Thursday, January 10, 2008

When The Evening Comes

During the daylight hours, things are pretty boring around here. I mean that both within my home, and out on the street. At home obviously I am here alone. I read, I watch movies, I play on the computer. On the street things are pretty quiet too. Most everybody is at work, and those that aren't either stay home, or pretty quickly move from one indoor to the other.

Around nine o'clock on most morning I take a walk on the outside of the LQ. It is a pretty big complex and it makes for a good walk. It is also pretty lonely. Now I don't mean to say that there isn't anybody out on the street, for there are. There is almost alway a few people walking in and out of the LQ. There are cars zooming down the street. There are folks walking about as well. But for a city of millions things are really rather quiet. People aren't really talking to each other, there is little commotion going on, just people moving to their destinations.

As the sun drops though, it gets exciting. Around 3:30 the kids get out of school and the buzz begins. There is the low moan of hundreds of kids finding freedom. Their parents encourage, question, and scold the children as they are shuffled into their cars or walked home. There is the roar of bus engines and taxis and cars as they ready to take their loads home. Security officers buzz their whistles every few seconds reminding the vehicles that children are near and crossing the street. The cars honk their horns in defiance of this.

About an hour later the teachers and administrators get out and more noise begins.

On the street, vendors begin appearing selling their wares. By the gate is the guy with flowers. Blues, reds and yellows all bright and fresh shine out to the masses asking to be taken home and put in vases. Next to the flowers is a lady selling scarves and hats - all intricately made with colors as bright as the flowers. They are laid out on a blanket in rows again begging for the attention of all who pass by.

Next to the tree is an old man whose great age shows on his sagging face under his Russian fur hat. He stands next to a cart which holds what can only be described as a portable wood stove. It has rounded edges and resembles something like one of those old aluminum campers I used to see zooming down the interstate when I was a child. The front of the oven are several drawers, the largest of which opens to a large fire. The old man periodically opens this door and throws in a few small branches to keep the fire going.

The smaller drawers surrounding the larger one contain several sweet potatoes in various roasted states. Through a small chimney on the top smoke billows out into the open air.

Others stir coals inside a steel drum. The coals warm chestnuts that emit a wonderfully aroma and beckon my nasal passage. I don't really like chestnuts, but every time I walk by those burning nuts, I want nothing more than to buy a bushel.

On some days you can find a young woman selling corn on the cob, and others with oranges and pomellos. Around the corner are guys with carts loaded with DVDs. Above the carts are small flood lights attached to poles and presumably some sort of power source.

Farther down the road are several vendors selling meat and vegetables on a stick. The raw products sit on a fold out table and once you've made your choice they are seasoned and placed over hot coals. Joking with the proprietor is a necessity, but with my limited language skills all I can do is smile and appear friendly.

Sometimes there is a big noodle cart. These guys have a table full of sauces and vegetables and eggs. To the side is a small gas burner which they place a wok upon and fry up your vegetables and noodles.

My favorite vendor is the bread couple. On their table the woman works out the dough, layers it with a variety of spices and herbs and then hands it to her husband. He stands in front of a barrel full of coals and smoke and fire. Like a witch before a cauldron he prepares his magical concoction. The dough gets smacked onto the insides of the barrel where it sticks and cooks for awhile. After awhile he takes it out and lines the bread up with the others cooked pieces.

It costs about ten cents, and tastes like heaven.

All of the carts are on wheels and are ready to scurry away at any sign of trouble, or the cops. Neither ever seems to come. I often wonder where these people come from, and what their lives are like. When they were young did they dream of selling small goods on the side of the road? Did their fathers and grandfathers sell these very things so many years ago?

If one chooses to look closely at the carts and fiery ovens one would probably not enjoy what is there to see. I don't suspect the sanitation is all that good or pleasant. I don't suppose that any of the street vendors go through an inspection process. I don't think I really care.

The food is cheap and it is good. I wouldn't recommend it for a daily meal, but sometimes on a cold night, there is nothing better than walking down the street, ordering up a little vegetable, a bit of meat, and a delicious piece of bread.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post - you sound like you enjoy your life in Shanghai. Keep writing!