Category Archives: Street

Dancing Grannies

I live on the 5th floor of my apartment complex, and with the cool autumn weather I keep my windows open to save a few RMB and leave the air conditioning off. Every evening directly across the street from me is a public square that sits in front of a open air shopping area and walking mall where local shops and street vendors sell everything from children’s toys to sensual massage. Like clockwork, every evening at about 5:30, the music starts.

Worldwide they are known as dancing grannies. They are not only here in China, but apparently expat Chinese from London to New York are taking over parks and parking lots, bringing this Chinese phenomenom to the world. While some people, both here and abroad, are annoyed by the loud speaker systems that accompany their nightly get-togethers, I find the whole thing deeply endearing. There are three or four generations of Chinese here that gather as a community and enjoy themselves while building trust and ties with strangers that live in and around their neighborhoods.

I have a couple videos I took, and although they are a little dark, you can see all age groups from very young children to the very frail elderly bridging generations, weaving a collective continuity and respect that I have never seen in the States. Another aspect that is simply wonderful is that the children are safe and allowed to play freely, while parents and grandparents, while present, do not have to keep constant vigil on where the young ones are. There are a few perks to living in a heavily policed state where criminals pay dearly. These parents simply do not have the same fears as American parents, which while at times justified, is mostly misguided fear driven by television sensationalism.

The first video is of the line dancing area, where mostly older women with a few younger women mixed in dance while an audience, including me, sit and watch. Little kids run and play throughout and are permitted to be children. They run, they play, they fall down and they get up. All great things that every child should be able to do. This is all done in and among strangers, but strangers who are bound as a community on the local, personal level. It really is wonderful.

My next video is an area, literally right beside the first, where couples and hopefuls dance and mingle to what to my ear is more traditional Chinese music or an occasional live act.

 

There is a third area next to the first two where the little children play and enjoy themselves on minintaure electic cars that are controlled by adults with hand held remotes, similar to bumber cars, all free presumably. I didn’t take any video here because it seemed a little creepy when I started filming other people’s children. Perhaps that is just a sad relic of my Western conditioning.

This goes on every night, and every night I walk through and relish the truly community atmosphere that I sadly haven’t seen back home.

 

This is the Week to Get Sick

I finished up my three week intensive teaching and everything went very well. The students really seemed to enjoy the pace of the course almost as much as I did, and now I have a five day “vacation”, which with my normal days off gives me about a week off. I would prefer the hours, but as with any employer, an aversion to overtime pay created by the extra hours for the intensive courses means we are off this week to bring down the monthly hours. I guess this was the perfect time to catch a cold, which I did. Head, nose, cough and stomach were all miserable, but the worst has peaked and the sick feeling is fading fast.

I took a couple of interesting videos, well one interesting video and one video I found amusing because I can see a product being made that I eat back home. The amusing video is of a machine that my neighborhood Korean grocer bought which makes rice crisps. It usually draws a crowd and they seem to be selling well, although I did see bags full of unsold packages upstairs, so maybe it's more to draw in customers to buy other things. They are basically tortilla sized tostadas that are made from rice flour; crispy, light and slightly sweet.

 

This next video I took of a pasta chef who was working at a street shop. I took notice because it reminded me of a segment I saw on television before I left home, which, incidentally was the last time I watched television. It was either The Food Network or Anthony Bourdain, I don't remember, the point is that they made it sound like it was an art that was rare and special to see because noodle making was fast becoming mechanized. This guy, as nice as he may be and I'm sure his family and friends love him, seemed neither rare or particularly special. This was one of the many Halal shops that are Muslim Uighur owned and very friendly. The Uighurs are an ethnic group in China that is under quite a bit of pressure right now, quite similar to Tibet, although you wouldn't know by watching or reading the Chinese press.

 

It's been very hot, humid and often raining here so I haven't taken a lot of new pictures unfortunately. That combined with my 48 hour flu means this week was a bit uneventful.

