So what do we see (and smell and hear) when we leave our apartment?
First of all, we walk down the corridor to the elevator to the smell and sound of sizzling stir-fried something by our elderly neighbors pretty much any time between 6 am and 9 pm…The kids, who have been 50 times more hyper ever since our arrival 4 weekw ago (I suspect their way of coping with the culture stress), invariably race out the door and run shrieking down the bike ramp and toward the exit. We might run into 4 or 5 people who all, unanimously, turn around and stare at our very large little family.
As we exit our apartment courtyard, the recycling guy is on his bike, LOUDLY yelling the same chant throughout the neighborhood (he starts at about 5 am) picking through the garbage placed out on the street. Older Sister says it is his yelling that wakes her up every morning, even if the windows are closed up on our 14th floor. There are no large trashcans or big black Hefty-type sacks, certainly no dumpsters. Just a variable pile of smaller-than-grocery-store sized bags from ours and our neighbors’ kitchens tossed on the sidewalk.
The next non-western sight is the group of 20-30 doing tai chi and other things with fans, swords, flowing ribbons etc faithfully all morning to wistful music in the park across the street. The girls and DiDi (Little Brother) are fascinated with the “dancers.” We have about 80% of the passers-by either yell out “Hello” (in English), ask if the girls are twins (they’re not) and if DiDi is a boy (he is), and ask a bunch of other stuff I have not identified yet. So we smile, say “wo bu dong” [I don’t understand], which is usually an effective conversation ender if we need to get moving, and go on.
After dropping the girls off at school, Mama and DiDi go for some errands as long as it’s not pouring rain. We hit the meat market around the curve, and go to separate counters to ask for a bit of beef, or pork, or chicken, depending on the mood. The lady grabs her knife and cuts a slab and throws it on the scale (no gloves), puts it in the grinder if we want ground beef, and puts it in a little plastic bag, collects some cash. I have learned to try to give exact change, if possible, since there are no obvious signs of running water or purell nearby.
We continue on our trek, and have a multitude of vegetable and fruit stands and markets to choose from nearby. I enjoy going to a strip about 1/2 mile down where a bunch of little storefronts sell their particular items–one place for rice and beans, one for fresh noodles, one for baked goods, one for toilet paper, one for bao-dze (steamed dumplings filled with pork and vegetables), and a larger vegetable market. It is a great place to stroll along and make conversation with owners who aren’t too busy, which is a great language learning opportunity. Every step we take outside usually engages us with a multitude of talkative and curious people and provides ample chance to try out our fledgling Mandarin.
We finish our purchases, and retrace our steps to go home. Luckily, since we are living within the extended university campus traffic is somewhat restricted–only in the sense that it is not a throughfare for buses etc. The streets are packed with people any time of day: elderly men carrying 3 leeks and a head of cabbage, college students with book bags and MP3 players on their way to class, grandmothers holding a toddler taking a squat (or a #2 dump) on a corner of the sidewalk) with split pants wide open, and countless bikes (some with small dogs peeking out of the front basket) and silent electric scooters weaving their way around the pedestrians crowding the street. Taxis come through, blowing their horns loudly (more on that in another post), and do u-turns anywhere, including the sidewalks, the middle of the intersections, and in the face of oncoming traffic. I have only seen one cyclist get swiped by car in this neighborhood so far…
In a grassy shaded area the older set can be seen playing Chinese chess, majjhong, card games (poker???), all with money involved–day and night the tables are occupied. I’ve seen one lady with her little lapdog tied to her chair, day in and day out, playing hard.
Come and join us sometime–we’d love to have you!