Chinese markets

wu li ting market & a sunday invigilation

Saturday, November 8:  This was a weird weekend, or rather a non-weekend, as, for the third time since I arrived in China, the university required us to work on a Sunday.  For our midterm exams, the administration decided to test out a new computerized British Council test on Vocabulary, Reading and Listening, for which a lot of computer labs were needed.  We had to give the exams on Sunday, as the computer labs were booked during the weekdays.  That’s the story anyway.

Wu li ting market

Wu li ting market

As you can imagine, I wasn’t one bit happy about this.  The thing that made it a double blow was that classes were cancelled on Friday and Saturday due to Sports Day, meaning that if we hadn’t had to invigilate for the exams, we could have had a three-day weekend, and I could have possibly traveled somewhere.

Wu li ting market

Wu li ting market

oranges

oranges

There were two bits of saving grace: one, it rained all weekend and I would have probably had a miserable journey if I had gone away; and two, we were told we get to take off the 19th, 20th and 21st, meaning we’ll have a five-day weekend after midterms.  Assuming nothing happens to upset these plans, I’ve booked a room in Ping an at the Longji Rice Terraces, also known as the “Dragon’s Spine,” north of Guilin.

Pomelos and apples

Pomelos and apples

a dark and dreary day

a dark and dreary day

Of course I have a list of things to do and see in Nanning itself, so I ventured out Friday to the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities.  Today I went to Wu li ting Market, not too far a walk from the main gate of the University.  The students from my English Interest Course had told me about this market, which, as they mentioned, is bigger than the market on campus, but not hugely so.  Though the rain slacked off today, it was still overcast and cool, and the light seemed uncooperative for pictures.   I did capture the essence of the market, I think, and I found the vendors friendly and gracious.

Grapes and lady in red

Grapes and lady in red

jujube and vendor

jujube and vendor

I'm not sure what these are: melon and durian perhaps?

I’m not sure what these are: melon and durian perhaps?

pomelo and dragon fruit

pomelo and dragon fruit

relishes

relishes

the vegetable lady

the vegetable lady

greenery at its finest

greenery at its finest

arrangement

arrangement

bed of eggplants

bed of eggplants

vegetable city

vegetable city

On my way back from the market, the construction for the new underground railway, which won’t open until well after I’ve left China, was as jarring as always.  This sight is always a striking contrast to the leafy pond-dotted campus of Guangxi University.

Construction for the new underground railway

Construction for the new underground railway

work in progress

work in progress

towers of steel

towers of steel

We have our Writing midterm on Monday morning, at which time I will have to mark 71 papers with two essays each, a total of 142 essays.  I dread this.  In addition to marking those papers, we’re to continue teaching classes following our normal schedules.  I hope to come out from my solitary marking confinement sometime before next weekend, when hopefully the rain will stop and the air will glow with ribbons of sunlight.

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese markets, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language, Wu li ting Market | Tags: , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

my english interest course: storytelling photography {1st stop: the market}

Tuesday, October 14: Before I came to work at the university in China, I was asked to prepare an English Interest Course (EIC), which I would teach to about 20 students for 6 one-hour sessions.  I was told the course should be something about Western culture, or anything that you would teach in an English Corner.

Taking the assignment seriously, I went to great lengths to prepare a course called “Road Trips American Style.” I found several movies from which I would show excerpts:  Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Thelma & Louise.  I also found a lot of great literature about road trips. I planned to use excerpts from some of these: an essay by Ann Patchett about a trip in a Winnebago, “My Road to Hell was Paved;” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig; American Nomads by Richard Grant, Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon; and Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck.  I also prepared a Power Point presentation about different modes of travel, using photos of everything from bicycles to Airstreams to Volkswagen buses.  I planned to prepare more presentations on types of hotels, sights to see, types of roads.  The final goal was to have students research and present their own one week road trip, deciding on which vehicle to use, what roads to take, what sights to see, what hotels to stay in and what restaurants to eat in.

Way too ambitious!!

So much for my great plans.  When I got here, I was told that the EIC courses are meant to be fun and light.  Some of the courses taught are yoga, sports, photography, etc.  My course would have involved too much reading and preparation, too much work.  The literature excerpts would have been too difficult and too time-consuming.  Thus I had to rethink my course.

In Oman, I had prepared a course for an English Corner about places to visit in America.  In Oman, the English Corner was voluntary, and thus no one ever showed up.  Here, the students are required to attend one of these courses for a course credit.  Their attendance and participation are mandatory.

