Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Back at the Market

It turns out that our kids think the fact that they have not seen the latest Harry Potter flick almost counts as child abuse. I tried reminding them that they have seen the Great Wall, the Lama Temple, the Cu Chi tunnels, monkey blood, rubber trees, etc…. And I stressed that they regularly see kids who do not have running water, will probably not go to school past age 10, and have never been to a doctor. They actually said “Mommy are you done with your speech yet. This is a long one.”

I took my three ungrateful spawn plus two extras into town today. The kids have made appearances at this slow Buddhist market at least twice a week for 2.5 months now. I don’t think I’ve seen a single other Caucasian in the market besides us, and we go to the same stalls every time. I always do the grab your boobs buy chicken boobs thing at the same chicken lady, I get yummy short bananas from the same fruit lady, and I even have my favorite Lao pineapple guy. And yet each time we go we attract attention and comments. It’s gotten almost rote for me to say in Chinese “the three white ones are mine” and then to nod my head vigorously at how lucky I am etc….. Eli, too, has his own market trick. He figured out early on that twins, especially of the dragon/phoenix variety are quite remarkable here so he screams out the Chinese word for twins and points to the kids. This invariably ends with multiple people touching them, looking at them, and using phones to snap pictures. He then disappears behind my skirt. The big ones hate it.

Despite the fact that as it turns out our rural market habits are as predictable as our Retail Relay orders, we find something new almost every time. Today the kids spotted a table where women used giant hatchets to chop up the congealed cow blood. This occurred just next to the chicken slaughterhouse, which I also had never noticed.

The best discovery, though, happened in the grocery store. They have a bounce-n-play style indoor playground with slides, trampolines, and ball pits. How have I not known about this? The whole thing is about the size of Rebecca and Jonathan’s bedroom and costs 45 cents per kid. So what if it’s 98 degrees here and there is no a.c. and all three kids looked close to heat stroke when I got them. Of course, you sign no consent forms and grownups can’t stay mostly because they don’t fit and no one supervises the kids. Rebecca, who had been there before, informed me that I was supposed to shop while they played. And to make the whole thing even more delicious, the store now carries cold coke zeros; something that when we got here required a plane ride to procure. The store is tiny, crowded and filth, but is Targetesque in that in addition to food you can buy clothing, toys, dishes etc.. Even so, it’s more of necessity kind of store than an enjoy-the-shopping-experience one. But with the new find I got the bright idea that I could dump them, buy a diet coke, and peruse crappy plastic items, moonshine, pickled chicken feet, and mystery sauces to my heart’s content. I took one swig of my diet coke before I was yelled at and escorted back to the front of the store. After doing penance for that one amazing coke zero swig I found an isle of facial scrubs promising “skin whitening” and a cucumber scrub called “skin Love” that “penetrates pores”. I also discovered rows and rows of individual condom packets hanging in between crocs and bras. This stuck out because previously I’ve only seen condoms hanging from ceilings in little outdoor shops. In these contexts they are pretty much indistinguishable from packets of yeast, which you cannot buy in the grocery store or in any shop that sells flour. So it took a while for me to learn which was which.

On the condoms I really hope that given the one child policy and the ensuing often-horrific consequences of accidental pregnancy out here in the stix that there is an isle of birth control pills around somewhere to go with them. In rural areas storefronts featuring pictures of serene women looking upward unregistered abortion clinics. Scalpels are a whole lot more common than rubber gloves and antibacterial soap. Just last night my Thai neighbor told me that the extreme grime and dirt of her birth experience in the big city a flight away was almost enough to send her running back to Thailand. No gloves at delivery, street clothes not removed, and a level of dirt that she said I’d never believe. They do have incredibly up to date equipment though. My unprofessional hunch is that the rural abortion clinics probably are even less clean.

On a lighter note, we’re leaving in about three weeks so I’m shifting my purchasing quest from butter and cheese to local stuff. I keep reading about all of this fabulous Chinese and Mongolian gritty rock in the Western Press, so I’m looking for that. Needless to say, no one here admits to having ever heard of it; even the grad students who regularly do karaoke and claim to be hip. But one of the students agreed to help me on my quest. Rebecca, Zhuanfang, and I rode our bikes in a pouring tropical rainstorm. Luckily, I had my trusty straw hat made out of rice straw to keep the rain off my glasses. The CD store in town was full of “baby monks.” Zhuanfang is Dai and takes her Buddhism very seriously and that’s what she told us they were called. The babymonks themselves seemed most interested in slapstick humor DVD’s, but they agreed to help us find good tunes. We came away with recordings of traditional instrumental music, cheezy love ballads, a blue ray disk of red songs with Mao on the cover and the one piece of gritty sound in the whole town—a Mongolian rock CD. The whole shebang cost me $8. None of this played on my new Mac, but it all played on Manuel’s old PC; again the Chinese tech gets me.

Meanwhile, Rebecca wanted to have Dai dressess made for her cousin and her friend Reid, so, armed with their measurements and Zhuanfang’s Dai, we took care of that. My great-grandmother was a dress designer, and all I can say is I think my kid got the gene. It was the most excruciatingly detailed dress purchase by an eight-year-old girl ever. She did some of her own talking and pantomiming in Chinese and very carefully chose fabric for each girl. Each one had to have different necklines, embroidery, sleeves, etc… We can only hope that in a decade or so they think that the babymonks, cow blood, and crazy indoor playground were worth waiting a month to see Harry Potter grow up.

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