• Josh Garman

Talking with Dickens at Thames Town China

I came down the escalator, had my bag scanned for dangerous goods which happens at every train station and with my Shanghai travel pass in hand I quickly slipped through the turnstiles and out onto the local road. (Thames Town Part 1) Read Here

I was surrounded by a scene so far juxtaposed to the city I had been in a few hours earlier that it took me aback. My head did owl like circles as my mind began to take in the new experience. I was in a very undeveloped outskirt of the city. A train station but not much more. A single main road ran through like a large vein, cars pulsed down at high speeds and mopeds made hairdryer sounds as they whizzed along the hard shoulder.

Talking with Dickens at Thames Town China
Talking with Dickens at Thames Town China

As soon as you took your gaze from the main road there was not much to see but I think that’s why I liked it. It seemed more simple and maybe a better glimpse of an older China. People dawdled around the front of their small, almost shack like homes. Some were preparing food and other hanging out clothes on lines that stretch the full length across the backstreets window to window. At the end of the path a small fruit store selling a variety of colourful oddities, delights I have never before tasted on my western tongue.

After making note of my discoveries via a vlog entry I filmed myself walking across the bridge that curved above the main road below. I came to the base of the steps to find the bus station and to my surprise the bus pulled up at the moment I arrived. It was almost Harry Potter like as I jumped straight onto the bus and he left without me checking twice whether this was the correct bus to take. I decided that it felt oddly right at the time, so what the hell I should just roll with it.

I checked my map and was reassured that I was going in the right direction. The bus journey curved down a narrow road that cut through the otherwise insignificant countryside and after a short while I had arrived. The bus dropped me off and I headed to a huge sign reading ‘Thames Town.’ I had found it and due to it being winter was the only person I could see, and so I entered the gates into China’s fake London.

I came through and crossed over a small bridge atop a greenish river flowing away from the town. Two men sat quietly fishing, the only locals I could see around the place. They seemed almost bored as they stared nonchalantly at the end of their poles as the line bobbed a little up and down in the flow. Beside them a bucket of writhing fish. Their previous catches looked tiny and I felt sorry for the river creatures as they squirmed on top of one another gasping for air. I guess they will probably be eaten soon, maybe that’s what was in my hot pot…

After the bridge there was a fake bus station with another sign for the town. Waiting in a line for an invisible bus was a number of statues meant to represent the typical British person. They were quite lifelike really and were rather attractive statues, more like an old war time postcard of happy British people than a typical Brit but nevertheless I was glad we were portrayed in such a good light. With no one around it was quite eerie however it was as if the locals had frozen and it somehow reminded me of the wartime evacuations probably as far less people take a train or bus with large bags now (I speak as if I was around when the war was on, alas I am not as old as I think I am.)

Following on I began to enter the town centre which felt familiar to me but something was off as it seemed on the artificial side. Many Tudor style houses began to rise up the further I headed in and they seemed almost perfect copies of old English homes except the Chinese characters written on the windows. Around the streets more statues began to adorn the sidewalks, some novelty like giant nutcrackers and other more interesting like Charles Dickens sitting writing on a bench. Feeling totally out of place and somewhat puzzles I sat down next to Dickens and began to chat to him.

If you have ever been solo traveling you will know that strange occurrences like this happen often. I talked to him about the way I was feeling. It was simply an expression of self-reflection in order for me to grasp being on the other side of the world and having so much happening in the past few days. I felt exhausted, hungover, excited and with this I exhaled a long sigh and relaxed. I was finally here. I had finally begun a trip that I had wanted to go on for years. For me this moment was important to me and although to many onlookers seeing me talking to a statue may have thought I was crazy it brought me joy.

I spoke to Dickens “After all the hard work and the stresses on my life in England I am finally here. I don’t need to think about waking up for work, I have no worries for what people are thinking of me. I am all alone on the other side of the world and I am excited for what the next year will bring. I wonder if I will ever go back…” I chilled here for a while using an app that let me get onto English social to check on my messages and had a mango bread bun from my bag. I looked back at Dickens and wondered what he would think of my situation and how much better his words would be to describe this feeling.

I slurped some water to remove the last of the dry bread and jumped to my feet. Let’s go explore the rest of the town! As I perused the town’s shops and stalls I noticed that I couldn’t find one of them open, a clear indication that winter was not kind to Thames Town. Filtering my way through more statues of the frozen dead I came to a central square. At the base of a large town house was a towering statue of Winston Churchill. From here I headed along Oxford Street (yes that’s right) to the main attraction. A huge cathedral raised above me in the sky above a square segregated garden. Imagining that the site in full sunshine would cast a mighty shadow I looked up in the overcast sky, rain bellowing out onto me. I ran to take cover inside the structure but found all the doors were locked. I stood understand a small lip that protruded out from the doorway to keep sheltered.

After a while I realise the rain would refuse to persist so I braved the onslaught and did my best to explore anyway. Walking around the cathedral I realised it was totally fake, I don’t even think there was anything inside. Stain glass windows adorned the walls with nothing behind them as if this was a child’s plastic toy. Round the corner I found a red telephone box which is fundamental to any fake London. I got a few snaps before huddling inside from the rain trying to get the phone to work. I didn’t need to call anyone but how fun it would have been. The rain went on and on and I decided it was time to head back. I found a small restaurant and ordered a bowl of beef noddle soup for less than £1. I was the only person in the restaurant so everyone was interested in who I was. They gathered around me and told me more of China’s many fake cities which this was only the closest to Shanghai.

It turns out China has many of these cities and all of them ghost towns. With many of the Chinese population seeking to move abroad some business men had a brilliant idea. Most of the people would never be able to make moving to Europe a reality so why not bring it here? That was people can live in Europe without ever leaving and the businessmen can get a premium on housing. Brilliant idea but it never caught on and now there are many of these fake towns and cities across China with only 10% of the houses full. I was told of two such places nearby, China’s fake Paris and fake Venice and I added both to my travel list. Little did I know that before my time in China was over I would be visiting another one of them…

Hope you enjoyed this weeks blog, sorry it ended up as two parts! I often enjoy the process of writing so much I loose track of word count. In the next blog trip I will be taking my next Chinese adventure, a road trip with my friend Max!

24 views0 comments