Converted People’s Factory

Tuesday, October 4th, Day 19

More Chinese lessons based on reading internet maps!

Menu options from location box on map:
附近 = close
收藏 = collection (bookmark?)
分享 = share
发送到手机 = send to phone
进入街道全景 = enter the panoramic street (“street-view”)
分钟 = minutes
= seconds
小时 = hours
= meters
公里 = kilometers

Jeremy invited me to come with him, his wife, and her nephew to a “food festival.” After much negotiation, we set the time and place we would meet. I don’t have a cell phone, so no last-minute texting, and everything has to be arranged ahead of time, old school. We used to do it all the time. Now it seems so hard and risky to say, “I’ll meet you at the Red Temple stop at 4:30pm.”

I walked to the bus stop. I knew exactly how to get there, going through the University and the little gate with the fried-cake vendor.

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Fried-Cake Gate

I made the walk in exactly 30 minutes as I expected, so I was there 15 minutes early (a la Melissa). I watched the passerbys. One said, “Hello.” I answered, “Ni hao.” That little exchange happened at least once a day, someone on a bike, someone walking by, always with a smile, bigger when I answered in Chinese. Reminds me how I stick out like a banana in a bin of carrots!

Jeremy showed up right on time. We took bus 72 heading out of town for a good 20 minutes, then got out and walked for another 20 minutes. I talked with the nephew, who was in college, and wanted to build skyscrapers. “An architect?” I asked. I looked it up in, showed him the Chinese translation. “No,” he said, “build.” I understood he wanted to actually build skyscrapers. “You like heights?” I asked, pointing to a brand new, not yet completed, tower of apartments. He grinned, nodded.

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Brand New Apartments (or Condos?)

“We’re here,” Jeremy’s wife announced, pointing across a busy street.

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I don’t know what the laws are in China, but based on everyone’s behavior, they’re different here. Cars have priority over pedestrians. In fact, everything on wheels seems to beat out two feet. The only rule I’ve observed is “size matters.” And as you may recall, honking is a way of liking people, so the bigger you are, the more friends you have! Even a red light doesn’t stop traffic. It’s just a warning that you might want to look for cars before driving through. As a pedestrian raised in California, I have to remind myself that the green pedestrian sign just means, “Why not try now, but watch for cars in every direction.” You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you?

My other walking mantra is, “This isn’t a consumer-protected state, so watch out for pitfalls.” And I mean pit falls, literally. We had passed one on the way. It was a missing manhole cover or broken drainage grate that left a large-enough-to-be-swallowed hole right there in the sidewalk. Nobody else seemed concerned. I worried how many little old ladies and innocent children had already been consumed. Did people just disappear in China? Did anybody check the pits?

Following the nephew’s lead, we made it across the street without a single person liking us, and we entered a park.

 

It wasn’t a park with trees or lakes (artificial or not). As I tried to figure out what those metal boxes were and why were they hanging from concrete supports, Jeremy explained that this was a former 1960’s factory site, now converted to a historical park, memorializing the “worker’s revolution” of the early days of the PRC.

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We walked by old factory equipment and modern factory-inspired sculpture.

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The old factory building itself had been transformed into a kind of entertainment center with movie theaters, clubs, karaoke bars, and even a virtual reality and 3-D game zones.

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At the far end of the complex was a large plaza with merchants offering various food products. “Hello!” said one saleswoman. “Ni hao.” I didn’t pause long enough to interest her in selling me her product. A few booths down a lady called to me in Chinese. She waved me over, offering me free samples of their smoked ham. I asked Jeremy for help. He explained that I was a vegetarian. He looked surprised. “She says it’s made from egg.” I took a bite of the sample on the plate. It tasted like smoked egg, sort of. Not a bad taste, just something I’d never see Americans eating. She offered a free sample neatly packaged to last forever, the 22nd century’s 100-year-old egg.

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I wish I had taken a picture of the vendor selling little blue plastic Western-style toilets, about three inches in width, with tanks and lids. Inside the toilet bowl was a sauce of some kind, maybe honey, which you scooped out with of the toilet bowl with something that looked an awful lot like a toilet brush. I was too embarrassed to take a picture, unwilling to let such a bizarre form of advertising interest me. But who would it interest? I guess it’s a sign that the free-market economy is alive and well! Is Mao turning in his crystal coffin?

