When I first learned of our itinerary to Taiyuan City, in the Shanxi Province, I thought we are headed to a province per se and that we are to experience a countrified version of China for a change. Green fields, pastoral communities, nature, hushed life. This is my imbedded impression of what a province is anyway. I was already thinking about switching to cowboy mode.
And we ended up here..
Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province — another of China’s mega-metropolis, first-rate capital city and among the top ten most polluted places on Earth! My conception of a countryside China vanished in the haze.
Inanycase, there will always be something of interest in a particular place each time I transform from foreigner to traveler mode. Here in Taiyuan City, beneath her enormous urbanization, I was introduced to a sort of.. bucolic atmosphere. I’m not looking down on anything or anybody here. But when Nyibil and I tried the streets here, though I pretended not to notice, I can’t help but look back at the locals around here who would stop and stare at us from head to toe. From head to toe!
Never in my whole stay in China have I felt so off and uneasy as this stroll in Changfeng street. Nyibil, by the way, is a 6+ footer burly black Southern Sudanese clad in a camouflage shorts and a floppy hat matched with Hawaiian shirt which makes him look like an off-duty Delta Force preying the streets of Subic back in the eighties. A magnet for kibitzers and at the same time intimidating. So while I was thinking about divide-and-conquering our curious gapers, he just passed them by like a real roughneck plying on his own turf.
Now we came into this supermarket and Nyibil, a few steps ahead of me, looks around unaware of an old-timer, scrambling hard in following his every move and, again, giving him the inquisitive eye from head to toe. This is more troubling now since the look in the man’s face is nothing short as those of the Angry Birds’. Certainly we couldn’t have stepped on someone else’s foot on our way down here. Then suddenly as Nyibil was browsing at the Food Supplement section, the old man, swerving from his left to his right, shouted: “U.S.A! Strong! U.S.A! Strong!”
Later that afternoon, I was back at the same supermarket together now with four buddies of different nationalities. We’re getting us a load of that good ol’ baijiu (and this is what I was telling you, Susan).
So five aliens now in a strangeland. Yes we did made quite a fuss in there but I won’t go further on the details of that one. What is sweet is about the three chinky kids who kept going after us on our every turn down the aisles. Their wide-eyed parents behind them. When they finally caught up on me at the liquor section, they cried almost in unison: “Where are you from?” I told them two of my friends are from Africa, two from Middle East and I am from the Philippines. And they went their way with big smiles on their faces. But not before curiously feeling up Takawira’s jet-black toned forearm with a smooth stroke of their fingers.
In the evening, the baiju brought us down to this lively joint in the far end of Wucheng Road. And, yes, what a way to cap this somewhat exceptional day. There was sparkle in the air and people on the stage were hoofing it to the beat of the loud Western music. At this time we were all fully anesthetized by the China spirits our tolerance level reached ceiling high. When all of a sudden, a young Chinese lad appeared in my face and, in his struggling English, asked me about the same who-we-are-where-we-are-from stuffs we have been facing all day. His abruptness didn’t surprise me anymore. I am much too “composed” by now.
In the end, while my buddies were having the time of their lives on the dance floor, there I was seated at the far end corner of the room raising glasses with a bunch of young Taiyuanese men and women. And they do care what my name is here boy!