Monthly Archives: January 2006

A Quiet Monday

This was a four day weekend for the workers at the factory, for our driver, for our housekeeper.  An especially big deal for people who get one day off per month.  (Yep, you heard that right.)  Our driver Afu didn’t even assume he would have this time off, since David’s days off are often the days we really want to use our driver the most.  Afu was very happy when he learned that we expected him to be off with his family during New Year Holiday. 

 

Just a word about something cultural.  Afu did not assume he would be off.  I’m sure he was hoping he would be off.  He probably pondered over it, since his wife and children were off from work and school, but he didn’t ask.  Similarly, last time my friend Sophie had a question about employment terms with a western employer, she puzzled and puzzled about whether to ask her employer about the issue and, if she did bring it up, the logistics of exactly how to bring up what was for her a sensitive subject.  I encouraged her to talk frankly and directly with her employer.  I reassured her that because her employer was Western, they would not be offended by her question.  A Chinese employer, on the other hand, would have regarded her question as being too presumptuous. 

 

Similarly, the other night in the restaurant when we ordered shrimp.  When the waitress was confused about what we were ordering, she did not tell us she was confused.  As westerners, our cultural expectation was that she would keep asking questions until she clarified the issue of exactly what kind of shrimp we wanted and how we wanted it cooked.  However, perhaps to ask such questions might carry an implication that we either didn’t know what we were talking about or that we and couldn’t communicate (which was true).  In a society where it is very important not to embarrass a person, not to cause them to lose face, such an implication regarding a customer might not be well received.  Or, mabye I’m wrong, maybe it’s just too presumptuous to ask.  Culturally, this is not a society that rewards sticking your neck out and stirring up the waters with questions.  This cultural difference shows up in many aspects of our daily lives, and we have to learn to be sensitive to it.  In this case, it was I who discovered that Afu didn’t know whether he would be off work for Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of his year.  A few phone calls and I clarified that he would indeed, be off.  In addition, I told him, “Next time, ask us!”    

 

Chinese New Year is maybe the equivalent of American Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one.  Everything shuts down, except fortunately buses, taxis, and large supermarkets remain open.  David did not get Thanksgiving off, but he did get two days for Chinese New Year.  We had a relaxing time.  Here are some photos.  In our apartment gardens, J in the pool, kite flying in a city square.  J’s kite with string cost 3 RMB (about 40 cents US), sold to us by a very friendly young street vendor. 

 

We flew the kite at Tian He Plaza (we think it means Sky River Plaza, but not sure), in the middle of the city.  We counted 25 other kites.  Across the street is the new Grand View shopping mall, reputed to be one of the largest in Asia.  It is next door to an older mall that in my book is plenty big.  Grandview is six floors up plus a basement level taking up about an entire city block.  Inside, is a labyrinth of shops.  There are designer clothing stores, a Haagen Daas ice cream shop, an ice skating rink.  I always get lost.  We were looking for a Thai restaurant that a friend had told me was on the third floor.  After wandering around third floor and not finding it, and then looking on a few other floors, we gave up on finding it and went to Pizza Hut.  (Finding anything in this mall is a bit frustrating!  Besides that it’s so big, all the signs were in Chinese characters and we didn’t know the name of the restaurant.  When we asked shop employees the location of a Thai restaurant, all either said they didn’t know of a Thai restaurant or else they pointed us to dead end leads.  The part about sending us to the wrong place is also somewhat typical – it’s a loss of face not to know an answer, so if a person doesn’t know the answer they might not admit it, they might just give wrong directions. Or if they don’t want to bother answering the question, they might just say it doesn’t exist.) 

