Monday, December 14, 2009

Things I Take for Granted

Morning after morning, I try and remind myself to tell you about some of the sights I see on my way to school. Things that might be foreign to you. Things I take for granted.

Like the breakfast stands. Food is a huge thing in Chinese culture. Around mealtimes, you greet people by asking if they've eaten yet. And many homes in this crowded city do not have big kitchens. So it's not unusual for people to eat out for many, if not most, meals. On my 7-minute drive to school, I pass a handful of breakfast stands. Some sell egg sandwiches. The real traditional ones sell Chinese pastries and soy bean milk, which is often handed to you in a small plastic bag. You can have it hot or cold, sweet or salty. I love sweet, warm soybean milk!

And then there are the people doing exercises. Exercising is as big a thing as food in Chinese culture, partly why you rarely see overweight Chinese people! On my ride to school, I pass two groups of ladies. If I'd drive a different route, I'd see many more men and women working out in the park that I drive by!

The first group I pass never fails to make me smile. They dance. And boy, do they dance. One lady, especially, looks like she may have always dreamed of being professional dancer. Her hair is always put up nicely, and curled. She always wears quite the outfit. And she's totally into the music. Keep in mind, this is around 7 a.m. Her group is comprised of about 20 other ladies who are almost as passionate as she is about dancing.

When I sit at the 5-phase traffic light, waiting my turn to go, I often watch another group of ladies in red and white. They do Tai Chi, I believe. In uniform. In sync. In all seriousness. And those ladies can bend and breathe like I can't at almost half their age. Their workout venue? At the entrance to a large Japanese department store. Where there's a decent space, you'll find people exercising every morning, from the crack of dawn.

Many parks have long stretches of rock, where people take off their shoes and walk barefoot on the smooth river rocks. Except, the rocks are planted into cement, a good inch apart, with the tips facing up. Walking across the rocks is really painful to the untrained foot. But it's great accu-pressure, a DIY foot massage.

On my way home, I often drive past a local market. If you step inside, you have rows of vendors selling fresh fish, fresh meat (with pig heads lying staring at you), fresh noodles, fresh flowers, fresh veggies. And then the odd little corner shops where you can buy fine China and such. Go figure.

The same drive home takes me past numerous food vendors, from young entrepreneurs who set up noodle stands in the back of a little pickup truck, to an old man who blows a whistle every time he's about to fire off his contraption that makes puffed rice. There are rows and rows of snack stands selling everything from shaved ice, hot or cold glutinous rice balls, seaweed treats, or finely-sliced cooked pig ears.

I can walk out any time of the night, if I so wished, and find a number of vendors selling good Chinese food. In my area, these vendors are fewer than, say, downtown, or in the college areas. What can I say? The Chinese people are serious about their food.

By now, you can tell that the Western idea of stereotypical Chinese food is far from correct. There are oh-so-many kinds of Chinese food. And other than deep-fried or steamed fermented soybean curd, I like it all.

Perhaps I should follow the unspoken advice of my neighbors and join them for their daily exercises in the park.