China Diary - Part 3

We're beginning to feel comfortable with the environment and the people.
I never thought we would make so many friends so quickly.

August 14, 2006

I'd been wishing there was a produce market within walking distance from our apartment when the other day I asked Linda (at the front desk) what was down the street that I can just barely see from my balcony. It runs parallel to the main street in front of our apartment building. Mark said he knew nothing about the street except that the neighborhood was inhabited solely by Chinese people and that they celebrated loudly and with much fanfare during special occasions. Anyway, returning to the story, Linda said there was a "wet" market just inside the neighborhood. A "wet" market, she said, was a produce market. Yes!! I exclaimed. She said she thought it would be OK for me to go there by myself, that she went there by herself (she lives in my compound) and prices were realllllllllly cheap.

This morning, I stuffed a bunch of plastic grocery bags and an umbrella into my tote bag/handbag, threw Mark's backpack over my shoulder, made sure I knew where my cell phone and Chinese phrase book were, removed anything of value from my totebag (other than about $20 cash), and off I went.

I walked down the sidewalk on my side of the road a little ways and then crossed the bike lane, waited until it was safe, and then crossed the three lanes of traffic going left, waited until it was safe, and then crossed the three lanes of traffic going right, waited until it was safe, and then crossed another bike lane. Whew! I was alive and on the other side of the road. For the first time, I had a good look at that neighborhood from the ground level. It made me think of a barrio. Linda had said that the wet market was on the right. It was. Just outside, a woman was making and selling dumplings. It's common all over the city to see shoebox-size places where someone is cooking and selling one thing.  We love dumplings, but I already had some in the freezor, so into the market, which was under roof, I went.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. Peeeeeuuuuuuuu.  In Suzhou, one has to accept smells here and there. This one was caused by the fish sold in the market. I didn't see them, but Linda had told me they were there.  There were about five people inside, and they all stopped what they were doing to have a good look at the stranger who'd just walked in. I said ni hao, "hello" in Chinese, to everyone, which prompted a man and a woman to think I might know Chinese, so they began to talk really really fast. I shook my head no, no, no, no and smiled. They then had a lot to say to each other and to the other three people about me, I surmised. I figured  that some of it may have been an announcement that the prices of the produce had just gone up.

I selected a nice cabbage, some very nice green beans, and some onions. I considered several green veggies I didn't recognize, but decided not to buy them until I found out how to cook them. The cost for all the items was considerably more than I'd expected: about $2. Should have been much less.

Then I moved to another part of the market and picked out a bunch of apples. Cost: 48 cents. Again, way too much. Oh well.

In a little room off the market, two men were sitting on crates, eating noodles out of bowls that were sitting on a larger crate. There was a TV in front of them. They stopped talking and eating and stared at me. I said ni hao and they looked at each other and then back at me. I moved on. They resumed talking.

From the market, I walked into a little store that was a combination convenience store/Dollar General (or should I say Yuan General). Cheap Cheap Cheap. No problem with paying too much in there. Everything was already marked. I got an odd assortment of items: a pair of blue and white silk Chinese pillow shams (I'll have to get a pair of Chinese pillows now. They are smaller than our pillows.), a plastic hair holder thing, a dish towel, a bottle of wine, a big bottle of cooking oil, a jar of what I thought was something like salsa (Turned out to be something like fire and brimstone -- Mark will love it), and four porcelain Chinese spoons (white with little green apples on the spoon part). Total: $8.88. That was more like it. Plus, the shopkeeper was a super nice man who let me practice saying Chinese numbers.

I walked out of the market, turned left, crossed the eight lanes again and headed back to our apartment. Now, I know about two convenience stores and a "wet" market within two minutes of our apartment. AND, a great jeans store. Tell you about it another day.

Attached are a few recent pictures: (1). a frequent sight in Suzhou -- always amazes me; (2). an accident, no one hurt; (3). a cat at a photography shop; (4). Mark and Mr. Wang, our driver, eating at a place called B.B.Q. (cook your own, very good, too much fat, though. When finished with the cooking of the meat, you have a wonderful broth into which you put green vegetables and mushrooms and you have soup); and new friends, (5) Dave and Brenda Hanson from Minnesota (don't 'cha know) -- at their apartment.






Zai jian (pronounced sort of like "zie gee-an" but really fast -- means good-bye),


Derick S. Hartshorn - 2006-present
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