I have been taking advantage of Coursera, it's a site that provides courses on the internet from various universities that allows people like me to watch lectures, download notes and correspond with other students if you wish, as well as take quizzes and tests. Although there is no formal credit, the classes are free after all, they are very educational and offer a variety of topics. My last two courses were Exercise Physiology and the other was Nutrition and Physical Activity for Health. My current course is Learning How to Learn, which is on how the neurology of the brain learns and methods on how to improve and maintain neuroplasticity into old age. I just started today and it is very interesting. Next week I start Understanding Research: an Overview for Health Professionals, which I hope will help me be able to pick out what is good and bad research. I'm pretty good at it already, I like to read a lot on health and nutrition, particularly long term weight loss, and I often read the original research on PubMed because the popular press often misrepresents the results of a paper to generate click bait, or else it doesn't put it in the context of what the preponderance of research says. How many times have you read a headline that loudly proclaims “A New Study Says…”, but they fail to tell you it’s a small uncontrolled study that hasn’t been replicated? All to often. (I'm talking to you Dr. Oz)

Well, that's what I've been up to. I recommend just browsing the classes Coursera offers, they are free and once you register you can sign up for as many as you want, and you can interact with other people taking the course or you can just watch the lectures and be done with it. With that, I'm done with this post.

 

A Haircut and a Pig Face

Well, I finally had to get a haircut. The days are getting too hot, I don’t care much about my hair anyways and I wanted shorter hair so I didn’t have to worry about it, and that’s what I got. I picked just one of a number of hair “salons” that line the Main Street and Food Street. There are probably ten or more on the way to Carrefour’s, I don’t know if they are all legitimate hair salons or just a front for some thing more nefarious or erotic. Either way, I picked either Lanny or Flanny Spa, I couldn’t really tell.

I must of been the first customer of the day, the place felt hot and stuffy, no AC, and the staff all looked bored and blasé by my entrance. The two sophisticates who languidly stood behind the counter waited for the strange Laowai to speak; they were both amused and spiritless at once.

Me: 多少钱? “Duōshao qián?” (How much?) Of course this was said in my flawless Mandarin.

Barber: “二十”. “Er shí ­”. (20.) Kwai

Me: OK

That’s about $3.35. Well, I sit down, grab my indefatigable personal assistant, my iPod, and pull up couple pictures that show how I would like my hair, one of them being the Avatar that graces the top of my blog, which is a picture taken while I enjoyed great burgers in Dallas, Texas with my brother, his wife and their son. How I would love one of those tasty burgers along with the conviviality of my brother’s family today. Anyways, he looks at the picture, then with no hesitation or water to moisten my hair, pulls out a pair of scissors from his utility belt that looked something like this, and went to work. Somehow with all the things he had around his waist, the only scissors he had for my hair were the plastic ones that my preschoolers were using to cut out fruits from construction paper for vocabulary practice that morning. In about two minutes he has cut all he feels he needs to, he pulls out his clippers, goes to work, and within a total of three minutes it was all over. It was so fast I couldn’t have stopped it if I wanted, I honestly was not even a participant, only my hair. He gestured for me to head to the back, I assume for a shampoo, but I wasn’t sure because there were now female employees milling around clad in less than professional attire by Western standards, so you never know around here. I politely declined, pay my 20 kuai and I’m out the door, 5 minutes max.

It is the shortest my hair has ever been, but all and all I can’t say I am disappointed, I’m rather pleased. This winter when I have my beard I may just buzz it and move on. Interestingly, somebody named “N. Jolly” has already uploaded and awarded “Fave Photo” to my picture on Flickr. God only knows what that all means, but somebody is using my pic for something. Oh well, I’m here for everyone to enjoy.

I stopped by the grocery to pick up my usual such as chicken, nuts, purple sweet potatoes and yogurt, and I noticed they have rearranged things for a new section. Dried meats and fish. Here’s a little taste:

I think I’ll try some. Caveat emptor.

 

New Schedule and Streetviews

We started a new summer schedule here at Shane School tailored to take advantage of the eight weeks off for summer vacation the kids get here in China. I had a bit of trepidation in anticipation of the condensed schedule, with more class time and larger classes, which made the run-up to the start of the sessions the most stressful time here since I first started. However, if the first day is any sort of guide, my concerns were misplaced.