Adjusting my expectations, on a whim, I decided to teach a course on Storytelling Photography.  For my first class, I presented great photos that tell a story, using examples from Steve McCurry and other photographers whose blogs I follow.  Then I told the story of my life, including my family and home in Virginia, and my travels to 16 countries over the last 5 years.  In total I had over 140 slides.  The poor students were probably ready to tear their hair out!

green grocer

green grocer

...and his greens

…and his greens

I told the students that for the next three sessions, we would visit places on campus and take photos which they can use for a 5-minute 10-slide presentation telling a story about some aspect of their lives.  They can use any of the photos we take on our outings, or they can use photos they take on their own time.

green and orange oranges

green and orange oranges

Our first outing today is to the market on the campus.  We meet first at the Experimental Building where I take attendance, since attendance is mandatory.  Then we walk to the market together.  Who knows if some of the students sneak off; I can’t keep track of them all.  On the way there, one of my students tells me he would have enjoyed just spending the whole semester seeing pictures of all the places I’ve traveled.  So I guess my slide show didn’t bore them after all.  At least this student enjoyed it. 🙂

On the way to the market, a rat runs out in front of us, and one of my students stomps on and kills it, picks it up by the tail and disposes of it.  I’m a little shocked by this but not too much, as I find rats disgusting.  I’ve heard of some apartments on campus where rats have been a problem.  If I found one in my apartment, I would really freak out.  I already killed a 3″ cockroach on my kitchen counter one night in the middle of the night.  Now I’m always wary when I get up for a drink of water.

It’s really great having my students with me on this trip to the market.  I came here before by myself, and I’m sure the market vendors were wondering why I was walking around snapping pictures of them.  At this time of day (3:00-3:40), the market is quite slow and not even all the vendors are open.  I ask my students to explain to the vendors what we’re doing, and actually most of them seem quite happy, I think even flattered, that we’re there to take their pictures.

It’s great to have my students, who are in the second year of their studies, along because they can explain what things are.  They tell me these men are playing Chinese checkers.  The game is quite rousing, with a lot of yelling and slamming of game pieces on the board.  I have seen men sitting around playing this game everywhere I’ve been in China.

a crowd gathers for a rousing game of Chinese checkers

a crowd gathers for a rousing game of Chinese checkers

a game of Chinese checkers

a game of Chinese checkers

Chinese checkers

Chinese checkers

The market is a rough and tumble place where business is of primary concern.  These are hard-working people who take pride in their merchandise and aren’t afraid of the nitty-gritty.

pipes

pipes

camo boots

camo boots

cages

cages

I ask my students what this vendor is doing with his torch.  I stupidly say, “Is he cooking the meat?” One of my students tells me, “No, he’s burning off the fur.”

burning off the "fur"

burning off the “fur”

torching the "fur"

torching the “fur”

I’ve always wondered what these fruits are, and they tell me, after looking it up on their Chinese-English dictionary app, that they are jujube.

jujube

jujube

the jujube grocer

the jujube grocer

I’m told these are persimmons.

persimmons

persimmons

umbrella

umbrella

fruit stand

fruit stand

Some of my students make this vendor happy by buying some of her fruit.

business transaction

business transaction

peanuts

peanuts

I’m sure the vendors enjoy this slow time of day when they can socialize and play cards.  I don’t know what game they’re playing.

card game

card game

Chinese dates, etc.

Chinese dates, etc.

In Oman, I used a drying rack in my apartment to dry my laundry.  Here, we have either a balcony or, in my case, an outdoor laundry room with a high pole on which we hang our laundry on hangers.  These poles are used to reach up high to hang up the hangers.

Poles used to hang up laundry to dry on a high bar

Poles used to hang up laundry to dry on a high bar

colorful clothes hangers

colorful clothes hangers

Someone just washed their tomatoes.

dewdrop tomatoes

dewdrop tomatoes

We find this colorful cardboard lantern and some of my students point out the various motifs such as dragons.

Chinese lantern

Chinese lantern

Another of my students pulls me over to a garden shop to show me what he calls a fly-catcher.  I look up Venus flytrap and it doesn’t look like this, so I’m not sure what it is exactly.

