This afternoon we went with our Chinese friends to the Spring Festival flower market on Binjiang – the riverfront street on our scrappy south side of the river. The market was a lot of fun – all manner of flowers and plants for sale, as well as New Year’s decorations, toys, and the typical carnival toys. It seemed that every college student in Guangzhou was out trying to hawk pinwheels, inflatable toys, funky hats, and giant tiger gloves, etc. We were consistently swarmed by hordes of the exuberant young folks who were happy for the chance to use their English. “Welcome to Guangzhou!” they kept shouting. We would just laugh and reply, “We live in Guangzhou!” Then everyone would laugh and they would leave us alone, realizing that we probably weren’t the cash cows they had thought at first glance.
The funny thing is, in some ways our return to Guangzhou after what amounts to more than 5 weeks of traveling and guests does feel like a new beginning. I feel more comfortable and at peace with the place, I guess. When you are hosting guests and worrying about showing them a good time or traveling and living in nice hotels while you experience new places at arm’s reach it is easy to get down on a place because it doesn’t offer you all comraderie and the amenities of the high life. Further, when you are reading books and newspaper reports about troubles in the place (e.g. the Boxer Rebellion and the resurfacing melamine tainted milk), it doesn’t take much effort to feel disdainful. But when you actually get home, get out in your neighborhood, and see your friends and acquaintances, you realize that, even if it doesn’t fit you like a glove the way some places do, you look upon it fondly and recognize that its imperfections are no more glaring than those in any place you might chose to be.
Aside: Five weeks is about all it takes for me to forget what little Chinese I knew. I had a couple of opportunities to use my Russian and French on the trip. While I found it exceedingly difficult to access Russian and often ended up inserting Chinese words here and there, tonight with our friends I had the opposite problem – starting my statements with ya for ‘I’ instead of wo, casting about for a word and only recalling Russian vocabulary. Argh!