Nevermind the Guidebook

Today I required noodles but my favourite noodle house remains closed for Spring Festival. Luckily I enjoy wandering and on one of my recent voyages I found a promising spot just one block over and a few blocks in towards Binhai. I left my backpack behind, tucked my phrasebook in my back pocket and on a whim grabbed my iPad.
It’s SUCH a good thing I did.

At a hand-made fresh new noodle shop it took a bit of broken Mandarish discussion to realize they were still open and would happily serve me some lunch. Great.

That’s when what could have been a 20 minute lunch stretched to over an hour.

Things started, as they often do, with some local children.
I’ve learned a lot of things from my nieces and nephews, so when I saw the two toddlers standing by the door it was clear they were both curious but nervous, frightened but inquisitive. Playing with my nieces especially taught me they love to be scared, but not too scared. When playing Princesses and Monsters they require me scary but still need to know that Uncle Byron is inside Uncle Monster.

Noodles on the boil, children encouraging one another.

Noodles on the boil, children encouraging one another.

These two proved no different really.
The little girl bunched her courage and with some prodding from her mother came up and asked me some questions. I pulled out my phrase book and proudly asked… “Ni jiao shenme mingzi?” (What is your name?) It took a couple of attempts because my inflections are terrible and ‘zi’ sounds like ‘tuhsuhuu’ (For waygooks in Korean think of how Koreans love to add an -uh to words that end in consonants and you’re nearly there.)

The adorably inquisitive Liao Wen Da.

The adorably inquisitive Liao Wen Da.

“Liao Wen Da”. (Or thereabouts.) Then she asked my name and with a bit of practice it sounded like “Bye-riin.” Close enough for Binhai.

My noodles are cooling but that’s fine, this is far more important than lunch.

Fixing my jacket pocket.

Fixing my jacket pocket.

My meal completed, a delicious fresh made noodles with some beef, peppers and hard-green onions… I intended to head for home and then back to school, however something caught my eye. A woman set up her sewing machine on the street and fixed garments on the roadside. My black jacket, nearly constantly in any picture for four years, had a pocket starting to unravel. I stood and showed the failing pocket, pointed at her machine and waited.
After a while she looked at me and mimed taking it off… so I did… with shoulder shakes and a bit of a show. She, and the half dozen people around the “stand” (It’s a sewing machine, a chair and an oversized umbrella to keep garments dry.) all burst into laughter.
One minute and 2 Yuan later, one complete pocket. Just last night one of the straps on my backpack started to go… guess where I’m going to get it fixed?

Chinese traffic calming solution... Brick Wall!

Chinese traffic calming solution… Brick Wall!

I looked across the road and saw some fresh quartered pineapples on skewers. My favourite! I did a doubletake because somewhere in Vancouver some uber-eco-biko-overlyfiendly-crusader just got an erection. What better way to ‘calm’ an arterial road than by building a wall across it. And not some temporary wall either. I’m not certain who ordered this or if this thriving little community decided let’s just do this and ask for forgiveness later, rather than permission in advance. I do know that the bottleneck they created caused an ongoing traffic snarl at 1 O’clock on a Thursday.

Right of way.

Right of way.

I planned to snap a picture with my iPad of me and my pineapple just because I thought it would complete the couple of neato things I’d seen and make for a fun little blog post.

iPad takes the stage.

iPad takes the stage.

That’s when my iPad decided to gain some notoriety locally. I miss my cherished Pentax, a heavy, clunky fantastic camera – perfect for me and the way I travel. The iPad can’t zoom, no timer, terrible in low light and it’s bulky and awkward. Those last two prove essential. People notice it. Smart phones are in Binhai, but not many iPads, so it draws attention, and when people get behind me, peering over my shoulder and I snap a picture, they want to see it.

Fruit vendours.

Fruit vendours.

I show them and then usually flip it around (it has a forward and backward lens) and snap a picture of them with me) and they stare at it. Giggle and then show their friends.

I quickly snap pictures of the people calling their friends over, and the ones coming to check it out, by they time they get there, I’ve added another two pictures and they are giggling and pointing and laughing at themselves onscreen. Laughing, I think, because it’s a big screen and they can see their fruit stand or how they move or caught in an unexpected pose.

Sugarcane lady giggles. Orange vest means community crewperson.

Sugarcane lady giggles. Orange vest means community crewperson.

This leads to more people stopping to look at the screen and pose because it’s novel and they’re waiting for the car-jam to clear before heading on to their next stop.
Through a lot of fumbled determination I’m able to inform them where I live (Xing fu shar tru) and where I work, my name, where I’m from and my job. They’re impressed because while my Mandarish remains infantile I’ve communicated my message.

Heading down a side street filled with small shops that I love, I continue to garner stares, smiles and an occasional “Hello”.

Asian (kimchi to me) fingers. Waiting for the traffic to be a bit less calmed.

Mandatory Asian fingers. Waiting for the traffic to be a bit less calmed. Also, family transport.

I pause once more to snap a picture of the locals playing one of their games (there are three they are passionate about) but that’s for another post. I show them the screen, eventually getting to the person starring in the photo. They have a great laugh, especially when I call out “Mah Jong”! and “Zaijian”.

At the end of the side street, back now on one that leads to my apartment I realize it’s after 2 and I’m supposed to be back at work in 20 minutes… I’m at least 15 from home. (I got to school 15 minutes late, I don’t have classes this afternoon and have seen zero of my co-teachers – I did write this blog though).

With four banana for 3 Yuan, I head back to my apartment.

I love guidebooks, I think they serve a purpose but some of the best experiences occur when I just go.
I suggest everyone try it.


Edit: I just found the reason for the brick wall, I typed away at a new blogpost (forthcoming) and one of my co-teachers asked what I was writing, so I showed him this post. Turns out the bridge contains structural damage and this is the temporary solution. Brick Wall~!


4 thoughts on “Nevermind the Guidebook

    • Thanks Jack. Did you see the monkey on the end of the little girl’s sleeves?
      I adore the husband and wife fruit vendours, what I do love about my iPad here is that no one suspects those eyeholes are actually lenses. I don’t like the quality sometimes but I love how they don’t expect it to be capable of those pictures.

      The fresh ramen proved amazing. I wish you could visit, I’d love to share some real freshly made (and by fresh I mean I watched him turn the dough into noodles) noodles.

  1. Pingback: Bamboo by the River | Byron and his backpacks

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