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Wuhan Journal: Chongwen Book City

As I mentioned in the previous post yesterday morning's plan was to try and find Chongwen Book City.  My goal was to find something like the lonely planet phrasebook to help give me a bit of a leg up and not be totally flying blind as well as to look at the children's books and see if I could find something for the Yu Ying charter school as a small gift of reading material for the kids.  Lydia's plan was to look for children's books that she could use to practice learning her characters and pronunciation.  I don't think Jon had a plan but was up for browsing. 

But our first stop was at the medical massage place.  Both my friends have some back issues and they've been going to a medical massage place to get regular adjustments.  I'm always up for a massage so I said sure.  Your therapist is kind of randomly assigned, and their normal people happened to not be in that day.  It being a holiday weekend most people have taken off to Beijing to party.  I was assigned therapist 007, and I have to say he was easy on the eyes.  He began working on my back.  Things started out pretty gently and then rapidly got very intense.  He was really digging his thumbs deep into the muscle around my spine, and when he worked on my neck it was excruciatingly painful because he found this knotted tendon or something that he just kept grinding down.  It was clearly work that needed to be done, and I just let him keep going.  He asked me if what he was doing was uncomfortable and I had my friend tell him to just keep going.  I think my friend said that I was comfortable, which made the masseur laugh a little.  He knew it couldn't possibly be comfortable, but I just went with the flow.  When he finally got around to working on my rear and legs it was much more manageable.  After the flipover he did some cranial massage and flipped my ears a little.  He ended working the muscles in my legs from the front and again with the pain.  I don't know if my leg muscles are normal, but the point he was pressing was right against the front of the bone.  Again it was really excruciating.  But we ended and I left the place a little stiff and probably might be a little bruised.  Was it worth it?  I think so.  The back pain between my shoulder blades is completely gone now.  But yeah, I'm feeling a little beat up today.  

After the massage we all went looking for the 317 bus which would have taken us to Chongwen Book City.  However we couldn't find that bus.  We found an 817 bus and a whole bunch of other numbers, but not 317.  So we decided to hail a taxi and brave the rate.  Turned out it was only 11 kwai so it was actually quite cheap.  Just a little over bus rates as they stand.  From the images Chongwen Book City looks enormous.  And in reality it's a fairly large bookstore.  However it does not take up this entire building.  It takes up one floor of the entire building.  The rest of the building is Karaoke bars, random other shops and some things we just couldn't figure out.  Probably some housing as well, but who knows.  Chongwen is one of the larger bookstores in Wuhan.  So I figured it would be a good place to try and find a phrase book, but first I wanted to look for children's books.  

One of the schools in DC is a Chinese language immersion school, Yu Ying Public Charter School.  And a lot of the kids who come to my branch happen to go there, even though it's on the entire other side of town.  So I went to the children's section and found some primary school text books, but I was looking for stories.  And I found them.  Some of the literature was translated from English, so they had Percy Jackson and Goosebumps.  I also found a children's book about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  I almost bought that one.  But then I saw a group of boys go running over to a table. It was a local Chinese boy detective series of chapter books.  They were all going crazy because of the latest book, which had the boy detective and his girl friend running across a park with fireworks exploding.  So I picked up two volumes of that series.  I figured that was probably good enough.  Now to wander around and find a phrase book.  

I went walking through the language section, which was all geared towards Chinese people learning other languages, primarily for business.  So there were tons of English books, tons of Japanese books, and then a smattering of other random languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, etc.  And there were bilingual dictionaries, which are vaguely helpful, but not what I was looking for at all.  So I wandered around and tried to find the travel section.  It was near about the exit, but again, it was travel guides in Chinese with no reverse for foreign travelers to China.  I guess I'm not totally surprised.  Every travel book I've seen about China only has like 4 pages out of 600 on Wuhan.  This is not a big foreign tourist destination.  Every time I spoke to anyone outside of China and told them where I was going they were like, "where's that?"  So I guess I shouldn't expect to see too much in the way of foreign tourism books in Wuhan. 

So I went back to the language section and asked one of the shop keepers if there were books to help tourists speak from English to Chinese.  No comprehension.  A student who was sitting there tried to explain what I was looking for and the assistant took me over to guide books on traveling in China in English.  I tried to explain again that this was not what I was looking for and another group of students tried to explain and then a whole cluster of us moved over to the Chinese language learning section.  But again this was a group of books that was all about learning Chinese comprehensively, not a phrase book.  Another gentleman got into the fray and explained that I was looking for a book to help converse with hotels, drivers, & restaurants. So a guy that was sitting there said "My friend is this what you are looking for?"  It was a book of useful phrases in Chinese and I said that it was very much like what I was looking for. Then the guy who knew exactly what I was looking for handed me a book that was exactly right.  I felt so embarrassed that it took three attendants, six students and an expat to try and find me a damn phrasebook.  So I spent some time wandering around in that area of the bookstore before checking the time and realizing that it was time for me to head over to see my friends.

