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Wednesday 21 Jun 2006
Chengdu, China

England v Sweden

The street outside the Dragon Town Hostel in Chengdu is quite a curiosity and says a lot about what is happening in China today. The actual road is now two feet lower than the pavement as it has been dug up. Piles of rubble prevent anything larger than a rickshaw getting through. The front half of The buildings are all missing and gaping holes with no doors are now the way of life for the inhabitants. The entrepreneurial residents have taken this destruction as "pedestrianisation" of their neighbourhood and whilst it is quite in the daytime it turns into an alfresco eating center at night. Chairs and tables are put out between the rubble and it is full of Chinese and foreigners from the hostel eating and drinking noisily into the early hours. The government was planning to continue knocking down the street, but protest from the residents and the trade that is now being created has persuaded them to stop for now. However, the authorities think it is so good that they now want to rebuild the area in Ming Dynasty style and turn it into a proper Chinese tourist attraction and thereby killing its charm.

We were there on the night of the Germany v Ecuador and England v Sweden games. The Germany game was on at 11pm and England came on at 3am. From where we were sitting on the street I think I counted at least 9 televisions in my line of site including one 40 inch flat screen and a cinema projector. It was like being in the crowd as the sound came from every direction. The street remained busy until well after midnight but soon started clearing and we worried that no one would be around by 3 a.m.

At half past one we sat down on a couple of chairs between the rubble in front of the last remaining television praying that the owners would not go to bed. By now there was just us two, a couple of drunk Chinese who did not look at all interested and an enormous Alsatian. Tiredness had kicked in long ago and we were hardly pumped up for the football as we nursed our beers and noodles. Out of the corner of my eye to the left of the television I saw something move in a pile of rubble and a giant rat emerged at the top of the heap. It sat there for a while and then scuttled back into the darkness. The Alsatian obviously saw it too and trotted over to have a sniff. It couldn't get over the side of the pavement and had to settle with its viewpoint from the hole that was once the front room of the building. At almost the same time I felt something crawl up my leg. I shook my trousers and a large cockroach dropped out and scuttled off. It didn't get very far as one of the drunk men at the next table stretched out his foot and stamped on it, leaving a pool of yellow brown goo in the dirt. The rat made repeated appearances on his mound whilst we were waiting for the game to start and each time the Alsatian went over to his spot on the pavement to see what he could do about it.

After what seemed like a whole day the game started. Apart from the restaurant owner, Sara and I were now the only ones left, sitting in a half dismantled street watching our team on a TV propped up on the pavement. After 10 minutes a fellow Brit emerged from the gloom, so we were now 3. At half time it started raining heavily and we all worked together to get the TV inside the hole in the building whilst we sat just outside under dripping umbrellas. The game finally ended around 5 am and, after thanking our hosts profusley for staying up for us, we crawled back to our room in the hostel next door.

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