Venus flytrap

Venus flytrap

garden shop

garden shop

Some of the children’s umbrellas are sparkly and goofy.

children's umbrellas

children’s umbrellas

And I believe this is some kind of rubber ducky vehicle.

rubber ducky vehicle

rubber ducky vehicle

This man is fanning the flies off of his meat.

fanning the flies away

fanning the flies away

And these are a couple of my students who picked up some produce while here.

some of my students

some of my students

One of my female students is wearing some very interesting shoes.

funky shoes

funky shoes

I stop to study this notice board outside of the market, but I can’t understand a word.

notice board

notice board

And here’s someone who’s ready for the market, either a vendor or a buyer.

motorbike geared up for market day

motorbike geared up for market day

At 3:40 our class is over and I tell the students they’re dismissed.  Next week we plan to go to the sports field.  I’m not sure where the third place will be.  Stay tuned to find out. 🙂

 

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese markets, English Interest Course, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Photography, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Teaching English as a Second Language | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

shopping conundrums in the south of china

Tuesday, September 9:  I need shampoo and conditioner, body lotion and toilet paper, a scrub brush and cleaning solution.  I go with my list in hand to NanBai SuperMarket outside the main gate of the university.  Foolishly, I figure I’ll be able to find these things easily.  I’m wrong.  Have you ever noticed that shampoo and conditioner bottles, as well as body lotion and body wash, all look alike?  We can tell them apart in our home countries, but only because we can read the labels.

NanBai Supermarket

NanBai Supermarket

The array of products in the supermarket is overwhelming. Of course most products don’t have English labels, so you have to figure out what you’re looking at by scoping out similar products in the same aisle, or by looking at pictures on the package, or by asking for help.  Asking for help isn’t easy either, as most of the staff in the supermarket speaks no English.

I do recognize one thing.  Chinese kisses, of the Hershey’s variety.

Chinese kisses

Chinese kisses

The Chinese people seem to love their snacks.  There are hundreds of choices, and I don’t know what half of them are.

Lots of mini-snacks of some kind

Lots of mini-snacks of some kind

It’s common knowledge that the Chinese language is especially difficult because Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet.   Each character generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation.  Educated and literate Chinese people must memorize about 4,000 symbols.

I’d think English would be easy in comparison.

I’d love to buy some beer, but I have no idea what kind to get.  I pick a couple randomly: Tsingtao and Xiaomaiwang.

Even the beer is confusing

Even the beer is confusing

I pull out my phone and look at my Chinese translation app, Pleco.  This app will save my life in China.  Either that or I need to seriously learn some Chinese.  The app allows you to spell out an English word, and then a drop-down list of Chinese words pops up.  You can look through the definitions and find the one closest to your meaning.  When I put in “shampoo,” I find seven different words for shampoo: xifaji, xiangbo or xifaru are a few of them.  These are the Pinyin spellings, and they also have marks on them like stress marks, short vowel sound marks, etc, but I don’t know how to type them in, so you can just imagine.  Pinyin is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet in the People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore.

Besides Pinyin, which helps us Westerners to approximate the word by sounding out the Latin letters, the word is also in Chinese characters, and if you push a speaker button, a Chinese voice pronounces the word.  I look carefully at the Chinese characters on the app and try to recognize the characters on the bottles.  None of them seem to match, but then again there are seven different Chinese words for shampoo in my Pleco translation app.  Finally, I have to resort to asking for help.

The Chinese salesgirl knows no English at all, but she’s eager to help.  I show her the word for shampoo, xifagi, along with the Chinese characters, and I press the button to play the voice saying the word, which actually sounds like “see-fah’-tee.”  She pulls me over to a shelf and points out the shelves with shampoos.  I pick Dove because I know that brand.

Pleco translation: shampoo

Pleco translation: shampoo

Then on to conditioner.  The first words that come up have to do with air conditioners.  Finally, down the list, I find hufasu, for hair conditioner.  At first she is showing me body washes because she motions as if she’s washing her arms and her body.  I make motions indicating I’m looking for something for my hair.  I pick up another Dove product.

For the body lotion, two words pop up.  One is runfuru which means both body lotion and body shampoo.  These are two different things and I don’t want to get one, thinking it’s the other.  The other is runfulu, which is just body lotion.  The girl picks bottles off the shelves and has me sniff them.  I take the one called Rose Body Essence.

Toilet paper is easy because I know I’ll recognize it.  The problem is I don’t know where it is in the store.  Since the girl is so helpful, I ask her where it is after looking it up: shouzhi, pronounced like sho-jay, and she takes me to it.

