I know that I complain a lot about China and the culture and everything gone wrong. But sometimes there are things that I absolutely love. This is one of them.
My friend Sara invited me and Amy to dinner tonight. We ate at a Muslim noodle place. It is located not far from the school, but just far enough to get a glimpse at real China. The street is lined with shops - food, grocery, beauty parlors and all sorts of things. There are guys on the street selling a variety of cooked meats and breads. And there are just people everywhere.
Buying. Selling. Loitering. And a little boy with crotchless pants. He's maybe 2 and his pants literally have no crotch or bottom. This looks weird and hilarious, but it is common here as the kids don't do diapers, they just let loose in the bushes, or the grass. Easy clean up I guess.
There is something in the air - something dirty probably, but something exciting and strange and utterly fascinating. We're still a little close to the homogenized, Americanized place that we call home, but for a short walk it will do. (And don't get me wrong, if we didn't have the homogenized place to live things would be much worse, but every now and again I like to see a glimpse into what China is really like.)
We go into the noodle place which doesn't have a real menu, only big pictures on the wall - all in Chinese with prices next to them. We have absolutely no idea of what anything is. It is all noodles with vegetables and/or an unknown meat.
None of us speak the language so we point at the pictures. Since the pictures are on the walls and up high, Amy and Sara try to point from a distance to their pictures. This works in an approximate way, so they have to use more sign language to get the waitress to understand they want the picture on the top and not the one under it. I walk to the wall and sort of leap up to my picture.
All of this makes the locals look in and gawk, and laugh at the crazy foreigners.
Sarah gets a nice mess of noodles and vegetables. Amy has noodles and beef and chicken, but the chicken is bony and thus kind of gross. I get noodles and potatoes and beef.
It is really, really good. Darn good. Some of the best Chinese food I've had here.
The total for me and Amy is 16 RMB which is just over two dollars! And we have enough to take home.
On the way back home Sara stops at a guy on the street selling DVDs. You see these guys all the time selling bootleg DVDs or books or music. They get all the latest stuff, sometimes even before they do in America. For instance, they had the double disk, expanded edition of Death Proof (Quentin Tarantinos bit in the double feature Grindhouse.) That sucker doesn't even come out for another two weeks!
The problem with the street vendors is that they come and go so quickly the quality often lacks. And lawd knows when you are buying illegal, bootleg DVDs you want good quality. I happen to know a guy who owns a real shop (as in really in a building with walls) who happens to be just behind the Living Quarters. So we go and enjoy.
It isn't a big shop, but it is much nicer than the little buggy guy on the street. He's got lots of cool movies and he speaks English as well which is great. Typically he has good quality stuff and he'll let you know how good the DVD is if you ask.
And I like buying my bootlegs from a local guy who I can get to know.
DVDs start at 7 RMB and go up to 10 RMB for the higher quality stuff. That's a dollar and a dollar and a quarter for those keeping track. They also have all kinds of cools sets - like the collected works of Woody Allen or every Best Movie Oscar winner since the beginning of time and TV. Lots of TV.
Some of the TV is bootlegs of the official seasonal DVDs. Sometimes they are fresh off the DVR, booted right off the TV. Like my sister got a copy of the first season of 30 Rock way before they were selling the official version, complete with the little station identification symbol at the bottom and mini ads for some upcoming show. All because it was taped right off the TV during the original run.
Yeah, that's not perfect, but the price is right. They also are big on complete series and such like. So I bought the complete Sopranos (excepting the last season since it just ended) and they're selling boxes sets of X-Files and West Wing and the Simpsons up until now. Etc.
It's all cheap. X-Files goes for about 500-odd RMB which tuns into about 70 or so US dollars. 500 is a bit number no matter how you slice it, but considering you can hardly buy one season of that show in the States for 70 bucks, getting every season is a pretty good deal.
So yes, so far I like China because I can get good, cheap food, I can see babies without crotches in their pants, and I can buy boogleg DVDs on the cheap.
It aint France, but it has its charm.