 

Anyway, I was shocked that Pizza Hut “supreme” style pizza in China is exactly like Pizza Hut “supreme” pizza in the USA.  We wanted diet pepsi, but nobody much here drinks diet drinks.  Diet pepsi is especially hard to find.  So, it’s regular pepsi in the glasses, 29 RMB for a pitcher.  But look, it has ice, volunteered by the waitress!  (Contrary to rumor, ice and water is safe to drink, it goes without saying that water or ice served for drinking in restaurants comes from bottled sources.)   Our pizza was about 88 RMB ($11 US), if I recall.  The picture of the girls with the watermelon is to show the “stacking” technique to fit more salad into a single bowl.  The price for a one trip salad bar is 28 RMB, very expensive by local standards!  The watermelon on the Pizza Hut salad bars USED to be cut into cubes.  People would stack it several inches high to make a wall, which was then used to enclose a huge salad big enough to be shared by everyone at the table.  I’m told Pizza Hut began the triangular watermelon slices in an effort to curb this practice.  After pizza, we bought milk (available only in large supermarkets) and a few other supplies and then stopped by Dairy Queen (next to the Tommy Hillfinger and Starbucks stores) before heading home on the bus. 

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Saturday With David

Beginning with the Saturday after we were married in May of 1982, David has made pancakes almost every Saturday morning.  It is a family ritual, and probably one reason the girls’ friends love to sleep over on Friday nights!  This morning, I contributed by making coffee and cooking the sausages.  I burned the sausages.  Oh well, they tasted yummy anyway.  Here are some photos of Saturday morning. 
 
       
Sarah joined us anyway even though she couldn’t eat anything at the table.  She had a bad food reaction this week and is still on a very limited diet as a result.  After breakfast, I took our dog out for a romp in the "park."  He loves to get off his leash!  He’s growing so big, here’s a picture.  Since he’s only six months old, I wonder how big he’ll be when he’s fully grown!  Fortunately, he has a great disposition. 
 
Today is New Year’s Eve in the Chinese calendar.  Tomorrow there will be fireworks in the middle of the Pearl River where it forks in front of the White Swan Hotel, at Shamian Island.  We decided to go on a quest to locate a spot from which to watch the fireworks. 
 
Shamian Island is the old colonial concession, and also the site where Chinese threw barrels of British opium off the docks into the water, thereby inciting the "opium war" with the British and ultimately forcing the British to retreat away from Canton (Guangzhou) to Hong Kong (previously a non desirable fishing village).  The old colonial buildings on Shamian are still in use as restaurants, shops, subdivided apartments, and consulates.  It is picturesque and probably the most "touristy" area of Guangzhou.  Here is one picture of a street on Shamian Island, and also some pictures from the inside of the White Swan Hotel.  Since we are entering the year of the dog and I was born in the year of the dog, David took this picture of me with the appropriate decor.  The other picture is in the main lobby. 
 
                                      
 
The White Swan Hotel wants 500 RMB per person for dinner buffet with a view of the fireworks.  I don’t think so.  Another restaurant wants 185 RMB per person.  With five in our family, that adds up fast.   Last year, we took a boat cruise on the Pearl River to see the fireworks for 100 RMB per person (about $12.50 U.S. each).  When I inquired about boat tickets for a repeat performance, the price was almost double that of last year.  We plan to check again tomorrow to see if prices are reduced for unsold seats. 
 
But, continuing our quest to find a good place to view the fireworks, we continued on foot past Shamian island, heading to the west.  In a perfect location to view the fireworks from the Western side, we spotted a Chinese restaurant on the top floor of a ramshackle old building that looked somewhat like an abandoned warehouse.  We noticed the huge wholesale seafood market was just beside this restaurant, with a trawler docked at the wharf.  (I’ve heard of this market before and I’ve been keeping my eye out for it for more than a year, but everyone kept saying it was north of Shamian.  It’s not, it’s due west!)   Scaling the steps of the restaurant, we found ourselves in a crowded and very busy seafood restaurant serving massive plates of boiled shrimp and various other seafood.  They had no English menu, nor did their menu have any pictures.  We knew enough Chinese to order jasmine tea, spinach (a recommendation from another patron),  and boiled shrimp.  We told the waitress we wanted large shrimp (da xia).   The reason I used the word "large" when I ordered shrimp was that last time I asked Song Ying to purchase shrimp from the market, she came back with something about the size of krill.  Our waitress spoke a mile a minute and we understood barely anything of what she said. 
 
