Morning in the City

What a beautiful day! The sun is shining, it is warm enough to wear a light jacket and it seems that spring is just around the corner. We took the early bus into the city today to do a little shopping and get out of the house, err hotel. The early bus comes at 8AM, which seems ridiculously early for a Saturday morning, but oh well.

On days like this, when there is minimal pollution, and you can see farther than 1 kilometer, I am always amazed how different the countryside seems. Everything is a little bit brighter, a little bit livelier. I, for one, feel a lot more energetic and happy. Must be why all those Northern Europeans are depressed (because of the lack of light, not pollution.) Shijiazhuang also seems a lot different on bright, sunny days. The buildings all seem newer; the streets less shabby, as if the whole place has had a face lift, all because there is less smoke in the air. Amazing.

On bright and sunny days, I also learn something new about my environs. For instance, there is a residential housing area just behind the airport that we pass on the back way to the village. Before I knew about that entrance to the village, I never knew about the residential area – and there must be hundreds of houses there. Why? Because when I would look out my window, towards the village, the houses were usually hidden by a combination of leafy trees and smog. Now that the leaves are all gone from the trees, on non-smoggy days, I can see the housing complex. That housing area is so interesting, and I will tell you more about it later, when I get some photos to accompany the description. Anyway, today was not necessarily the brightest nor the clearest, but you could see the sun, so that means it is a good day.

On the way into the city I love to look out the window to see what is going on in the fields and little villages on the sides of the road. Today, I noticed that there were a few people out tending to the fields – turning the soil by shovel, or forming channels and indentations, as if to ready it for planting. There were also a great deal of fertilizer mounds here and there, waiting to be spread around. Another clue that spring will soon be here.

In the city, our first stop was the post office. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since it was my first time there, and upon entering, I instantly thought I was in a bank. There was a long row of desks with postal workers seated at each one, with a computer and scale, not the familiar counter or row of windows that I grew accustomed to in other places.

I needed an envelope, so I went to a desk where a woman was selling boxes and different sorts of packaging. She wanted to know where I planned to send the envelope, because I guess you need a specific kind of envelope for specific places. When she gave me the envelope, she pointed to a stand with pens and what looked like a bowl full of oatmeal. Turns out that there is no adhesive on the envelope, and you have to paint a strip of glue across the envelope. At the stand I found the bowl was not oatmeal, but paste, with a paintbrush stuck in it. I addressed the envelope, sealed it, and approached the rows of desks, not really sure who I should hand the letter to.

One girl looked up, so I handed her the letter. She looked at the address, typed something in her computer, weighed it, and then handed me a calculator with the price typed in, so I could see how much it cost. 6 RMB. Almost a whole $USD!! Not cheap! She handed me the stamps, and pointed to the stand. Again, I had to apply the glue in order to attach the stamps. Then, I realized that I needed to put the envelope in one of two slots that were cut into the side of the stand. Both being in Chinese, I wasn’t sure which slot was for my envelope, so I turned to the row of desks and just started pointing to one and waiting for the girl’s reaction. I figured out which one to put the envelope in, but the DH and I couldn’t help but laugh and think what if they just told us to put it into the garbage and they are all laughing at us?

After the post office, our next stop was at the chemists. Yes, the chemists. Never heard of a chemists? It is just another name for a drugstore, only the kind of drugstore where you buy soap and shampoo, but not medicine. There is a chain store here called Watson’s Chemist. It might be Australian, I’m not sure, but they have a pretty good selection of western toiletries. I even found a can of Nivea deodorant! I have become one of Nivea’s best customers. I always liked their products, with that soft nice smell, but now I have gone a bit overboard with Nivea face wash, Nivea face cream, Nivea hand cream, Nivea deodorant, and the DH’s Nivea aftershave.

Watson’s is located inside of our big local department store, Beiguo. When we arrived, we were shocked to see a massive crowd waiting outside the doors. Seems they were just opening and they were having some sort of spring promotional. When the doors opened, the crowd surged forth, some running and clapping their hands. Luckily, there is an entrance to Watson’s around the side of the building so we could avoid the mad dash for bargains. Normally I would have been all over a sale like that, but believe me, you don’t want to be in the middle of a mad crowd of Chinese. I have mentioned that they have different ideas about personal space than us North Americans, right?

After the chemists, we were feeling a bit hungry and were in need of some street food. We found a small side street and began walking up it in hopes of finding one of those wagon-carts with a griddle on top. If you see a wagon-cart with a griddle on top, you know they will make you a great Chinese-style breakfast taco, for 1 “kuai” (the local slang for a yuan or RMB)(1 kuai is 1/8th of a dollar). As expected, we did find one, and happily, we also stumbled across a neighborhood market. I was really interested in it because they had all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables laid out for sell. The vegetables looked as though they had just come out of someone’s garden that morning. There were also tables of meat, which I didn’t want to linger over too long – not too appetizing. One vendor was selling bags of rice, beans, dried peas and other staples like that. I love soups and stews made from dried peas and things.

This is one of the reasons I would like to live in the city. I want to come down from my apartment to a little neighborhood market where I can buy fresh foods to cook, much cheaper than the supermarket. But alas, we have only a toaster oven and in a hotel room it is just not feasible to start cooking up a storm. Needless to say, we were quite the spectacle, eating Chinese tacos in the middle of a residential street looking at fruits and vegetables while all the local people followed us around smiling and pointing at us. I love experiences like that.

Afterward, we began a leisurely walk back towards our bus, crossing through the People’s Park. The park was great because there were so many people out enjoying the morning. Lots of grandparents and grandkids, families and students. Flying kites, running, doing Tai Chi or exercise, playing with balloons and other toys, pointing at the Laowai (Foreigners).

Over the past few weeks my attitude hasn’t been that great and I think it is because I have felt a bit sequestered at the airport. Being in the city, on days like this, restores my sanity a little bit. And now that I’ve hit that milestone – my third decade, I need all the sanity I can get!!

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