Tuesday, September 30, 2003

 
Mr. Mitchell's Neighborhood
Allow me to show you around the place. Before we leave, let me make sure the two gas levers feeding the stove and the often malfunctioning hot water heater are turned off. Can't forget my keys. If I'm locked out, no manager's office to call and we wouldn't understand each other if I could.
Wait 5 minutes for the elevator. If the overhead hall lights go out, just move around and clap and stomp. They're on some kind of movement/noise sensor control, probably imported from Uzbekistan in 1998 or else they are what's left of a science experiment by the fat, nerdy middle school kid who lives four doors down.
Down we go....Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. By. F.l.o.o.r. Frequent stops, especially at the 8th (housekeeping business); 3rd (mystery floor, home of the "young girls in jeans, tennis shoes, dwarfed by their oversized white lab coats imprinted with blue quasi-scientific lab looking logos") and 2nd floor (expensive restaurant).
First floor. Watch yourself and don't get crushed by the horde trying to get in as we're exiting.
There's the callow youth of a security guard snoozing into his newspaper in an oversized uniform and hat that looks like it was last used in an amateur Red Army production of "Pirates of Penzance".
Outside let's turn left. Wave to my cheerful laundry lady. She's stout, usually beaming and has what appears to be a goiter on her forehead. She's only "lost" one pair of jeans, two pairs of socks and several boxer shorts in the four loads she's done for me so far. It's still a bargain.
There are the five elegant and comfortable wooden park benches set along on the sidewalk facing a real estate office, a florist and a small convenience store where I usually buy my cigs. Older folks favor them in the evenings, sitting for hours, men and women chatting, gossiping and sometimes laughing as they watch the pedestrians come and go.
Look to your right, across the street. Hear that loudspeaker and martial music? The middle school must be having another assembly on the soccer field. See that slender woman gently swaying in the small doorway directly across from us? That's the massage parlor and she's one of their living ads.
But let's keep walking.
Be careful when navigating through the "Children of the Corn." It's a collection of anywhere from 3 to 7 small kids - who presumably should be in school - under the supervision of skinny crone of a Corn Mother who spend their days and evenings squatting on the sidewalk, husking and hawking corn. It's good stuff, sweet, small by American standards but inexpensive - about 10 cents for 8-10 ears.
Want to duck into the covered outdoor market? Gotta fight our way through the Bootleg DVD Gang Boys first.
No, no, I don't want "Gidget on the Island of the Ghost Cannibal Gods" or even a copy of Sean Penn in "Mystic River" which hasn't been released yet in the States. You'd think by now they'd know I'm not a good prospect. Don't have a player yet.
Otherwise I'd probably be a faithful customer.
I don't buy my meat or fish here. But it's colorful and, yes, smelly. Tons of mystery creatures, living and dead. An ictheologist's wet dream! I saw some shark fins the other day. Squid is popular.
I avoid the poultry and rabbit sections now. I feel too sorry for the chickens jammed beak to beak in the small cages, though some of them sport exotic, long, colorful plumage. The poor rabbits look equally miserable on their death row.
But I've picked up some kitchenware here and the fruit is good. Particularly the apples, grapes and plums. California plums being sold, too, as if they were picked yesterday but for the little paper stickers on them; just like Safeway or King Soopers but cheaper.
Let's go back outside. We're almost off the block. There are the shoe repair families. Five or six lined side by side on the walkway, complete with their cobbling equipment, glue, nails, leather and battery operated sewing machines.
There's the upscale seafood restaurant and the western style coffee shop, neither of which I have checked out yet. A cup of coffee here is more expensive than Starbucks in the states. There is one Starbucks in Shenzhen. I've been there but only to meet someone. Otherwise it was filled with wealthy, young, very glossy Chinese men and women sipping $6-$7 javas and working their cell phones.
Let's go right and cross the street.
Watch yourself! Yeah, it's a zebra crossing but the concept of pedestrian right-of-way is completely alien here. See how that Mercedes almost mowed down the gaggle of tiny school kids? Leper-sucking rat bastard. That stuff happens virtually every minute here.
Nice shade trees, huh? The city is gritty and muggy, and the sidewalks and streets often look like they've been paved and repaired by epileptic chimps randomly flinging wet cement and oatmeal, but Shenzhen loves its trees and they are everywhere the pavement permits.
More shops on our left. This place sells fabulous fresh dumplings - pork, shrimp, sweet bean - but I've only seen them for sale in the morning. There's Grape Man - he's got the best Concord grapes I've ever had, though I suspect, like the plums, they're from California - most Chinese produce isn't that large and these are like small ping-pong balls.
Barber shop, barber shop, barber shop. These are the real barber shops, not the ones with the red and white poles, attractive women, but no hair cutting or styling equipment inside. If you're not careful, they'll clip you in other ways, though.
We're almost to the combo supermarket/liquor store/department store. Hang a left. Yup, there's a KFC, too. Expensive, like Starbucks, but the Colonel is quite popular here even if the chicken portions are miniscule and breast portions nearly nonexistent unless one raises a serious fuss.
There's a mini-park across from the department store. Occasionally you'll see older people doing tai chi in the small grassy areas near the winding path and benches.
And it looks like there's a beer promotion going on in the park pavilion. Kingway beer, Shenzhen's local brew. It's not bad and the price is right - about 30 cents a bottle.
Let's grab a couple before we go back.
*****
Note: I'm off to Chengdu on Wednesday evening and will probably be gone for four to five days, depending on what I encounter there. I'll be posting if time and circumstances permit.




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