A patron who spoke English saw we were having some difficulty and volunteered to assist.  It turned out we were about to order shrimp stir fried in black pepper that had heads and shells on them.  The patron helped us to specify that we wanted boiled shrimp.  All the shrimp at the other tables were looking increasingly yummy, served with a dipping sauce made with soy and vinegar.  They looked perfectly cooked, plump and pink. 
 
After we placed our order, I decided to reconnoitre to see what other tables were eating besides boiled shrimp.  Meandering around nonchalantly, I noticed most every table was eating a dish of scallops steamed in a garlic sauce.  I asked a waitress how to say the name of that dish.  I then went back and told my waitress we wanted one of those dishes.  She didn’t understand what I was saying, but we were able to point to the food at another table to make our wishes known.  I was a bit anxious about getting back to check on our children, so I had a bit of consternation when the waitress told us the dish would take 40 minutes to prepare, because they had to go purchase the seafood from the market.  David, however, felt sure she said 14 minutes.  We later learned she had, indeed, meant 40 minutes.  We called and made sure our children were okay and could order takeout. 
 
The difficulty with pronuciation was because of the Cantonese accent with which Guangzhou people speak Mandarin (the language we struggle to speak).   A Cantonese person will pronounce the number forty like "suh! suh?"  and the number fourteen like "suh? suh!"  David works all day long with people from Northern China who pronounce their ten’s the correct Mandarin way, with a "sh" sound and not the hard "s" that the Cantonese use.  No wonder there was a bit of confusion!  All’s well that ends well, we were happy to wait. 
 
Our spinach came.  It was served in a bowl of broth with garlic and preserved egg.  It was rich and filling enough to be a meal unto itself.  Then our scallops came. 
 
 
They were a bit rich.  We’ve had these before.  As tasty as they are the first time you have them, after a year and a half in China I’m getting really sick of garlic flavor and also of strong flavors in general!   I wish there were such a thing as seafood seasoned with dill and lemon.  (I’ve never seen dill here even in an import shop.)   I’m looking forward to our shrimp, which will just be plain boiled shrimp.  The tables around us have also received plates of crab and rock shrimp, one receives a flounder steamed with spring onion and cilantro on top.  It all looks great. 
 
Then our steamed shrimp arrives.  You can look at the picture and imagine how we felt!  
 
 
Yep, that’s our shrimp!  We ordered "da xia."  What we got was apparently "xia wu" (translates "shrimp animal") and it is certainly "big"!   Getting served curve balls is one of the hazards of living in China.  If you can’t roll with the punches, you won’t make it.  Fortunately, the hostess of the restaurant semi-saved the day when she used scissors to cut up our "shrimp" and fillet the meat onto our plates for us.  After I recovered from the mental shock — the shock of being served this creature, and then the distress of having to use less than rudimentary language skills to work out the problem —  this crustacean tasted fine.  Although it would have been better of course with butter and lemon juice.  I tried to imagine it was lobster.  Our Canadian benefactor (an overseas Chinese who was home for New Year) assured us that this is much better than normal shrimp.  Our restaurant bill for the three dishes, tea, and white rice, came to 145 RMB (about $18 U.S.). 
 
After leaving the restaurant, we decided to survey the seafood market for future reference.  We ascertained that small size grouper was 220 RMB per half kilo (roughly $20 per lb) and that medium size flounder was 30 RMB per half kilo (roughly $3.75 per pound).  (To covert to U.S. $, divide by 8.2.)   We saw Alaskan Snow Crabs, lobsters, all kind of fish, snakes, eels, turtles, shellfish, abalone with feet about 2 feet long.  It was late; we didn’t ask the prices.  Lots of people at this outdoor market were playing ma johng or Chinese chess while they were tending their seafood stalls, many of them were having their own small feasts of steamed or stir fried seafood and rice wine.  In fact, we saw rice wine aplenty, after all it’s New Year’s Eve, a time for celebration and dinner with family.  Many people said "hello" to us in English (perhaps the only English word they knew) and were pleasantly surprised when we could reply in Chinese and wish them "Xin Nian Quai Le"  (Happy New Year!).  Leaving that cheerful but somewhat roughshod place, we caught the bus home. 
 
