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Wandering in China # 5

Due to the cancellation yesterday I had a couple hours of free time. Yippee! Thus I found myself wandering around Shijiazhung on a beautiful Spring day. One feels quite safe here. According to Hao, there is little serious crime due to “cameras everywhere”. The biggest risks are petty thieves in train stations, and phone and internet scams, especially for older people. Sounds just like home.

Shijiazhuang Street

I didn’t really have an agenda for my walk, which is sometimes the best part, right? Then I remembered that I had forgotten the cord for my electric razor, meaning it would most certainly run out of juice before the end of the trip. My mission thus became finding a disposable razor. Of course I don’t read Mandarin, so I had to look in windows to find a suitable store. I saw a lady come out of a door with a shopping bag that looked like it had groceries within, so I pushed aside the plastic curtain in the doorway and went it. It was tiny, with shelves filled nearly to ceiling and aisles so full that I could not get around the ends, or really even turn around without knocking something down. I found a razor, went to the counter and gave the smiling fellow my Visa debit card with a hopefully look on my face. He proceeded to pull out a dusty blue card machine, wiped it off, beat it on the counter once or twice and then inserted my card. He pressed a bunch of buttons, after which I heard some beeping. I thought it all sounded good, but to no avail. He handed it back with a shrug and said something, but of course I have no idea what. I got the message though so I gave him a different card. Same outcome. I smiled and took my card back and thanked him. (Last time in China I hardly used any cash, so this time I only brought a 5 Yuan note that I had left over, which is worth about 80 cents I think – not enough for a razor.) After only a few steps more I found another market. This one was a bit bigger, and not quite as tight. Still, wearing my backpack meant I had to be careful not to clear the shelves as I moved around. I found another Gillette and also a container of what looked like blueberry yogurt, and wanting to support the local dairy industry I grabbed that too and went to the counter. Alas, it was the same as last time so I went out the door empty handed. Undeterred I proceeded down the street, still optimistic I could achieve my goal. While looking for my next target, I spotted, written in English, “Bank”. Aha! Why not trade in some US greenbacks for a few Chairman Maos? I walked in, turned to the guy at the counter while pulling out a US 20 $$, held it up and said, ” Can you exchange US dollars?” . I figured that even though he would not understand me words my actions might speak louder. He had a funny look on his face. I looked behind him and saw some keys on the wall. Apparently I, whitefaced old guy wearing a cow cap, brandishing American money like it was God’s gift to China, had walked into a hotel speaking gibberish. So, back outside to the door that was actually under the Bank sign I went. Inside a very small room, think phone booth, or for those under 40, small closet, I found this:


Bingo. I put in my card, managed to change the language to English, followed the instructions to get 100 yuan, and waited. Some sort of message came up, not in English, and my card popped out. No Yuan. So did I just give away $15 or did it just not go through. Well I figured the odds were better than a one armed bandit that it just did not go through, so I tried again. No dice.

Back on the street I realized there were actually quite a few banks around. I found another ATM, went inside and tried again. No luck. When I turned to exit I found the door locked. This is the door right behind me, like in a phone booth. There was a voice saying something, in Mandarin, every time I pushed on the door to get out. This was obviously some sort of security feature. I pulled, pushed, slid and whatever else I could do to what looked like a handle on the door. The voice kept speaking, seemingly in increasingly irritated tone, but I am sure that was just my imagination. Finally I must have found the Idiot Button by luck and the door opened.

Well that sure was fun. Another bank: a well dressed man and women at the front door, motioning me inside. I held up my $20 and my 5 Y, and asked if I could change money. The man said something and pointed to the counters inside. Yes, counters. There were four, with a bunch of writing above a clerk behind glass. It appeared that there were counters for different tasks. I looked imploringly at the well dressed fellow and repeated my request to see if he could point me in the right direction. He pointed to the door – the door back outside. Apparently this was not the place to solve my problem either. The woman came over and the three of us had a nice conversation, filled with smiles and friendly gestures. I of course, understood not one word.

Back on the street I soon spied another ATM. Same tiny room. Put my card in, pressed the buttons and :

Success !

As a bonus I was able to get out of the door without a lot of fuss this time. With new spring in my step I resumed my mission to find a razor. I saw a store with a sign that appeared to say “365/24” which sounded like a convenience store. Oddly there was a recorded female voice coming from a speaker in front by a box. I speculated it’s message was from the Chinese government and was something about patriotism, or proper behavior, perhaps like not spitting on the sidewalk. Who knows? Inside I found my Gillette, and then make a quick stop to the dairy case to see what they had for sale.

