Friday, May 27, 2011

China Me, Baby

This past week I had to go clear across town for a shopping/errand run with Flight for micMAC. You may not think that really sounds all that fun.

You'd be wrong.

It was fantastic. The whole morning was a cultural experience, unlike anything I have experienced in a while here. I met Flight at Tai Dong, the self-proclaimed “world famous walk street” known for its shopping, not because we needed to buy anything from Tai Dong but because the huge Walmart there is pretty much the only landmark that side of town to which I know how to find my way. First we went to a little area full of cramped market alleys packed to the brim with exploding colors and sounds and smells and lots and lots of things for sale. That's where Flight taught me how to say “Ni yao shenme, Tamen you shenme.” which literally translates to “You want what, They have what.” or more loosely: You want it, they got it. From a cursory glance at the aisle and aisles of junk, stuff and valuables-- I have to say thats about right.

Our next big stop was a place called Culture Street. This is a bit higher class of buying area, with shops full of carved wood, shaped stone, dyed scrolls, and old books. Flight needed to buy some blank scrolls for a training gig this weekend. I was afraid that if I accompanied her too closely the vendors might raise their bargaining prices on account of me being foreign (this has happened before). So while she visited the shops searching for the best price, I wandered outside and looked at a myriad of huge carved stones. There was literally a whole street lined with people selling massive hunks of rock. I even stumbled upon one tent that had a huge wooden buddha, standing a few feet taller than me, and what looked like a wooly mammoth shaped from a large old tree stump (also much taller than me). I wished I had brought my camera! Though, since I left the charger for my camera in Japan it probably would not have done me much good.

Computer City was up next. This was another “Ni yao shenme, Tamen you shenme” place, except this time with electronics. Multiple buildings filled with multiple floors of stuff and stuff and stuff and stuff. Its like if Best Buy and Circuit City and the Apple Store all had a baby, and then that baby grew up to be 9 feet tall and 400 pounds and full of Chinese people looking for a bargain. I could absolutely spend all day there.

Best of all was lunch. Flight took me to a little hole in the wall place not far from Computer City. You know its going to be good when nothing on the menu is in English. Thats when you have reached the bottom slice of China's restaurant industry, and that is where all the best food is. It is common for little noodle shops to be run by a family of Muslims (called Muslim Noodle Shops by foreigners.... original I know) and this one was no exception. They are well known for their exceptional noodles, and after tasting them I agree with the cultural consensus: they are in fact delicious. I ate till noodles were coming out my ears.

The whole morning served to remind me of one simple fact: I LIVE IN CHINA. Which is pretty cool. My side of town just isn't the same. I don't have awesome hole in the wall eateries or buildings full of stuff for sale. I have Western style food courts and malls and a movie theatre. My routine doesn't take me far afield in Qingdao. I have a bubble, and I like it that way. But days like that one remind that sometimes I just need to say “China me baby” and go on an adventure. I won't be here forever after all.

I want to experience more of what China has to offer before I leave.

But mostly, I want some more noodles.

~J.L. Smith

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