These courses are a pair of 3 week semesters, with a 5 day break in between. They consist of three 40 minute sessions with a 10 minute break between in the morning, followed by the same format in the afternoon, with the day finishing off with my usual preschoolers in the evening. These are MHF, then a normal weekend schedule, which means full days. It seems like a lot, but the new courses replace normal weekday courses and they all come with lesson plans and supplementary materials which makes preparation a whole lot easier. Lesson planning is one aspect of work that truly is work, it's tedious and boring, but also essential. My afternoon summer course is my largest class, about 20 kids in all, about twelve years old I would guess. That's a lot of kids to manage when they don't speak much English and I don't speak any Chinese, but a lot of stuff I do is in teams with a scoring sytem, so the threat and implementation of point reduction is a good way to get the kids to discipline themselves. If a student continues to act up it could cost the whole team, and they are all pretty competitive. Everything went smoothly for it all being my leadoff day with new classes and curriculum.

Some of my favorite foods back home are blueberries and strawberries, salmon, fajitas and pretty much any good dairy, with cheese and milk particular favorites. Well, I can't really get any of that here, so I've been trying to make due with what I can source nearby. There are plenty of dried grains such as rice and oats, as well as dried beans and lentils. Well, I'm not an inveterate consumer of rice, oats, beans or lentils; I really haven't found a way to cook them well and they aren't very exciting. Let me rephrase that. I can cook them correctly, I just haven't found a way to turn them into really enjoyable dishes with the ingredients I have here. I had to search for thirty minutes to find a sealed package of what looks like and I hope are bay leaves. They don't smell like bay leaves as I opened them at home. We'll see how it turns out, I'm making a big pot of pork and beans. Oh well, they do have good squash and purple sweet potatoes, two of my favorite foods.

Just to give you some bearings on what and where you see things, I walk out of my apartment complex gates and face a divided four lane road, bordered with bike lanes and sidewalks, spaced by grass and trees as the median. It's called Changjiang Road, for the purpose of this blog I'll call it Main Street. Across Main Street is the open area where the community dances, sings, trades and gets together in the evenings. Beyond that is a walking mall. More on that later. On my side of Main Street, if I turn left, my school is about fifty yards. If I turn right, I pass the fruit stand, the Korean grocery, several hair salons, new & second hand clothes stores and my coffeeshop. Then in about a 1/4 mile I turn right onto the “Food Street” (Xinguang Road), and about a mile down that road is the shopping center with Carrefour's, the edge of New Business District with larger buildings and what not and some more restaurants.

All the restaurants are pretty much the same, presumably because of the lack of economical, diverse, quality ingredients. If I get food to go I usually buy noodles with meat & veggies at the Muslim owned restaurants/shops, which are the best places in my opinion to buy street food. They have little signs outside (forced or voluntary?) that denote the ownership is Muslim and the food is Halal, which is akin to Kosher and said to be much cleaner than regular street food. The Muslims and Koreans are by far the friendliest store owners, welcoming and kind, so I try my best to shop at their establishments when possible. Perhaps it's simply my perception, but the local Chinese I interact with as cashiers or employees often appear rude and dismissive to Laowai.

The area behind my apartment running along Food Street, behind the restaurants, is a neighborhood for working class (really poor by Western standards) Chinese; vendors, construction laborors and service workers. The scene presented is a blend of shanties, crowded one story apartments, stalls selling everything from exposed meat to industrial chemicals, low hanging power lines, naked & dirty children in the streets…you get the picture.

I took some pictures today. Here is a video to give you an idea of the traffic on the corner of my block at about 6:30 PM. This is the corner of Main Street and Food Street, my side of both. I turn right here to the supermarket. Busy and cacophonous. Everybody honks the horn on their electric moped because the motors are silent, and the honk let's pedestrians know they are coming up on them. Very annoying.

The calm before dinner rush.

Prepping:

Think this would pass the health inspector? Notice the guy cleaning the crawfish in the background with the China tap water in back.