Dairy Case

I bought this:

Dairy Drink

It reminded my of Chobani drinkable greek yorgurt, really quite good.

I still had time to kill so I continued walking. Soon I found myself inside a building that housed what is best called a farmers’ market. The building was a full block long and had vegetables, meats, some clothes, fruits, noodles, sauces, eggs, and more. The light was a little dim but I managed to grab a few pictures.

Making noodles
Meat aisle
Yup, those are chicken feet
Can you guess?

There was also fruits, lots of eggs, some shoes, even quilts to go over the handlebars of one’s scooter. The scooters were an unanticipated problem. As you can see it was rather dark in there. The scooters are electric, meaning no noise. So I nearly backed into traffic a couple of times because I did not expect people to be scooting around in there. The items in the last picture are rumen on the left, and reticulum on the right. These are both forestomachs of cattle. You can determine which is which by the texture of the lining. The rumen has papillae sticking up while the reticulum has a very characteristic honey comb surface. The reticulum lies to the front and bottom of the forestomachs, so all the heavy stuff, like rocks and metal that a ravenous bovine eats wind up there. This is also where the cow magnet resides. Hao informed me that these types of markets are becoming less common as people shop more in supermarkets today, and also that they are not usually actual farmers markets. Dealers buy the products from farms and them bring them to markets like this one to sell.

I found this cake in a bakery back on the street. It is the year of the pig in China. The year of the pig is believed to be a good year to have children, as is the year of the horse, or so I am told.

Year of the Pig

Almost forgot: The noodle guy is making them on the spot. He takes that large wafer that kind of looks like a very thick pizza crust and puts it into a machine that cuts the noodles. There were also some booths that had large vats with cranks. There were bottles of dark liquids outside the shops. I am not sure what they were but I assume sauces of some sort.

Next it was back to the hotel for dinner. We took a cab across town to get to the restaurant that the hotel staff had recommended to Kai. “Very famous” Kai said as we were flying through all sorts of traffic jams in a cab with a very aggressive driver. The cabs don’t seem to have seat belts here, which I find rather unsettling. Interestingly they also have limited room in the trunk because of a giant tank sandwiched between the back seat and the trunk. The tank is for compressed natural gas, and is mandated by the government to reduce air pollution, which seems like a great idea except that the installation looks like it was done by a high school kid in shop class, and I figure that stuff has to be pretty explosive. Maybe the lack of a seat belt is allow passengers to quickly escape the explosion…

The restaurant had the dishes from the menu displayed and also lots of fish, lobster crabs, mussels, clams and other seafood one could choose.

Fish choices
Our first choice
second dish

Pig skin
I chose this one.

The first dish was flavorful, though one part was a bit chewy. Han and Kai struggled to translate its ingredients. It was a “chef’s choice”. There was some sort of seafood, and some kind of fungus and then the other part was a “leg” or something. Hao and Kai chatted away while I enjoyed the dish. Hao then showed me his cellphone which he had used to translate. It said: deer sinew. Deer sinew, what the heck is that? I poked around in there with my chopsticks and pulled out a cord-like piece. This was the chewy stuff. “Do you mean deer tendon?” “Yes! that’s it.” they replied. Deer tendon, never thought I would eat that, or even cow tendon for that matter. I would have thought it more suited for diners a bit farther down the food chain than us , but who knows. The second dish, also a “chefs’s choice” was eaten like roast duck: You took a piece and assembled kind of a burrito with sauce and small veggie slices. It was crunchy and fatty, like most deep fried stuff. Kai kept pointing to his elbow and saying “pig”. “You mean pig elbow?” I said. He nodded, but I did not see any bones so I knew we were not there yet. He rubbed his elbow some more, and said “slices”. “You mean pig skin?” “Yes!” they said, “Fried pig skin.” Well since it is the year of the pig I guess that was OK. It was then that Hao offered that the Chinese were very good at eating almost anything and also at eating almost everything of anything.

I was quite proud of my choice: sweet potato greens, or the part that the rest of us throw away. I think Chinese are also adept at finding the right mix of spices and oils to make just about anything green and stir fried quiet tasty.

Local FDA rating

As my hosts paid the tab I was pleased to see that the local FDA had granted a green smiley face, or “A” rating to this establishment. I asked them why anyone would ever eat in a place with a less enthusiastic yellow smile, or for sure in a place with a nasty red frown. “Why not just do pass fail?” I asked. They shrugged. I will watch for the faces in establishments from now on. No red frowns.

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