge?). One gangly fellow, we’ll call him Jacob, assisted me in performing the 200-metre-reverse-round-a-corner-and-up-on-to-the-sidewalk-between-two-old-cars-challenge. He happened upon a newly-bought banana sitting on the passenger’s seat.
“I’ll take that!” he said, reaching into the car via the open window. I sat dumbfounded as he walked off with my pre-class snack.
The weeks passed and many bananas were shared. Spring Festival came and Jacob asked for a red envelope (lucky money). “Sorry, I don’t have cash.” I said.
“That’s alright. I have WeChat. Why don’t you just transfer money directly to my account?” he helpfully suggested.
No, I was already paying for a park but gave him five RMB as a tip. I didn’t want my car scratched.
We entered a yellow patch. Times became good and carparks were aplenty. You could choose where and how you parked. Jacob and pals still turned up hinting for bananas and money. They were given small amounts of both. It appears that the old maxim really does hold true – money opens doors.
If only I could get Jacob to open mine.
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