I have already looked around and around for a scrub brush and have been unable to find one.  When I type in “scrub brush,” there are no results.  I type in “brush” and get a lot of brushes, for hair, for brush-off, for writing, for painting, for cleaning pots and pans.  I want one for the floor, and there doesn’t seem to be such a thing.  While making motions and showing her the word xishua, pronounced see-schwah, several shoppers and other salesgirls gather around us and are trying to figure out what I’m looking for.  Everyone seems baffled, even the girls who speak a little English.  Finally, something clicks, and the salesgirl pulls me to the aisle with mops and brooms.  Voila! There is one, although it seems a flimsier version of what we use for scrub brushes in America.

We go through the same rigmarole with cleaning solution.

Cleaning solutions

Cleaning solutions

I find the word qingjieji, which sounds like tsching-tia-ti.

cleaning solution

cleaning solution

The problem is the sales girl is showing me cleaning solutions for kitchen sinks and countertops and I need it for floors.  I motion as if I’m cleaning the floor and she points out a bottle that says Floor Cleaner on it. I would have seen it if I’d had my glasses on.

Floor cleaner, not to be mistaken for body wash

Floor cleaner, not to be mistaken for body wash

When all is said and done and my shopping basket is neatly filled with all the items on my list, I want to tell the girl how nice she has been to help me.  I look up “you,” and find “Nǐ.”  Then I look up “nice” and I find “hǎo.”  I say to her “Nǐ hǎo?” but I’m confused because “Nǐ hǎo” means “hello” in Chinese!  She looks at me quizzically and I laugh and she laughs because we both understand that Nǐ hǎo is not what I’m trying to say at all.

There is definitely a limit to these translation apps. 🙂

Later, Caleb, my friend and colleague who speaks fluent Chinese gets a laugh out of my story.  He says I needed to say: “Nǐ hěn bùcuò,” meaning “You ARE nice.”

At the checkout stand, I either have to provide my own bag, which I don’t have with me today, or I need to ask for the number of bags I want to buy.  Caleb taught me a handy sentence for this.  “Wo yao yi ge dai zi,” meaning “I would like one bag.” The Google Translator has it as:  Wǒ xiǎng yīgè dàizi.  Before Caleb taught me this, I would indicate with my fingers how many bags I wanted. This is now the only complete sentence I can say in Chinese. 🙂

When I get home, I put all my groceries away.  I put the floor cleaner in my bathroom with my shampoo and conditioner as if it’s body wash.  I momentarily forget I didn’t buy any body wash!  Then I’m looking all over for the Floor Cleaner and decide the checker must have forgotten to put it in my bag.  Finally, when I put my glasses on, I go back to inspect the “body wash” and find that it’s in fact my floor cleaner.  I’m sure glad I didn’t use it to wash my face and body when I took my next shower. 

This is what I get for going around without glasses. 🙂 

Friday, September 26:  I want to buy index cards to use in my classes.  I go to my favorite stationery store and I look all over.  I can’t find any, so I put “index cards” in my app.  No results found.  Then I try to explain to the shopkeeper what I want. I take some lined Post-it® notes and I take some postcards, and I point to the Post-it® notes and then to the postcard to show I want the Post-it® Notes in cardboard form.  She doesn’t understand.  I look up “cardboard” and show her, but she still doesn’t understand.  A Chinese girl who speaks some English overhears and comes to help.  I explain to her what I want, and it slowly dawns on her what I want.  She asks the shopkeeper, who says they don’t carry these kinds of cards.  The Chinese girls tells me she doesn’t think I can find them in China.

I end up buying 3 boxes of postcards which can serve the same purpose but are a lot more expensive.

Saturday, September 27:  I go to the open market at the university hoping to find a cheap ironing board.  The university provided one in my apartment, but it was so filthy and disgusting that I threw it in the trash a day after I arrived.  Later I got chewed out when I told them I threw it away because they said it belonged to the university and I had no right to throw it away.  I said I would have asked for a new one anyway because it was disgusting, but they would have none of that.  They insisted that I pay for the one I threw away.  I told them I would replace it because I need one anyway, and I don’t want them to simply provide me with another filthy one.

I can’t find an ironing board at this market, so I wander around looking at the fruits and vegetables.  Vendors try to sell me various foods, but honestly I don’t know what they are and I don’t want to buy something when I have no idea what it is.  One man points to a pomelo, which I’ve never tasted, and I agree to buy it.  I’ve heard they’re good, and I want to try new foods while I’m here.  The vendor has a sharp curved knife in his hand and makes a move like he will cut the top of the pomelo off if I like.  I shake my head “No,” because why on earth would I want him to cut into that huge thing right at the market?  I’ll wait till I get home to do that.   Of course I’m curious as to why he wants to do that, but I have no way of knowing.  Was he only going to sell me a part of it?  Or was he expecting me to taste it or eat it right there?