Riding in the bus along the Pearl River which was fantastically lit up with all kinds of colored lights, we enjoyed seeing thousands of people out enjoying the evening.  Even some of the homeless people had on festive head dresses.  Mommies with daughters, both wearing bunny ears.  Families with each member carrying boquets of flowers home from the market.  We were tempted to go other places to see what else was happening in the city, but we had children at home. 
 
As we disembarked from the bus on our quiet street, we noticed the sky north of our apartment was lit up with flashes from fireworks.  We understand that Beijing is allowing individuals to shoot off fireworks this year.  We don’t know if it’s legal in Guangzhou or not.  Fireworks at New Year are said to frighten away any bad luck that remains from the old year, to usher in the new year with no bad residue.  So, at 12:20 A.M. (my time) on the first day of the New Year, I wish you "Xin Nian Quai Le!" 

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To Market To Market

Chinese New Year is coming up, and all the shops will be closed.  I needed to make sure we had food in the house.  Song Ying and I decided to go for a quick lunch out and then to the market.  Here are some pictures.  First lunch.  Notice Song Ying has put our chopsticks in the hot tea.  This is done to make sure they are clean.  The condiments in front of her are salt and pepper, vinegar, soy, and red pepper sauce.  Each bowl of noodles in soup (tang mien) was 6 RMB.  The sauteed lettuce with garlic and oyster sauce was 10 RMB.  (Total for lunch 22 RMB, or a bit less than $3 U.S.)  Song Ying thought 10 RMB was too much for the lettuce, but I said don’t worry about it.  The tea was free.  Song Ying taught me a delicious way to eat my noodles.  (Did you know soup is eaten with chopsticks?)  I didn’t get a picture, but I will describe it.  You put vinegar in your spoon and hold it level over your bowl with your left hand.  With your right hand, you pick up some noodles and dip them into the vinegar as you hold the spoon steady.  The noodles siphon the vinegar, and it runs down them to flavor them.  Then, you slurp them right up.  It’s not as tricky as it sounds, and of course it involves leaning over your bowl.  Leaning over bowls, slurping, elbows on table, and spitting out bones are not offensive to Chinese sensibilities.  After you finish all the goodies in your bowl, you can use a spoon or pick the bowl up to drink the liquid, if you wish. 
 
After lunch, I tried some fresh cane juice from a shop.  Next, we walked past a street that is closed off to make a flower market in celebration of New Years.  There are about 8 such streets cordoned off during Spring Festival.  Then, we ended up at my local "Meat Vegetable Market" (rou cai secheng).   If any of these pictures make you squeamish, the either quit eating meat or get over it.  Notice the markets are comprised of many individual vendors.  The picture of all the different kinds of balls is all fish balls.  Next are the dried fish, also sold by the fish lady.  There are two tofu vendors, see the many kinds of tofu?  One picture is of various kinds of preserved (pickled) vegetables, and just beyond that is the person selling about 20 kinds of mushrooms.  You pick your fish out of a tank.  You pick your very own cut of meat.  You handle it with your hands and smell it to make sure it is fresh.  (That’s why you carry wet wipes to the market.)  See the butchered chickens?  Just beyond them in the picture is somebody’s lunch.  The guy in the brown shirt tells me he dresses about 420 birds per day, many of them going to restaurants. 
 
You look around to see who has the best produce that day.  It is routine to sample the fruit to make sure it is sweet.  There’s also a picture of Song Ying picking out Mandarin oranges.  Note the variety of eggs — generally one can find many kinds of chicken eggs as well as quail and duck eggs, and also various kinds of preserved eggs such as "hundred year old" eggs.  Then there is the prepared meat.  I’ve never bought prepared meat here because I generally only purchase food that either I clean and cook myself or that I know is very freshly cleaned and cooked.  I’m not sure how long that meat has been hanging on those racks!  It’s probably fresh, though, or the people would be out of business shortly.  To be honest (knock on wood) the only food poisoning I’ve ever had here was from a tomato sandwich I made in my own kitchen, neglected to peel it because I washed it well and it looked so clean. 
 
