Jiali Fu

Everyday / Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

That’s Carrefour in Chinese. A short 1-km walk from the university gates, and there it was. It being a Monday, there was not much of a crowd. Our purpose in walking here was to find a towel, or maojin as it is called in Chinese. A bath towel, if you please. What I like about malls here was that no one tries to sniff through your bags, and no one thinks that you are the next kleptomaniac out for the next high. We walk through the entrance, and up the escalator. On the way I spot a few electric bikes on sale. These are nifty, if I can use that word to describe bikes. Silent. And can be deadly if you are not on the lookout for them while crossing the street. I look at the price – they are just around Yuan 1799. Not bad for a bike that saves you all the petrol. I think to myself if only these bikes were available in India!

Most of them come with a wide foot rest, and a smaller seat at the back, presumable for the juniors. If I were to ever think of doing my Chengdu-Beijing trip, I would use these any day. Good for the environment. On the way to finding the maojin, we also come across a few boots. Tomorrow, we are going to Emei Shan – one of the four holy Buddhist mountains in China. Climbing Emei Shan was a dream that spun its way into my head last year in June. I wanted to climb a peak – any peak for my birthday. We couldn’t go to Emei Shan and went to Mount Semeru. And we couldn’t reach the peak of Mount Semeru, sadly. So here it is. Emei Shan. In winter. Birdy needs a pair of hiking boots. We can’t find any within our budget, so we try to find the closest alternative. 60 kuai for a nice pink pair of boots then. I am laughing at the sight of it. I have never ever seen Birdy in pink. But those boots are cute, lined with fleece, they should offer some protection against the expected freezing temperatures we are likely to encounter in Emei Shan.

And then the towels! They cost more than the boots! We look at the prices in consternation. 98 Yuan. 69 Yuan. The cheapest was 58 Yuan. I remember buying a black bath towel in Chicago for a dollar. Yes, a dollar. And it was Made in China, of course. So is that where all the cheap towels go? How the hell can the average Chinese afford these towels? Do they bathe at all, we wonder. I know that many Chinese don’t. Well, not regularly. It’s the cold. I have done that too when I was here. In the freezing cold, in usually unheated apartments, you do not want to be stripping those layers off, trust me. But I think the most I went without a shower was maybe 3 days. Many of the Chinese I knew used to happily go without for a week. And, I used to try and change my clothes with or without a shower. Pat pat pat. But back to the towels. We cannot afford them. So here is an open call out – anyone coming to Chengdu from India, please get some bath towels for us, please!

Lunch was just around the corner. You really don’t have to go too far to find a restaurant in China. A small shop. We enter, and the waitress immediately understands the vegetarian plea, and to added measure, understands that I don’t want my noodles floating in soup. The broth is the culprit, usually. It’s almost impossible to find non-animal flavored broth for your noodles, unless you specify you want it in only hot water, and that is a tedious process as the waitress is already perplexed at you, the rich laowai not having meat. I have had a few noodles already with animal broth – and it was quite delicious. But I think I would rather not. Sorry, all you meat lovers. I am still a carrot lover. Ahem. (Old joke that I am sure certain ex-colleagues in IBM will grasp). The noodles this time though are perfect. I can’t spot even a teeny weeny piece of animal in it. And it’s spicy – lao la!

Dinner was back to more soup noodles. I fish and ferret out a small chunk of meat. But the rest of the noodles was fine. I slurp the soup. All of it. And I think to myself that no one can ever call me a vegetarian who never tried meat. I am sure for the next four months, there will be more meat pieces, more pork or beef broth, and more tales of taste. Somehow, that is all part of the adventure.

One Reply to “Jiali Fu”

  1. I don’t know whether my earlier comment went through, and so am typing it again.

    Your mention of Carrefour made me nostalgic! I stayed in a service apartment for sometime near a Carrefour in Shanghai and even after I moved out, I used to visit it often, because there were wonderful restaurants and a cute bookshop nearby. There was also a beautiful cricket ground nearby where I used to watch cricket matches during summer weekends.

    Electric bikes seem to be really wonderful! I read an article on them sometime back and I really liked it. If you are interested, you can find it here – http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article797310.ece

    Your observation on finding out bits of meat in the broth and removing it before having the soup, made me smile 🙂 It is really tough being a vegetarian in China, isn’t it?

    If you want a few maojins, I can send you some. Do let me know.

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