I sometimes have a litany of small vignettes that do not require a larger piece on their own, but also don’t fit neatly as an example within a story. So I will occasionally release a rattling off of stories from across a place I’ve explored. This one is from my earliest journals from a few years ago, when just discovering the Middle Kingdom. (2015)
It’s interesting to note what a first time visitor finds interesting and eye-opening. Enjoy!
Convenience stores make great bars. I’m not a huge fan of going to Western bars over here, because for the most part, the Chinese usually miss the mark on replicating our stuff. And when a Westerner does have a bar, it’ll have Western prices. It’s not really worth it unless you’re specifically trying to meet a certain crowd.
I am, however, a massive supporter, a never-miss-a-home-game supporter, of drinking outside of Family Mart, our local 24-hour convenience store. They had tables and chairs, and an awning out front which proved useful for the incredibly wet weather on those late nights.
Apparently Suzhou is known for crawfish and so there were massive vats of these suckers being scorched alive in garlic and oil, and my god that was a scent for the ages. (Poor little guys.) We watched as what were almost certainly hookers and drug dealers go about their business every single night.
This one lady wore platform shoes and a skimpy red dress. She’d walk around this area (riddled with hotels mind you) with nobody, make a call, go around the corner, come back with a human, go somewhere else, come back empty handed, make another call. Rinse. Repeat. It wasn’t even remotely hidden. In fact, hotels have cards laid out everywhere for you to give a call. It’s certainly a different way to have it in public this much.
A bunch of the dudes I was with smoked cigs, and eventually the store owner would come out and make small talk (the only kind of talk I could make in Chinese) and give willing recipients a free cig. (which by the way are DIRT cheap, maybe 2-3 bucks a pack, tops). There was just so much activity at this place. If ever we got separated at night, we’d just come back there, grab a 15 kuai six pack (kuai is like saying bucks, I’m just gonna say kuai from now on) and wait for the whole gang to arrive. God, I loved Family Mart. There was also a crazy lady who collected aluminum bottles for a living.
I befriended the crazy lady. So for all the high-brow TV show watchers out there, she looked like the McBoyle sister from It’s Always Sunny. She wore the same thing every night. She always had trash bags filled to the brim and these worn down sandals that dragged making an eerie sound with maybe a month of life left on them. It rained a lot and she would just appear out of the darkness all creepily, but she lingered because we always had cans and made it easier for her. Read here for an account of recycling in China.
(Although, if you ever come across her don’t you dare give her glass bottles; apparently the margins are crap. Metal is where the money’s at.) We would try and speak Mandarin to her, and she wouldn’t respond, so we figured she spoke Suzhouhua (similar to Shanghainese language) and just give her cans and called it a day. A fortnight on, I finally got her to smile by showing her a can and saying thanks, and my god that grin was from ear to ear. She even muttered a gracious 谢谢. You’re welcome my love.
In all honesty though, the homeless and less well-off in China certainly have been calloused and so may appear a world apart. But we are all human, and beyond the language barrier and social gap, you can find genuinely amazing people.
Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!