Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hanging in the "willage"

There is a little village right around the corner from us, probably no more than 300 yards from the back gate of the Riviera. Villages around here are not what you might think of. It’s not a bunch of little houses clustered around a town square and it’s not shanties. They tend to be long, linked brick buildings, which each contain a multitude of private homes. Often, there are entrances to the villages off of the main road, so you mostly just drive or ride by and sort of look down there.

But there are also several villages you can easily visit and I ride my bike pretty regularly through a few, including this one. You go over there and go past a large standing pipe on the right. Sometimes I see tanker trucks coming there to fill up with water. Sometimes I see regular people with big containers filling up. On the left, there is a small gated community of large homes, a sort of mini Chinese compound. Then you are in the middle of the village’s commercial center.

On the left there is a run-down supermarket of sorts, a meat store and a couple of produce stands, as well as a cigarette/convenience store. Next to the second fruit stand and set back is Tammy’s Frame shop, a really nice little store that definitely gets its share of expat business. Across the street is a little restaurant, which is more or less some oil drums with stools around them under a tent.

I have started going over there to visit the second fruit store quite regularly. They have really good stuff really cheaply. It can be a tad more if you get watermelon or some other stuff flown in this time of the year from the far South of china. Otherwise, I can get huge bags of apples, pears, apple/pears, navel oranges, clementines, bananas, tiny clementines which Anna devours, plus carrots, zuchinni, cucmbers, sweet potatoes, celery.. all for about 4 bucks. I usually ride my bike over and the woman there gets a kick out of helping me carry the stuff out and squeeze it all into my basket and onto my handlebars.

I have also taken a bunch of stuff over to the frame store, most recently a Danny clinch photo of me with Jimmy Herring and Warren Haynes taken at the Beacon Theatre 4-5 years ago. That one is really dear to me and I can’t wait to pick it up on Monday. Stuff looks great and never costs more than 10-12 bucks to have something framed and matted. They also have a small amount of furniture and crafts there and it’s nice and cheap, though very limited. We bought our first piece there, a dresser that they said is 80-100 years old and I believe them. That is not considered an antique here. Some say something has to be more than 200 years old to qualify. I will post a picture of the dresser and the town soon.

When I was in the frame shop, I realized I was really hungry. I wasn’t sure about the oil drum place across the street so I asked the guy in the store who speaks a little English about where to eat. He walked me out and pointed to a place two doors down and set back from the street. I thanked him and headed over. It was about 2:00 pm and the place was empty. Chinese eat at exactly noon. It is pretty funny. Between 11:30-12:30 restaurants are packed and roads are empty. After 12:30 they are empty. I walked in there and they looked at me so strangely, I might as well have been an alien. Remember, this place is a 3-minute bike ride from the Riviera, where hundreds, maybe thousands of expats live. And it’s basically next door to the frame store, which definitely serves many foreigners.

I sat down and the two waitresses both came over to try and help me. They handed me a menu, which did me no good, of course. No pictures there, and no one else eating so I could use my favorite point and grin technique. I said I wanted noodles and I’m pretty sure I said it right. I figured whatever kind of noodles they brought out would be good. But they weren’t satisfied with that and kept asking me more questions, which I couldn’t answer. I kept saying, “Wo budong” (I don’t understand). It was pretty comical and they were laughing. They were pantomiming all sorts of things. The only thing I could relay make out was someone making noodles and I kept saying “dui, dui,” which means “right, right.”

After consulting one another, one waitress retreated to the kitchen. The other brought me the tea I requested, then sort of hovered around me. I wasn’t sure what she wanted. I looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back, then pointed to the table and said, in remarkably unaccented Engligh, “Desk.”

“Bu (no) Desk,” I said. “Table.”

She was puzzled. And brought me over her pen and order sheets. I wrote out table. She looked at it and read, clearly, “Table.”

I took the pad and wrote
Chair
Cup
Tea
Noodles
Me
You
Alan

She read them all. Then my food was ready. The cook poked his head through the opening from the kitchen, wanting a look at me. I smiled, he smiled and stared. The two girls brought me my food, anxious to see how I would respond. It was a big bowl of brown broth. I smiled, smelled it and stirred it with my chopsticks. At the bottom was a big heaping of fresh, flat noodles. I said, “Hen hao” (very good) and started eating. It was simple, peasant food more or less, but quite good. The noodles were definitely rolled out just before being cooked. They were flat, sort of fettucine-style. The broth was beef, with a few pieces of stew meat and some tasty fresh greens floating around. I more or less left the meat but ate the rest and it was good and filling and warming.

Afterwards, the cook came out to have another look and another guy saw me from the street and wandered in to have a cigarette and tea and stare at me. He offered me a cig, which I waved off, then started talking to me, but I could not respond, except to smile and say “wo bu dong.”

My pupil returned with her sheet and I wrote some more words. A few more people wandered in. I now had a class and one of them called me “loashi” (teacher) which made everyone laugh. It made me feel good, to be honest. I was writing down all the simple words, I could think of, any objects I could see, writing them, reading them and pointing. “Bowl, Television, spoon, shirt.” The one waitress was really into it and could read the English and say the words perfectly. Everyone else was just happy to see and hear it all.

Eventually I paid and left. The bill was three kuai. (about 40 cents). I said “Shia shia. Tsai Jien” (Thank you. Good bye.) and my star pupil answered back, “You’re welcome. Thank you. Good Bye.”

I pedaled home, my basket overflowing with fruit.