My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hot Dogs... and Cats... and Other Critters... (July 20, 2010)

With all three families now "official" in the eyes of both governments, we set out for... lunch. We walked back to the place we'd been the previous day, once again eyeballing the turtles & assorted fish in bins & buckets out front as we headed for what was now "our" table all the way in the back.  We didn't get the same show of boiling all the dishes & silverware at the table, but everything was clean -- and we didn't have nearly the same adventure with the lazy susan in the center of the table. Although none of us was particularly fond of the restaurant, it was familiar territory and the food ranged from "okay" to "gimme more o'that!" so lunch was A Good Thing for us all. (Luckily, the little ones all seemed to be hanging onto a good mood despite the heat.) As usual, the fish was a whole fish and the chicken was a whole chicken, apparently to ensure diners know they're not being short-changed on any of the dishes. (Dude, your lunch is looking at you!) We had some joking fun involving fish eyes -- long story! -- during the meal and then headed back to the hotel.

We didn't stay long; after a quick trip upstairs for a pit stop & to grab the daypacks, diaper bags, et al., we all headed back down to the main entrance where Lucy had commandeered a small shuttle bus that took us across the river into downtown Guangzhou proper. It was (as usual) plenty hot & plenty muggy, but we wanted to see a little more of the "real" city (Shamian Island, once a European trade enclave, is still quite a bit different from the rest of Guangzhou) and experience some of the local flavor -- so getting out in the heat and hoofing it for a while was the order of the day. The Pipsqueak seemed to shrug at the whole idea -- What, another bus ride? -- but by this point she was so used to being bundled from Point A to Point B and back again that she just settled in on AJ's lap and enjoyed the passing scene.

The bus dropped us off near one of the main shopping streets (mercifully turned into a pedestrian mall), and it was here that we could see how hard the city was pushing to be ready for the upcoming Pan-Asian Games; almost every square inch of every building was covered in bamboo scaffolding & green plastic netting so work crews could get everything repaired, cleaned, and spit-polished for the big show! One nice side effect was that this gave us a little more shade to walk in (depending on where we were), but it would've been nice to see more of the actual signage & architecture. There was also some statuary on the street (although far less than on the island), and although it was partially covered to protect it from the cleaning & construction work it was easy to see how some of it depicted the types of vendors one would have encountered on the street half a century earlier (my favorite was the tea vendor, shown here).

We also heard a strange tune echoing down the street, a not-quite-random selection of notes played on a flute that sounded completely different from the canned pop music playing in some of the larger fashion stores. We soon found its source -- a man wearing a large chicken! He seemed very popular with young kids, who'd go running up (sometimes accompanied by an adult), carry out some kind of transaction, then walk off looking satisfied and (usually) chewing on something while the guy would whip out a small reed flute and play his crazy tune 'til the next customer approached. I figured he was selling eggs, or chicken wings, or maybe even candy... but Lucy said he was selling olives. (We're definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto!) Unfortunately, no one could explain what the connection was between chickens and olives... but it was an interesting sight!

As we reached the end of the pedestrian street and prepared to play Frogger cross the street into the neighborhood of the old-style animal/pet and traditional medicine markets, I noticed a stone plaque set into the wall of a high-end shop that listed all the awards this particular shopping street had won from the local authorities over the years. I liked the fact that it was considered "the nation's civilized shopping street," but wasn't sure how I felt about someone feeling it necessary to give it an award -- twice! -- for being a leading "counterfeit-free" shopping area...

We didn't go very far before entering a narrow street jam-packed with cafe umbrellas and sidewalk market stands; we had reached the old animal market. Despite the heavy crowds (and occasional vehicle bravely/foolishly picking its way slowly through them), all the stores sort of ignored the division between building, sidewalk and street; merchandise started on the shelves in the small storefronts and continued in an odd collection of bins, bags, and buckets clear out to the curb and beyond. Everywhere we looked were small animals of every description, ranging from brilliant tropical fish in plastic bins on the ground to puppies & kittens (obviously panting & uncomfortable in the heat) in small cages that were sometimes stacked five or six feet high. Lucy reassured us, and we chose to believe her, that although things had once been different, the present-day market was a pet market -- not food. (Back in Guilin, Lisa had explained that in some areas, an old practice is continued: families raise dogs for a year or two, then at certain holidays exchange them -- to be used for special dinners. This led to a lot of nervous jokes about how to react if you gave your neighbors a Great Dane and they gave you a Chihuahua, but in general we avoided talking or thinking about the subject.)

