As readers of blog know, I encounter quite a bit of culture shock in China on a daily basis. And as someone born and raised in a quiet (read: boring) American suburb in Maryland, even the most seemingly benign moments here in Guangzhou fascinate—or, more likely, irk—me.
But I can only remember so much of them whenever I decide to blog—and most don’t even make the cut, purely due to the random nature of such moments that make them irrelevant to include.
For a while now, I’ve been doting on the idea of starting another regular blogging series (I know my 365-day project was what attracted the readers I have now). And after today, I just couldn’t let such moments go to waste. I can’t allow myself to forget them, so for me, it’s just another way to keep track of the memories I make here. For you, well, I hope these moments will be as interesting as they are for me. I hope to offer glimpses into the hustle and bustle of everyday life here in Guangzhou.
Disclaimer: Don’t expect each moment to be about some kid peeing in a tree in an underground mall, being packed like sardines on the bus during rush hour, or old people playing mahjong on the streets. In fact, I expect most might even seem insignificant, but it’s these kinds of moments that lend for inspiration. Who knows? Maybe I’ll use these to write a memoir one day. 😉
1 — The Wet Market Down the Street
Wet markets are open-air markets that sell both live and “fresh” (read: dead) meat and vegetables. Meat hang freely in dimly lit buildings, where it’s rare to see anyone but local Chinese—usually old—people shopping for food, fruits, flowers, clothing, and a bunch of your typical “Made in China” knick-knacks. Today, I decided to check out the one behind my new apartment building, happy to see that flowers were sold. Maybe I could buy some for my apartment.
In my new black H&M sweater dress, black Juicy Couture vest, black leggings, black boots with a small heel, and—wait for it—black bag (lined with red!) from London’s Spitalfields Market, I walked in slowly and hesitantly, taking in my surroundings.
First thing I notice: The smell. Mind you, this isn’t my first time inside a wet market in Guangzhou, given that they are everywhere. But each experience is like the first, really. It’s a funky mixture of red meat about to go bad and fresh fish (if you’ve been to any Chinese supermarket or even fishing on a boat, you know that that smells like). But once you get past the smell, your eyes are immediately diverted to the floor—they don’t call it a wet market for nothing. The good thing about most, if not all, Asian countries are the street cleaners, bathroom attendants, and janitors, even in (or especially, depending on your perspective) in wet markets. So you won’t find much trash, but the concrete floor isn’t exactly American supermarket-clean.
The old ladies selling fresh flowers in the middle saw that I was looking intently at the flowers. Consumed in my thoughts of how much cheaper these flowers probably were compared to the new Korean-owned flower shop down the street, I suddenly heard: “Wah, lang leoi!” (English: Wow, pretty girl. Mandarin: Wah, mei nu.)
The old ladies who had been seated on their small plastic stools stood up, asking me what I wanted as I walked past them, smiling as their eyes followed me and soon reaching the exit on the other side of the market.
I realized then that I probably didn’t look like the usual customer to walk by.
2 — The Open-Street Mobile Phone Shop
On such a sunny, crisp winter day, I didn’t want to end my explorations there (or return to my still WiFi-less apartment). After turning a few more corners, passing by fruit shops and other tiny shops selling everything from shower heads to Thai-imported goods, I found a shop that sells phone cases, screen protectors, chargers, etc.
Ever since I had dropped my phone, cracking the new glass screen protector I had gotten with my mom when she visited, I had been taking extra care of my phone. What’s it called when more accidents ironically start happening once you buy insurance? Similar situation: I’ve only dropped my phone once since I went case-less and screen-less, whereas I know I’ve dropped it countless times WITH protection.
Still, I figured it was time to at least put a damn screen on this thing, and without even having to step inside from the street, I could get a screen for both the front and back of my phone for 40 yuan. Now, you DEFINITELY can find 手机膜 on Taobao (Amazon of China) for a fraction of the price (*heart shatters as I search now and find ones for 5 yuan*), but let’s just say I’m paying for convenience and installation…? LOL. #CHINA
OK, the main point of this experience was not my overspending (40 yuan is less than $7 USD anyway), but rather what I witnessed while waiting for the employee to meticulously clean my phone and attach the screens.
Get ready, because I can’t make this shit up. Some Chinese man pulls up in his sand-colored SUV on this narrow one-way street, barking at whom I assumed was the shopkeeper: “Hey, do you sell iPhone 6 chargers?”
“Yes, 31 yuan.”
I’m still standing on the sidewalk between the car and the open-street shop, as I witness the man literally make a drive-thru transaction, stretching over the shotgun seat to hand cash to the shopkeeper, who in return gives him the charger.
You can’t imagine how badly I wanted to tell the shopkeeper (but didn’t, damn it): “Gum kuazherng? Gum du yow?” (So ridiculous! This happens?)
But he doesn’t leave yet. I watch as he opens the box to switch his apparently bad charger with the new one, and proceeds to toss the box out the passenger window. We meet eyes, as he catches me staring, but he of course has the audacity to continue, throwing his old charger out too.
I only WISH someone had recorded the look on my face, as I literally stared at this man’s litter on the street, eyes wide (mouth not agape, as I wished to maintain some sense of discrete witnessing). Then I think: At least a street cleaner will pick it up soon…
The shopkeeper walks back to the car window to give him change, clearly seeing the box on the ground but choosing to step over it.
I hand over the 40 yuan in return for my now less-naked, rose-colored iPhone 6s. As the employee tries up-selling me an actual case, the shopkeeper fills in my hesitancy with, “Nah, such a pretty phone doesn’t need a case.”
OK, mm goi.
Please let me know your feedback on the new series! I’ll test out different formats, with more or fewer moments, depending on length (this one’s long, I know). There are even more moments I’ve left out and need to record, but I’ll save it for another edition of #GZBuzz, to be released at least once a week 😉 Stay tuned and feel free to share! ❤