Friends and Fortunes

One of the things that is strange about living in China is how amazingly helpful and generous everyone is–at least to American teachers.  They insist on taking me places and buying me things.  Sometimes it’s… uncomfortable for me.  I keep feeling like I’m taking advantage of them.  But when I try to pay, they argue like Dad paying the check at a restaurant.  🙂

2 weeks ago, I finally decided to check out the bar that’s around the corner.  It’s called “Friendly”–and the signs are actually in English.   The owners, it turns out, are 3 college students.  I’ve  only ever seen 1 of them there.  The other two, I think are just investors.  The waitress, Cherry, is the girlfriend of Bob, the owner who tends bar.   She speaks English reasonably well, while his is minimal.  Friendly is a tiny, quiet bar that has good people in it.   My kind of place.

Last week, I mentioned that I needed to go shopping for clothes, and I would probably wander around on my day off to see if I could find some stores.  Cherry perked up and said “We’ll take you to Shanghai. We’ll go to Xipu Lu”.   That’s pronounced shee-poo loo.  Now… “lu” means “road”.  And it turns out that Xipu is what you get when you turn “cheap” into a Chinese word.  So… we were headed off to “Cheap Road”.   They bought me breakfast, and paid for the gas and tolls there and back (about an hour and a half each way).

In my head, I was thinking that it would be a street with lots  of small shops, and maybe an open-air market.   The reality was like nothing I’d imagined.

It was a cross between Mad Max and the Home Shopping Network: a post-apocalyptic shopping mall filled with enough shoes and women’s clothing to make a shop-a-holic burst into flames.   Imagine a building the size of a small city block, 6-stories tall.  Each floor is filled with shops 10’x10′, the halls are 6 feet wide, and filled with mannequins and displays.  Then imagine another one just across the street.   Literally thousands of stores.  I tried to take a photo, but there were too many people in the way.   I walked out with a pair of sneakers (the most important thing I needed) and two shirts.    The first price I was quoted on a single shirt was 185元.  That dropped to 60元 when I walked away.  🙂   For 170元  I got 2 shirts (one of which ended up not fitting very well) and a pair of rip-off Converse All Stars (exact same style, just a different brand name slapped on them).  That comes to about $27 USD.  “Cheap Road, indeed”.   There was a great wool p-coat, but I didn’t ask the price.  Next time I go back, I’m going to get it.    Apparently, nothing there is over 300元 (if you know how to haggle).  $50 for a wool p-coat?  That’s definitely worth buying.

Yesterday, I had a student, Jessie, take me out for dinner and shopping.  She needed to go to the Auchan mall to get her glasses repaired, and she invited me along for dinner and to show me where the good stores are.   She insisted on paying for dinner–my first Japanese food ever; very delicious.

Jessie is a neat gal.  She’s from a small town in the north, near Russia–a climate much like Wisconsin.  So we’ll talk about small towns and snow and laugh at the city folk and their obsession with cars and fashion.  🙂   It’s refreshing.  The other thing about her is that she’s tall.  She’s at least as tall as me, if not an inch taller.  Apparently her boyfriend is even taller than her.  It seems that they grow them tall and strong up in the north.

On an unrelated note, I’m starting to learn Chinese.  Absolutely everyone I talk to is anxious to help me  learn, so I’m going to take advantage of it.  One of the Chinese teachers brought me a book to learn some of the grammar rules (very simple from what I can see).  I use it a bit to pick up vocabulary, but mostly I simply write out a list of things I want to be able to say and ask people how to say them.  So, for example, I made this list the other day:

I want this. Wo xiang yao ji ge.
I need this. Wo xu yao ji ge.
I have this. Wo you ji ge.
I like this. Wo xi huan ji ge.

When Cherry offered to take me to Shanghai for shopping, she gave me another list:

How much? Dou shao? (or… Dou shao quai ji ge ma? “How much for this?”)
Too expensive. Tai gui.
Cheaper.  Pian yi dian.

Now I’m all set to haggle. 🙂

At school we laugh about one of the young students (he’s 12 or 13, I think) who’s severely hyper-active and stops around the lobby repeating his vocabulary as way to remember them.[1]   I find myself walking down the street on the way to work or the store mumbling “Wo xiang yao ji ge” over and over.  I can only hope that the locals don’t think I’m some crazy man.  🙂

[1] One day, the vocab word was “insane”; imagine a 5′-6″, 120-lb, hyperactive, 13-year-old boy ploddingly pacing the lobby saying “insane! insane! insane! insane!”… you get the idea.  🙂

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