The last two pictures were taken later in the day, at another location.  We needed dog food and some stuff from the foreign market.  Here is a picture of the "foreign" grocery store.  There is no fresh produce, only imported items.  There is one shot of a rack of imported chips.  They don’t like people taking photos.  The other picture is of a street on the way there.  As is typical of small streets that predate the huge growth boom, this is lined with trees so that there is always shade.  The trees are ginkos and they are blooming right now, awash in purple blossoms.   

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A most peculiar shop

Today was an opportunity to go walking during spring festival, while Sophie was off from work. 
 
 
 
 
Let’s see.  First there’s a picture of a shop selling only items that you would sew on clothing to decorate it, such as sequins, ribbon, etc. 
 
 
 
Every shop is owned by an individual with unique merchandise.  Stores with similar merchandise tend to cluster together.  Thus, we go to the "Fabric Market" at Haiyin when we want to purchase fabric or find a tailor to sew a suit.  The sewing notion street is very close to where this shop was located.  Speaking of parallel universe . . . here is "life without Wal Mart."  
 
 
But one shop I saw near the Yi De Lu stationary market consisted of all paper products.  The first one that caught my eye was a cardboard doll house made of simulated brick.  My first thought was, a doll house. 
 
                       
 
But then, hanging from the ceiling, I noticed paper cars and fans.  
 
                                                
 
These are not for toys, they are for temple offerings.  The devout take these to the temple or monastary where they are placed in incenerators or fireplaces and burned.  I’m not exactly sure how it works, but through some sort of transference one’s ancestors receive these for use in the afterlife.  Hmm.  I always thought of the afterlife as a place where we wouldn’t need things like this!  But I guess it wouldn’t be bad to have some modern conveniences there.   If it’s just the same to you, when I’m gone and you pick one of these to send to me in the afterlife, how about go to a shop that has red ferraris?  I’m not to keen on the ugly chevies in this shop, okay?   And, I’ll tell you what.  You may as well get me a paper replica of a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  I can skip the red brick!  😉 

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Wednesday Afternoon With Sophie

I confess, Sophie may be my favorite thing about Guangzhou.  We meet almost every Wednesday and explore the city together.  We have similar temperaments I think, and we enjoy being with each other, even though there is a huge difference in life circumstance.  She practices English, I practice Mandarin.  While she is quite familiar with Guangzhou, I think she enjoys seeing it through my eyes, to see what I’m interested in, what I enjoy, and what I am shocked by.  We both learn from each other.  After passing some derelict beggars one day, I asked Sophie what was her reaction to them, was she touched or impressed, did she ever give money to them?  Many Chinese believe that almost every beggar, even the ones who are horribly maimed, are "fake."  There are, indeed, cases of fake beggars, even peasants who have paid people to maim them so that they can beg in a city rather than farm in a land where poverty level is below $80 U.S. per year.  But Sophie did not dismiss all beggars into that category of denial.  Instead, she replied with a story.  "I walk across this bridge every day, twice per day.  If I give money to one beggar, there will still be another one, and another one, and another one.  I would have no way to distinguish, I would give away all that I have and have nothing left."  Sophie’s story helped me to accept my own limitations in changing the world, as well.  Her reasoning helps me as I pass by the beggars, as I must.  I consciously remind myself that I alone cannot cure the world’s suffering.  For in China, there is truly always one more. 
 
