It’s been really hard to know what to write about this
week. Usually I have an idea then I
spend a few days thinking about it (no point rushing these things), but, apart
from having to run up and down the insanely steep concrete sides of the
aqueduct that’s being built through Chen Jia Gou (not fun!), this week was very
ordinary and uneventful. I thought I’d
write about an ordinary week here, but it didn’t make for very interesting
reading. Luckily, something very
exciting happened today, so I’m going to tell you about that. A word of warning: if you’re reading this in the hope of
learning something about tai chi, you’re reading the wrong story!
Wen Xian is the nearest town to Chen Jia Gou. It’s fairly gritty and not very glamorous,
but the locals are exceptionally friendly and are always curious about where
you’re from and what you’re doing in Wen Xian, though it’s pretty obvious that
you’re here to study tai chi. Wen Xian
is not at all Westernised. There’s no
MacDonald’s, Pizza Hut or Starbucks.
Instead, there are restaurants specialising in donkey meat, and at the
market you can choose your chicken while it’s alive, then take it away freshly
killed, cleaned and plucked. That’s
something to watch!
Today I decided to go for a walk down towards the market
before going to the supermarket. Every
time I’ve been to Wen Xian I’ve wished for somewhere warm to sit down in and
have a coffee. Even a branch of the
Chinese fast food chain would do, but I’ve never seen anywhere selling coffee. As I
started walking, I fantasised how fantastic it would be if Starbucks had opened
a branch in Wen Xian since my last visit.
The pessimistic side of my mind immediately retorted that this was
impossible, and the rational part of my mind had to reluctantly agree.
I walked down the street looking at all the strange things
for sale. A surprising number of
hardware shops. A shop selling
ultra-modern fitted kitchens with a very bored-looking sales assistant. A few grubby restaurants, and lots of dust
and litter being blown about. Cigarette
stalls. Goldfish stalls. And something new and shiny with a crisp
white front and red lettering saying ‘Pointer’s’. What could it be? I crossed the road and peered through the
window. A bakery! Intrigued, I went in. And could not believe what I saw. There was a menu, in both English and
Chinese, which promised cappuccino, latte and mocha. The floor and walls were clean, shiny and
white, and lined with shelves and cabinets of baked goods. In short, it was a million miles away from
anything else I had seen in Wen Xian. I
was so stunned that I couldn’t even order a coffee and wandered around looking
at the cakes in utter disbelief.
Once I’d got over the shock, I ordered a latte, then noticed
a counter of special-looking cakes and got a black forest gateau to have with
my coffee. I know! Black forest gateau! In Wen Xian!
And it was pretty good. I
especially liked the artfully placed parsley garnish. They had two little tables by the window, and
had thoughtfully provided newspapers, which I couldn’t read because they were
written in Chinese, but full marks for effort.
And the staff were super-friendly.
I decided I needed something to take away, so I bought a bag of
mini-croissants (croissants!) and some raisin bread and left with a ridiculous
smile on my face.
Despite having just eaten a cake, I still needed to have the
fried egg sandwich I’d been thinking about all week. That was my previous exciting Wen Xian
discovery. I’d been looking for
something to eat, and had seen this little food-cart. The guy showed me some sketchy-looking meat
which I didn’t fancy, so I pointed at the eggs instead thinking he might be
selling my favourite Chinese snack of all – the pancake. Instead, he started frying an egg. I thought I might end up with an egg in a plastic
bag (one of the joys of street food in a country where you don’t speak the
language is you’re never sure what you’re going to get), but just as it was
nearly ready, he heated up a little bread roll, and there was a fried egg
sandwich! I hadn’t eaten one of those
for a long time and practically skipped down the street with it. It’s no wonder I get some odd looks in that
The final port of call was the smaller supermarket. The bigger one has more stuff, but the
smaller one is closer to the bus stop and is generally a nicer shop. Apart from one thing. The girls who work in the toiletries
section. Their job seems to be to waft
various soaps, lotions and shampoos under your nose in the hope of making you
spend more money than you intended. This
may work with Chinese customers with whom these girls can converse, but with
me? No way! Shopping in the toiletries section is like
being in a mosquito-infested swamp at dusk; one of them spies you and pounces,
the rest start to hover, and pretty soon you’re being followed by a cloud of
girls in red and yellow uniforms, all waving things at you and pulling at your
sleeve. This is combined with astonished
gawks from other customers (my God! A
foreigner in our midst!), and children staring or pointing at the lady with the
strange hair. I usually plug in my MP3
and put something really loud on so I can pretend I am elsewhere, while
serenely ignoring everything else. I tap
my foot too, just to show that I’m really listening to something and I CAN’T
Usually I go to town every two or three weeks, but I have a
feeling that now there is somewhere to sit and read a book over a coffee, I may
be going more often. And next time I’m
going to tell you more about running up and down concrete slopes.