So, a couple of days ago, I made dinner plans to meet up with a teacher that used to teach the class I will be teaching this year. She wasn't sure how well I knew the area so we decided to meet by a main road. Great idea. Easy to find, convenient location, and about midway for both of us. Well, I leave about 30 minutes before I'm supposed to meet here because I have no idea how long the walk will take me. It's about a 1/2 mile away. Note to self: 1/2 mile walk only takes 8 minutes at a very leisurely pace. As I stood on the main road waiting for my friend, I'm going to guess that at least 2,000 people passed in cars, buses, taxis or walking. Of those 2,000, I would say 99% of them looked at me. And I don't mean, "looked at me in passing". I mean, double-take-stare-with-mouth-wide-open-gazing-over-every-inch-of-my-body-twice look at me. Some were pointing, some were smiling, I'm pretty sure someone took a picture with his phone camera...it's like I'm a celebrity without all the perks. No money, no body guards, just the daggone paperazzi following me everywhere I go. Arg!
On another note, I went shopping by myself this weekend. I know that sounds like no big deal, but when you live in a city of 8 million people, can't speak the language and have no idea where you live in reference to where you want to go, going out by yourself is a huge adventure. Yesterday, after working in my classroom, I took the bus partway with a friend and then split off to take a taxi to Walmart. Yes, Walmart. I will say it's only 'similar' to the ones in the states. It was two stories with the grocery part on the lower floor and all the clothes, appliances and homegoods on the top floor. I was able to find a lot of things that I've been looking for but not everything I was hoping for. I got picture frames...hm, that's all I can remember right now but I know I got more stuff. And then today, I went to a place called Jimo Lu Market. I don't even think I know the words to explain what I saw there. I took some pictures (only a few because it's hard to sneak a camera out of my purse to take a picture inconspicuously when everyone around you is staring at you) and hopefully that will show you what I mean. Let's say you went there to buy a necklace. Well, they have 20 little necklace shops that are each selling 5,000 necklaces. Or a bag, you'd have 1,000 bags to choose from. Literally. I'm not making up these numbers. 50 little shops selling shoes, 50 selling suitcases, 50 selling bedding, 50 selling clothes and so on. And they're not nice, neat little stores. They're closet-size rooms stuffed to the gills with as much product as can fit while still leaving a little bitty aisle that you can turn sideways and shuffle down. Totally overwhelming and REALLY fun. I found a few house items and had my first experience at bargaining in China.
Bargaining is part of the culture here. Unless you're going to a department store, you're expected to bargain. They give you a number, you offer half that and then they work down as you work up. So, I found this home store that has a bunch of really neat stuff, a lot like a TJ Max or Ross' home department. I bought a picture frame, a vase, and some flowery-things. Now, I don't know if this is the norm or I'm just "special" but when I was bargaining for the vase, the number I gave her was so low that she actually smacked my arm. Smacked it! All in good fun of course, but it shocked me so much that I laughed really loud. And then, as I was bargaining for the picture frame, when I finally got the price that I wanted and turned to grab the frame, the woman actually smacked my rear end! Huh?? And THEN, when I was bartering for the flowery-things (for the vase) and got my price, as I was digging in my wallet, the woman literally patted my belly and started scratching it. Yes, she literally patted and scratched my belly. I laughed and laughed and laughed. I don't know what I enjoyed more. The items I purchased, the bartering, or the strange human contact. It was just so funny.
After shopping, I got home, rested for a few and then went to "taco night" at some friends' house. We played this game called 'Boxers or Briefs'...hilarious. I totally have to get it when I go back to the States. It's similar to 'Apples to Apples' but more personal. We laughed a lot tonight. And it was nice because it was the first time that I was finally able to really be myself. You know, my loud, obnoxious can't-stop-making-jokes self. I don't know if that's a good thing or not...
Man, it was a great day. I traversed the city successfully, got a bunch of home stuff, had my belly rubbed, ate a great dinner and laughed way too much.