Just the other night, at about 8:00 PM, David and I left a Chinese restaurant carrying our take out bag.  We do this often, when our children don’t have time to go out but they ask us to bring them home some supper.  A small beggar child targeted us and followed us.  He was very persistent, following us for more than a block.  We are told that children are kidnapped by organized crime rings for the purpose of using them as beggars.  They are trained very early and become adept at begging and pickpocketing.   But this child was well taken care of.   I noticed that he had on nice shoes and was warmly dressed.  When he gave up on money, after an interminable period of time, he started begging for our children’s supper that we were carrying in the takeout bags.  Finally our compassion got the best of us.  If he is hungry, he can have the food.  Our children had stuff at home to make sandwiches, so we gave him the takeout bag.  But then fifty feet further was a real case.  A homeless woman sitting on a blanket with a blank stare, suckling a child from an empty breast.  Immediately I regretted giving food to the child.  This woman was the person who needed the food, and I had none left to give.   But, I digress. 
 
I won’t divulge details, but Sophie’s job in real life is not a high profile, high powered profession.  She and her husband both work hard to supply daily needs, and she is keenly aware that she might always struggle to retain middle class status.  Yet, in spite of the economic chasm between us — me being a relatively "rich" expat wife —  we are good friends.  While Sophie feels limited by her high school education, I am in awe of a woman who has taught herself English, who can bridge across the cultural gap to relate in a western way with me even when it is slightly uncomfortable for her, and who displays so much intelligence and initiative in her every day life.  Through our friendship, candid conversation, and mutual respect, we both gain insight into the other’s world view and culture. 
 
This Wednesday, Sophie’s niece was visiting from another village.  This village is near the airport, so for me it would be about a 45 minute drive in the car.  For her niece, coming to visit her aunt involves a two hour trek each way by bus, subway, and again by bus.  Children here have three weeks off for the Chinese New Year, so Sophie’s niece is able to visit for several days at a time.  Sophie’s son has gone to visit his grandmother.  In fact, New Year is a time dedicated for the most part to quiet celebration and enjoyment of family.  When I called Sophie to see if she were free, she was already at LiWan Plaza shopping with her niece, a favorite pedestrian shopping street in the older part of the city.  I said I would join them there, so I hopped on a bus. 
 
The pictures begin after I get off the bus, with my walk to Li Wan Plaza, some pictures of "Up Down Nine Street," which is closed to cars and decorated with red lanterns.  If you think it looks crowded, it is!  To experience China is, I think, to experience population density unlike anything I had ever seen before.  SES gets so claustrophobic that she would not have enjoyed this trip! 
 
J needed a traditional Chinese outfit for her school’s new year celebration.  I was trying to get a shot of the tiny cubby hole where I purchased the outfit, but instead I got a shot of the petite lady who sold it to me (a very typical size person indeed)!  Another shot is the guy who sold me some cute boxers, 4 pr for 35 RMB (a bit more than $1 U.S. per pair).  He started off asking 40 RMB, I knew I should haggle him down but I started thinking about his need to make a livelihood too.  (Okay softie Yank!)  One photo of shoppers at a bin of clothing lets you know the market economy is alive and well! 
 
Yes, I was in the middle of an intersection when I took the shot looking down the middle of a street!  Just past here, in the next block, there were several stands selling street snacks.  At one stall, the line was so long to get the snack that we decided it must be really good.  And, it appeared safe.  The food was cooked right in front of us and (the ones we ate) did not sit around and get cold.  Sophie paid three RMB for a little plate of six of these dumplings.  But the first set was all spoken for!  We had to wait for the second set to be cooked!  Lucky me, during the wait I took a picture of the cooking process.  Then a picture of the final product! 
 
Next, there’s a picture of a street market selling tangerine trees for New Years.  After we crossed through there, we cut through some ancient streets much too narrow for cars.  These are quiet enclaves where only locals go, I keep peering in these alleys looking for the gem of old Canton.  This city is almost as old as Rome!  Suddenly, we were at a famous street that I haven’t learned the Chinese name for, but it is popular with teenagers. 
 
