Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Gongbei Routine

I'm a bit behind in my blogging, due largely to the fact that the pleasant weather has been enticing me to spend as much time outdoors as possible — especially after hearing the forecast of holiday snow for Chicago. And my plans to catch up tonight were nearly derailed by a fortuitous encounter earlier this eveing that led to a dinner with much pijiu and gambeiing (which I'll report on in a future posting). But I'll try to overcome my slight inebriation to forge ahead with my posting plans.

On Monday I made my usual weekly shopping trip to Zhuhai city. There wasn't anything that I particularly needed to buy, but after languishing on campus all day Sunday, I just wanted the change of scene. I must have made the trip between the college and Zhuhai a dozen times by now, but I still haven't tired of looking out the window at the countryside, the people, the shops, and even the crazy traffic.

After alighting from the bus, I strolled through that stretch of restaurants with the lively outdoor dining scene that had so impressed me one night last week. But as I expected, the stretch was pretty dull during daylight, even at lunchtime.

This sidewalk dishwasher gives you an idea of the sanitation standards here.

I ducked into a building that turned out to contain one of those vast indoor food markets that had impressed me, first in San Zao and then in Jida. Besides the merchants selling the same sort of produce that you commonly see at the outdoor markets, these enclosed ones also sell meat . . .

. . . and fish. And as you can see, refrigeration doesn't enter into the picture at all. But what I'm now finding more interesting than the lack of refrigeration is my level of acceptance of it. On my first visit to China, some ten years ago, I found such practices shocking. Six weeks ago, when I arrived for my teaching stint here, I suppose I would have made note of it. But now I barely even shrug. Perhaps it's my awareness that my the ingredients of my dinner that night will likely have been treated in such a fashion; it's either accept or starve.

When the food's been cooked, like these roast birds and other meats, the lack of refrigeration's a bit easier to accept. Even so, I decided to head for the undergrund Port Plaza mall for my favorite restaurant with the English-language menu.

After a tasty chicken curry, I headed upstairs and outside to the less genteel market area where the genuine bargains are to be found. I hadn't been planning to shop for DVDs that day — I'd figured I'd stock up before returing to Chicago — but I wound up finding some surprising titles that I just couldn't resist; I'll detail them in my next post.

Lugging my sackful of DVDs, I headed for the bus stop by way of the side streets and back alleys that I found so enticing the first time I encountered Gongbei. But again, I strode right by sights that would have had me pulling out my camera a month ago. Even the incredibly brazen streetwalkers (my online research has confirmed my assumption that the district is a hotbed — pun intended — of prostitution) didn't faze me. I'm not jaded — I still love taking in the scene — but at this point I guess I can state that I longer feel like a gawking tousist.

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