A little cigarette ash gives the grilled mystery meat that authentic Chinese aftertaste. It seems like every man smokes. You can smell it in stores, elevators and restrooms because there are no rules against smoking inside establishments, it must be what it was like in the States before no smoking rules went into effect. I have to say I like no smoking rules.

Typical side street.

Here is a video of the neighborhood next to Food Street, directly behind my complex. I wasn't at all scared, even though everybody stares in one of three ways: amusement, conviviality or resentment. With that said, I wouldn't walk through at night. It's palpable that some of these working class Chinese, with limited access to the outside world, see me and an undefined malice swells up. I can see it intensely in the eyes of the younger men. Certainly a small minority, but present. The kind of fear of the State that doesn't exist in the West keeps violence here minimized, I do wonder for how long. Envy coupled with impotence to State power is always a powder keg.

Not exactly The Grand Canal. You would probably die on contact. I doubt that 24' white PVC pipe running along the embankment pipes in Evian spring water.

On my way out of the neighborhood, opening up to shopping and dining.

The juxtaposition is stark, with high end shopping a hundred meters away. It occured to me most neighborhoods are very well defined in terms of economics and yet exist side by side, and they all have gated entrances coming in and out. The poor areas are gated but don't have security guards to keep people out and the gates are always open, so are they there to confine people in case of emergency?

Look what I found. Two rays of Golden sunshine just outside the entrance/exit of the locals block. Goldens are the dog here. Smart folks, the Chinese dog owners. Somebody is showing off. The one Golden was a really good looking male.

OK. I've got my groceries, left the Mall/Carrefour's, it's getting dark now and you can see how the food street that runs to the Shopping has filled up.

 

I dropped of my groceries at my apartment and decided to take some pics of the walking mall past the dancing and such across the street.

This is the walking mall once you get past everybody dancing/exercising. Not much quality shopping, but that's typical. I'm not sure you can make it out, but most of the second story neon signs and some on the first floor are massage parlors, the kind that don't just give massages, right here within a stones throw and sightline of kids singing. I didn't want to make my filming of the massage parlors obvious, so the “Massage” signs may be tough to make out.

It's really weird. I had more than one strumpet offer a massage with a “happy ending”, which for me would have probably meant phenobarbital and a nap in the gutter, sans wallet. I would have taken a closer video, but I'm sure nobody would have appreciated it. Not the pimp, prostitute or the Japanese business men who flock to these establishments. How many malls in the States have massages and prostitution one level up from an Umbro apparel store.

One last video, this is directly across from my apartment facing my building, the walking mall is behind me. This is the area where families get together.

That's it for now, when the first five day break comes here in about three weeks I might go to either Nanjing or Shanghai with a couple co-workers just to sight see. Nothing is decided, everybody is waiting to see if we even want to go after the first three weeks of a condensed schedule, so I'll just have to play it by ear. Trains go most anywhere here and are really economical, so travel expenses should be relatively low.

If I have problems with the video links I'll have to put them in the next post. Sorry, I don't know how to fix video links yet once I post. I always cross my fingers when I hit the “Publish” button that the censors haven't crushed my video.

That's all for today.

 

 

Street Video

OK, so after much effort and downloading, I'm going to try again to post a brief video of the the street I walk down to get groceries. I took the video with my iPod, so we’ll see how it looks. I'll link it above and I'll try to embed it in my post below, unfortunately this has been difficult because the censors seem to be very adroit and attentive to blocking anything related to video uploads. I'm going to show you one side of the food street that I walk down, so turn your volume up so you can hear the sounds and pay attention to the signs you see. Definitely not in Kansas anymore.

The smells on the street are the best part. The aroma of grilling meats and stir-fried garlic, onions and peppers combine into an ambrosia that is a joy to take in. I partake a couple times a week, that is my self-imposed limit on eating meat in China that is bought off the street. My general axiom is this: for street food, and less expensive food in general, if the meat is so small I can't recognize the source animal or cut, only eat semi-weekly. The small bites of meat on the kabobs could be anything. I cook at home often.