Wow!  They were all out of school for vacation and every single one of them must have come to this street today!  At one point, it was so crowded it was like a river where you couldn’t do anything but walk slowly along with the flow.  I saw a small shop and made my way across the flow of the human stream to it, only to find it was not just one shop but a whole enclosed alley filled with individual vendors.  I found myself swept along with the stream that was entering the alley.  Individual vendors were selling scarves, sweaters, pet supplies, jewelry, hats, watches.  The only way to stop and look at something was to step into the tiny, perhaps two square feet, of free space each vendor had alloted for "shoppers" in her stall.  The alley itself was only about four feet wide, the overhead was enclosed with roofing, and I began to think about what would happen if there were a fire.  I suddenly felt very claustrophobic.  Sophie was already feeling that way.  After sampling the alley for about 40 feet, the three of us agreed to leave.  To keep from getting separated, we walked arm in arm or touching.  In crowds like this we are most vulnerable to pickpockets and thieves.  I kept one hand on my fanny pack most of the time, and I kept my camera put away. 
 
We got back to the street that was just shoulder to shoulder (rather than crammed like sardines) and then took an exit through another back alley through another quiet block of residences.  As quaint as these old places might be, Sophie told me the people don’t like them because they seem dirty and old.  Thinking about it, and peering inside one, I think I agree.  They seem vulnerable to vermin, difficult to heat or cool.  Inside one open door I could see a bed and a TV with not much room in the dwelling for anything else.  I once toured the old prison called CCI (Central Correctional Institute) in old Columbia, before it was torn down.  The room was the same size and vintage of one of the prison cells I had seen in that pre-USA civil war era building.   It’s one thing to live in an old place if you have resources and ability to fix it up, something entirely different if you don’t.  I took a picture of one doorway along the alley.  Nothing special.  Some people make a hobby of taking pictures of doors.  These were the first ones I’ve seen that began to feel as if they had some character, some hint of mystery about the owners from generations past who had dwelt behind them.  I felt it would be too intrusive to take photos of some of the dwellings where people were sitting inside or on the porch. 
 
Anyway, when we stepped out from the shaded alley back into the sunlight we were on Yi De Lu, right at the section of thee street where there is a wholesale market for stationary.  Sophie knew I needed some red envelopes to use for giving lucky money to children of friends, maybe she orchestrated our location on purpose.  She helped me find some quickly.  3 RMB for a pack of six; I bought four packs.  Then we headed south toward the river. 
 
On the way to the river, we passed a shop selling a specialty that Sophie tells me you can only find in Guangzhou.  Something like crepe batter (except with no eggs) is made with rice flour, then some meat and veggie is spread on, the thing is wrapped up like a crepe and steamed.  The resulting gooey dumpling is then covered with a sauce similar to soy sauce.  I think I saw some sauce being made in a wok, with soy and onion and garlic.  We also put some red pepper sauce on that’s not too spicy.  Sophie paid 2 RMB apiece for two of these as well as 2 RMB each for a cup of congee (rice porridge with meat and vegetables) for each of us.  While she did this, I went next door and got some bottles of cold Jasmine tea. 
 
Then we ended up right down at the Pearl River, right beside my very own bus stop to get back to my apartment!  The last photo is of my quiet, low density street.  An oasis of calm and peacefulness after a most fun and interesting day. 

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Saturday Afternoon with Deborah

I first made stickies with J, then Deborah arrived about 11 to go to the flower market together.  Her four year old daughter stayed to play with J under Song Ying’s supervision.  First we two mommies went to the flower market, and then we went for afternoon tea (dim sum).   The waitresses apologetically had to rush us out at 4:30, as they were preparing for a wedding.  This may have been one of the coldest winter days so far.  We needed a hot drink at the market, so a man used his rice cooker to heat two cartons of milk tea for us (3 RMB apiece).  The photo of the waitress at the restaurant is my "special friend" at that restaurant.  Waitresses at this restaurant are not assigned to particular tables, but this waitress is always very friendly and keeps a special eye out for me.   She always talks to me, a mile a minute, even though I can never understand a word she says!  I thought she was speaking Cantonese, but she spoke easily with Deborah (who is very competent in Mandarin).  So I guess it’s me. 

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The Banquet Part IV

It turned out that only about half the people being invited to the banquet could attend.  All the others hoped to be heading for their home towns sooner than that.  A recent newspaper report said that 2 BILLION people would be traveling in China during Chinese New Year.  Everything in the country closes down and everyone who is able goes home to spend a holiday with their family.  So, David and his co-workers made a quick decision to have the banquet on Februrary 12, the last night of the new year celebration, when most everyone will have returned from their home towns.  The restaurant was happy to switch the date of the reservation. 