I can write quite a lot about the animals we saw, but I'll just let my camera talk for me (this is just a sampling of what we saw for sale):

If the cage full of very still kittens looks scary, don't worry; the cage was lashed onto a bike, and about two minutes after I took that photo they were all awake and mewing at the passing crowd -- hotter than maybe they should've been, but looking & sounding healthy.

I also kept glancing up at the buildings lining the street and realized we were walking through the old neighborhood we saw from our window at the White Swan, the older part of the city with the new European-style facade that ran parallel to the river. I've always liked older buildings (they have character that most modern architecture lacks) so I took a few photos of the facades & alleyways that marked how most of the locals lived until very recently.

As we continued through the narrow streets, the animals sort of petered out to be replaced by stores literally overflowing with an odd variety of bins, bags and boxes of dried herbs, fungi and animal parts; we had entered the traditional medicine market. Lucy explained that people who wanted to try traditional cures instead of Western medicine would usually come to these markets and seek out a quality of goods that matched the seriousness of their condition (often trying cheaper, lower-quality ingredients first and working their way up the price & quality scales as needed). They would consult with the shopkeepers for the proper set of ingredients, which would either be mixed for them in the shop or that they would take home and prepare on their own. (I noticed many of the higher-end stores also sold food processors to aid in the at-home preparation of traditional mixes & brews.)

I had been expecting either a musty, woodsy smell or maybe something more "mediciney" but was pleasantly surprised at the variety of scents, most of which were pleasant. (Yes, there were a couple of spots where I definitely walked faster, but most things smelled pretty good if they smelled at all.) Most common were the large burlap or plastic bags of dried fungi, herbs, seeds or tree bark... but almost every store had "lizard-on-a-stick" available, and many also sold dried deer sinew, dried turtle shells, dried sea life, and assorted terrestrial animals' anatomical features dried for easy grinding.

It seemed that the farther we walked, the more exotic the goods became; dried snakes began showing up in batches (see photo above), dried deer legs appeared by the boxload, and bags of dried insects sat on many shelves. One memorable store seemed intent on proving their products were the freshest possible: out front was a huge plastic basin filled with ginormous LIVE black scorpions, all intent on climbing out of the bin and wreaking havoc on the several men who sat nearby, nonchalantly knocking the most adventurous of the arachnids back into the clicking, writhing pile in the middle of the basin.

Somehow, I couldn't picture finding any of these -- nor their smaller and only slightly less athletic brown cousins in another bin next door -- at my local CVS or Giant Pharmacy. I was also very glad for the excellent zoom lens on my camera; fascinating as the sight was, I found it best enjoyed from several feet away.  We kept walking, eventually passing a set of blankets on the ground with fresh turtle shells drying in the sun as we reached the end of the market. There were a few difficult moments as we located and navigated up the stairs of the pedestrian bridge that would let us cross back onto Shamian Island, but we all figured out how to carry strollers up the steps without taking the little ones out and soon were passing from the hustle & bustle of downtown to the relative quiet of the island.

There was one slightly jarring sight on the bridge: near the Shamian end, sitting quietly against the wall, was a little girl obviously begging. We took our cue from the passers-by & Lucy and walked past her without stopping, and as we began navigating the steps back down to street level Lucy told us that there were some criminal gangs who would have one or two little children act as beggars for them. She said there were doubtless one or two older teens or young adults nearby keeping an eye on the girl, as much to ensure she didn't run away with any cash as to keep her safe. It was an unpleasant surprise, but also helped explain the background of "counterfeit-free" awards just a few blocks away.

As soon as we were back on the island, the pace slowed and the noise dropped away -- Shamian really is an enclave of (relative!) calm in the city. We hadn't gone far before encountering several more fashion shoots; one featured what I thought was a particularly good-looking bridal couple, while another had a young woman in 6" platform heels balancing on the 3" wide wall around one of the planters. Yep, it was good to be back "home" after the noise & crowds of downtown! :-)

NEXT: Shopping and Swimming and Sweating, Oh My!

1 comment:

  1. Reading this and looking at your pictures brings back the craziest memories for me. LOVE IT. Can't get enough! Thank you.
    ~ Robyn
    (from dimsumanddoughnuts.blogspot.com)