We made the rounds, ending at a stand selling kiwis and Asian pears. Kiwis are big in China right now, at least in Jeremy’s family. His wife bought about 10 lbs (I know because I had to hold the bag at one point). She also bought us all a glass of fresh-squeezed Asian pear juice. I watched as a little press, about the size of a food processor, separated the pulp from the juice. I want one for my kitchen! The juice was delicious, tasting like liquid Asian pears. As I finished my glass my stomach gave a rumble. I hoped I was just hungry, but worried that the juice was going to go right through me.

We headed back towards the front of the complex and went into a restaurant for dinner. Much to my surprise and delight, everything ordered was vegetarian. I pitied the nephew, and Jeremy, but was honored to be treated so royally.

We started the meal off with planks of deep-fried rice in a sort of Panko coating served with a honey-like syrup. I was shown how to dip the plank of rice into the syrup. It was delicious, very sweet, and an interesting way to start the meal.

Jeremy’s wife was very excited to hear that I liked mapo tofu, and that I loved spicy Sichuan-style food in general. She ordered spicy tree fungus, a silken tofu that was dipped in an oily hot pepper paste, mapo tofu, and a bean curd skin dish that tasted very buttery, almost like eating buttered chicken skins (if I remember what chicken skins tasted like).

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No rice was served with the meal, which I found strange. I needed to eat something to balance the amount of oil in all the dishes. Turns out rice is self-serve, or at least we thought it was, until Jeremy went over to get some. The waiter intervened, asked how many wanted rice, and made up a large bowl. I hope it wasn’t because I wanted rice that everybody else took some. Everybody their rice into their bowls, but I had already put some main dish in my bowl, so had to put rice on my plate. Nobody noticed, or at least nobody reacted. I’m sure I was the only person in the restaurant eating rice from his plate and not his bowl. I felt like I was eating food with my knife in an American restaurant. But I was a foreigner, a newbie who didn’t know better. At least I wasn’t challenging Chinese etiquette by storing my chopsticks upright in my rice bowl.

After dinner we crossed back over the busy road. Dark now, and busier with more traffic, we had to make the crossing in two trips, standing in the middle of the street as people “liked” us. Walking back to the bus stop I tried to remember where the whole was, and urged Jeremy to stay clear as we passed. He made an off-hand comment that he had heard about somebody falling into one.

The bus pulled up just as we got to the stop. Jeremy generously swiped his electronic card one extra time for me. Jeremy’s wife pointed out that we were sitting in the “yellow” seats, which were reserved for the elderly. “How old is that?” I asked. “At 70, you get to ride the bus for free.” I was too tired, and the bus too noisy, to pursue the answer. Instead, I used my own Western sense and stood up to offer my seat when a pregnant woman got on and had to stand.

We said goodbye at the bus stop just over the bridge, the closest stop to Jeremy’s home. I got off, too, and was told I could catch bus 92 right to my front door. But I decided to walk home. I retraced my steps of that afternoon, only now it was 9pm. Neon signs were ablaze and bars were buzzing with activity. I walked quickly, intentionally, so as not to attract attention or be mistaken for a wayward or intoxicated tourist. Even in the dark I recognized shops and streets along the way, including the new sign, all finished, no longer on the sidewalk.

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Feeling like a local, I found the tiny gate onto campus, even without guidance from trails of people coming and going. I smiled at the woman making the fried cakes, skipped buying one since I had already had enough oil to last me for a couple days.

The night air felt good, better than the 85 F daytime temperature. By the time I got home, it was down to 75 outside. I opened the sliding kitchen door and the living room window, and took a shower to cool off. I did a little reading, ate a goody or two, played guitar a bit, did a couple Sudokus, and I was ready for bed.

PS: I can’t bring myself to eat these healthy-looking greens! I’ve known them since they were little sprouts!

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About jamescmarch

A child of the '50's in rural Pennsylvania, an adolescent of the '60's in southern California, and a political activist of the 1970's in northern California, I have been a husband, a college graduate, an expert witness, a banker, a father, a software entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Today, I follow my heart by writing.
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