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Sarah's travelling blog

And then there was Coffee

CHINA | Wednesday, 7 March 2012 | Views [501] | Comments [1]

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 town!     

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 HEAR YOU! 

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.      



Hello Sarah,

I should have sent a message much earlier, as I very often read your blog. Although I have Skype, I've never ever used it yet. I find your travels interesting and that you find so much to do and indeed write about during your travels.
You mentioned one of your F's recently. You may know Anwen is to be Christened in two weeks time, and I am going to Worthing then London then home, so will see Fiona and Darren's children for the first time.
You probably know I've retired and doing an FE course in furniture manufacture and design. Very interesting but in places could be more challenging.
If you get a minute keep in touch, look forward to seeing you when ever you get home.



  Ewart Scott Mar 11, 2012 8:23 AM

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