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My Joke

I took J to the doctor today.  Turns out, her sore throat was nothing but "Guangzhou cough."  The pollution has been bad, and doctor told me where to get an air purifier.  In the meantime, I decided this was a good time to test another joke on the nurse, only because my friend Nancy just sent me a great "doctor office" joke.  My "Chinese victim" in this case, the nurse,  is Chinese but speaks passable English. 
 
They say jokes don’t translate across cultures.  I’ve been trying to find a joke that does.  This was not my first attempt.  Last year, I tried testing a few light bulb jokes on a Cantonese friend.  You know, "How many x does it take to change a light bulb," but it was a total flop.  She just couldn’t see any humor in the following joke:  Q:  "How many Latvians does it take to change a lightbulb?"  A:  "Nine, one to hold the light bulb and eight to turn the ladder."  I decided this joke required too much knowledge of cultural stereotypes, so I tried another one:  Q.  "How many cockroaches does it take to change a light bulb?"  A. "No way to count them, they all scatter when you turn on the light."  This was a joke even my four year old could understand.  But my Cantonese friend was still completely befuddled.  She wondered aloud, why would a cockroach be changing a light bulb?  She just couldn’t picture it. 
 
Well, this is another year and a different "Chinese victim" (as my Mandarin teacher calls the people I practice speaking Chinese with, except in this case I am the nurse’s "English victim" — we speak English so she can practice.) 
 
As I said, my friend Nancy sent me a joke I thought had no cultural stereotypes unique to my own culture, and not only that, it was about a woman in a doctor office doing exactly what we did today:  height, weight, temperature, etc.  Perfect opportunity!  So I began my joke:    A woman goes to the doctor and the nurse is updating her chart.  The nurse asks, "How much do you weigh?" and the woman replies, "120 pounds."  The nurse weighs her and says, "No, you weigh 195."  Then the nurse asks, "How tall are you?" and the woman replies, "Five foot seven."  The nurse measures her and says, "Nope, you’re five foot one."  The woman gets a really distressed look on her face and soon starts to cry.  The nurse tries to comfort her and says, "Why are you crying? What’s the matter?!"  The woman replies, "Well, when I walked in here, I was tall and thin, but now when I leave, I’ll be short and fat!"  When I finished this joke, the nurse cracked a brief smile, I guess because she knew it was supposed to be a joke.  And then she puzzled over the joke a bit with a very serious look on hre face for a long minute.  Shaking her head, she finally said very soberly, "I guess they didn’t know how to measure." 
 
I’ve heard that when a westerner giving a speech in English tells a joke during a speech using a translator to put the speech into Chinese, the translator (rather than translate the joke) will generally instruct the audience, "Laugh now, he just said a joke."  They say it takes many years of language and cultural skill to be able to deliver a joke that crosses our cultural boundaries.  I guess I’m really not there yet! 

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The Banquet Part III

Very briefly, on Friday Maggie went and paid the 200 RMB deposit for the banquet room, gave them the final menu.  The big date is Wed the 25th. 

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Two Weeks and What to Do?

Our children have two weeks off from school for Chinese New Year beginning this Friday (Chinese children have a month off).  We are considering going to the southern part of Yunan Province near China’s border with Laos and Myramar (Burma).  This is a tropical land (on the tropic of cancer meridian) of banana, tobacco, rice, and tea plantations, hosting 60% of China’s flora and fauna species, home to many of China’s minority tribes, not quite yet discovered by hoardes of tourists, and actually home to the last of China’s wild elephants.  Here are some links to the web pages that got me interested in this destination:  
 
 
 Update Sun nite — David really wants to go to Chang Mai in northern Thailand.  This was a place I mentioned a year ago.  It is a place with many minority people and working elephant camps.  I just found air fare to Bangkok for $156 per person.  The jury is still out . . .

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