Another vendor points to these hairy small fruits (see below), and pulls one from the stem.  He hands it to me; I presume he wants me to taste it.  I stick it in my mouth, but it’s like eating a kiwi without peeling it.  I spit it out in pieces, confused.

What ARE these fruits?

What ARE these fruits?

Without even a smirk at my foolishness, the vendor patiently demonstrates how to peel it, exposing a white fleshy fruit inside.  “Oh!” I say, continuing to spit out the peeling and fruit that I’ve mushed together in my mouth.  He hands me small plastic bag in which to put my regurgitated fruit.

I want to burst out laughing at how ridiculous I must look to him, but he is still not cracking a smile.  He must have been laughing it up inside, and I bet he had a good story to tell his family when he got home. 🙂

Oh, shopping conundrums!

 

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese food, Chinese language, Chinese markets, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Language barrier, NanBai Supermarket, Nanning, Pinyin, Pleco app, Translation, Xiaomaiwang beer | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

a lively chinese market on the university campus

Saturday, September 13:  The open market on campus is a lively place on a Saturday morning.  Here, vendors sell fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, plastic household goods, chickens, fish, pork, beef, clothing, and shoes.  They even sell prepared meals and have picnic tables set up for people to stop for a snack, lunch or dinner.  It’s noisy and fun, and it looks like it’s the social hour for locals to catch up with their neighbors.

the entrance to the market on the Guangxi University campus

the entrance to the market on the Guangxi University campus

plants for sale

plants for sale

spices & sauces

spices & sauces

It’s a little difficult for me to shop here because I have few Chinese skills.  As this is an open market, you need to be able to negotiate and say what you want.  I came here earlier this week to buy some rice.  I only wanted a bit because I only have myself to feed, but the woman kept dishing huge bowlfuls of rice onto the scale.  I gestured that I didn’t want that much, that she should put some back, but instead she kept putting more onto the scale.  It seems she was trying to give me an even number of kilos, but I didn’t want that much.  No matter what I did, she wouldn’t put any back into her bin.  I ended up lugging home a huge bag of rice.  It may last for 6 months!  Because of all this rice, I made a special trip to WalMart in downtown Nanning to buy a rice cooker.

vegetables

vegetables

garlic, tomatoes, carrots & red onions

garlic, tomatoes, carrots & red onions

vegetables galore

vegetables galore

A similar thing happened with kiwi fruit.  I wanted only 3, but the man kept gesturing I needed to take 10.  I didn’t want 10, and I tried my best to make that clear to him.  Finally he put up 5 fingers and put 5 in a bag.  I really didn’t want 5, but I took them and paid accordingly.  When I took one out to eat the next morning, it was overly ripe.  I ate it anyway and felt queasy the rest of the day.  The next one I ate wasn’t quite ripe, but I ate it anyway with no repercussions.   When I ate the third one, I got some kind of painful bite on the side of my tongue.  I wondered if there were some kind of bug embedded in that kiwi.  Needless to say, I threw the other two away.

fruits

fruits

nuts & stuff

nuts & stuff

more vegetables

more vegetables

the market

the market

I haven’t had any other issues with the food because I haven’t bought much here.  The first time I came here, I did buy some plums that were cheap and delicious.  I also bought a dragon fruit that lasted me about 4 days and was wonderfully refreshing.  I hope I can learn some Chinese numbers and phrases so that I can better negotiate this market.

the market

the market

star fruit for sale!

star fruit for sale!

an extravaganza of color

an extravaganza of color

vegetables

vegetables

pretty lettuce

pretty lettuce

mushrooms and roots

nuts & berries

chickens

chickens

chickens

chickens

mushrooms

mushrooms

garlic, potatoes and onions

garlic, potatoes, onions, peppers & cauliflower

plastic goods

plastic goods

eggs and stuff

eggs and stuff

grains, nuts and beans

grains, nuts and beans

interesting vehicle

interesting vehicle with a solemn-looking man in back

want ads posted on a board outside the market

want ads posted on a board outside the market

electric bikes galore

electric bikes galore

electric bike parked in front of the market

electric bike parked in front of the market

the market from across the lotus pond

the market from across the lotus pond

I imagine I’ll get better at negotiating with vendors at this market.  It’s the closest market to my apartment, so I really should take advantage of it when possible.  I’ll try to learn a few useful Chinese phrases to help me find my way. 🙂

 

Categories: Asia, China, Chinese markets, Expat life, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

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