Lydia was able to find some children's books that were kind of cool.  One of them was Smelly Baba, which is about a bunny who starts learning how to say sentences in Chinese.  The others were about a family of mice, in one they build a tree house, and in another they are preparing for bedtime.  They were all really lovely.  She also got some dog posters and a practice calligraphy mat.  I told them about the Chinese phrasebook hunt and they wanted to see the area.  So we went back there as a group and wandered through the language section.  We looked at the bilingual dictionaries, but there weren't a lot of them that had the pinyin in there to help pronunciation, which is super useful.

So we wrapped up our sales and headed out to find lunch/dinner.  Unfortunately it was at an awkward time and so most restaurants were closed between meals.  We had to wander the neighborhood to see if there were any other options. Turns out, there were none.  The shops nearest to the bookstore were all hardware storefronts.  We could have bought an entire kitchenette, and all the equipment to install it, but no food to cook in it.  We decided to head back to Chicony mall and get lunch/dinner in the food court and do a little grocery shopping afterward.  Chicony is the place where I had the sizzling hot pot before, but this time I went and got a simple seafood noodle dish.  It was something like shrimp, squid, red onions and noodles in a brown sauce.  Pretty standard, and totally delicious.  Then we hit the grocery.

As I mentioned before, it's becoming my new favorite hobby to go find the bizarre local flavors of things that we have in America.  So the potato chip aisle is always a blast for me.  Pringles in China is fucking awesome.  There are like 15 different flavors at least and I'm always finding new ones.  Here's just a sample from the wall of Pringles:

I'm completely intrigued by the "street food" series, which includes Indonesia Satay, Hong Kong Fish Ball and Bangkok Chicken Wing.  However I played it moderately safe and bought the BBQ steak flavor and the Crab flavor.  I also found the Numb and Spicy Hot Pot flavor Lays potato chips and I had to buy those too.  I grabbed a bottle of Jasmine tea and a box of green tea and peach cookies and headed to the checkout counter.  I felt like such a fat boy buying all this junk food, but it was too fun sounding to resist.  All in all 2 jars of Pringles a box of cookies and two liters of tea came to 47 kwai.  Not bad, not great, but not bad.  The Pringles were the most expensive of them all.  I don't know why that was but they were almost as much as my lunch cost. 

Now the other day we had gotten a recommendation from the students about a "book cafe" that was in the neighborhood near the university.  So since we happened to be near enough to where it was we decided to go and check it out.  Here's another odd thing about China.  There random sky scrapers all over the place, and within those sky scrapers will be hundreds of different kinds of businesses, many of them open to the general public.  So you'll walk into a building that is completely nondescript, take the elevator up to some ridiculously high floor and discover something awesome.  Turns out the book cafe was in the process of moving to a new location, so the only folks who were in there were just the family who run it.  They gave us the new address to try and scope them out later in the week.  That was super nice of them, so we plan on doing that later.  

But the students gave us a second recommendation in the same building on the other side for a movie cafe. This sounded intriguing so we went to check that out.  Same deal, nondescript building and up to the 12th floor and bam, a little cafe with three separate rooms with cafe seating and a collection of 3,000 movies to choose from.  You buy drinks or food and you and your friends can sit and watch a movie together at the cafe.  It's all kinds of awesome.  We sat and talked with one of the three owners and a student who's planning on going to Arizona State University to study GIS.  It was kind of a random coincidence that my friend who's teaching here at Wu-Da is a GIS librarian.  So they had lots to talk about.  But we ended up talking about movies and favorite movies.  I brought up my love of cheesy camp films and that my favorite was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  No one else had seen it, but I had seen it like 100 times.  The owner's favorite movie was Taxi Driver.

On the way home we wound up walking through the street my friends have dubbed "plastic street"  I bought a slightly larger tote bag, which I realized I've come to need.  Jon decided that he wanted to get chicken to make chicken salad so he went to the Up Market to go buy a chicken and I went to the KFC to go use the bathroom.  As I mentioned over on Facebook I had to use the squat toilets twice yesterday.  The first time was in the bathroom at the bookstore, and that was generally okay. I kept fearing that I was going to mess all over my pants, but that was an ungrounded fear as I was nowhere near my pants.  The KFC however was completely filthy.  There was a nasty mess all over the floor surrounding the squat toilet and the thing just wasn't flushing at all.  So it was not only messy outside, but inside as well.  The one saving grace of KFC was that they actually had toilet paper there so I didn't have to keep using my tissue packets that I had to keep in my book bag.    I can't understand how people can just deal with this.

Jon came back with his chicken, and yes it still had head and feet on it. Not only that it still had the eggs inside as well as the heart.  Gorgeous, no?  :D



Eric Fritter Riley

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