Hanging Out in My Old Neigborhood
When I landed in Chengdu, I checked into my 1-room accommodations. It’s located in my former apartment complex of 5 years ago when I studied Chinese at Sichuan University. I like to stay there because I know the residents, including the Huang family who were my neighbors. Their junior high daughter, Jalin, and I helped each other in our language-learning studies – me with my Chinese; her with her English. Her family also invited me over for dinners and outings.
Jalin is now in America, having spent 2 years studying in a New York private school. She is starting her first year at a New York city college. All of education costs are being paid for by her aunt, her mom’s elder sister, who has a massage parlor in Manhattan. Jalin stays with her aunt’s employees in an apartment nearby the business and has a part-time job working for a Chinese shop owner in her neighborhood.
Staying in my old housing area is a great opportunity for me to see everyone I once lived with, plus enjoy evenings at the Huang’s where I’m served home cooked meals and enjoy quality time together with a Chinese family.
A Restful Room . . . Aside From The Rat
The room that I stayed in was once an apartment. Wise apartment owners in China convert their homes into guestrooms which they then rent out for longterm or short-term stays. Many city folk in China are starting to do this and seem to be making a pretty good living at it.
The woman I always rent from is Ms. Qin (chin). She was holding her best room for me after I called several days earlier. It has a huge flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, just right for my DVD hook-up and movie watching in the evening. It also has a computer with Internet access, as well as a nice wardrobe to hang up clothes, shower/toilet facilities and a small sofa chair to relax in.
Usually, Ms. Qin rents her rooms from 30 yuan to 120 yuan ($5 – $20) but with Golden Week (the holiday’s Chinese nickname) upon us, she upped her rates. Needless to say, I didn’t know until I arrived. It’s a good thing I brought extra money because my $20 room was now $30.
I moaned and groaned about it, trying to convince her that, as good friends, she really should give me my usual price. Did it work? Not a chance.
I can charm and cajole a lot of Chinese into getting what I want, but Ms. Qin? Now there’s a shrewd business woman who is not about to let friendship stand in the way of an extra 80 bucks.
I must say, it was a great room for the week . . . aside from the rat. It came out at night to rattle around in my things, looking for snacks. I thought it was living in the room as I couldn’t find a single point of entry until my last day. After moving the furniture around, I discovered a small hole in the tile wall where it had been coming and going quite freely and happily.
I plugged up that hole in a hurry, let me tell you.
I wonder if my furry companion was surprised to find that there would be no more midnight munchies in that room. After 7 nights straight of scrounging about, bet he was disappointed not to make it an 8th.
A Night of Mooncakes
As soon as I arrived on Friday, I called Jalin’s parents to inform them I was in town. Saturday evening I was invited over to their home for dinner as well as a mooncake feast. It was Mid-Autumn Festival, when the full moon appears in the sky and families gather together for reunions. Mooncakes, coming in all flavors, are the traditional treat of choice and we’d be having plenty for dessert that night.
I was also in for a surprise.
When I landed on their doorstep, I was greeted not only by Jalin’s parents but Ling, one of Elder Aunty’s employees in Manhattan.
Ling hadn’t been back to China in 13 years. Her US green card allowed her to leave the country for 6 months. She was going to make the most of her visit in China by staying with the Huang’s for at least 4 of those 6 months and then head off to Singapore where her boyfriend, a chef who specialized in Japanese sushi, was working.
Ling was a fountain of information. Everything I’ve wanted to know about the aunt’s business, Ling could answer. There were 4 of them doing massages, 7 days a week. A 30-minute full massage was $50, which is the time limit most clients preferred but they could do longer if asked. They opened around 11 a.m. and didn’t close until midnight. Most customers came in after work with the busiest days being Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Ling said they could each make about $5,000 a month but the basic monthly rent in a safe NYC area was $3,000, which is what she paid for a 2-bedroom apartment. There were 4 (sometimes 6) of them that shared the flat, including Jalin and Ling’s 8-year-old daughter.
I remember Jalin had mentioned to me that they had a communal living room and shared the bedrooms. This is typical for most people in China, to share accommodations in order to save money.
Ling had married a Taiwanese gentleman but they are now divorced. Her 8-year-old daughter lives with her and goes to school in New York. The father drives a taxi in the city and sees his daughter often. According to Ling, their relationship is good despite the fact they are no longer married.
Ling is originally from Sichuan so it was only natural she stay to Chengdu to easily see family and friends she left long ago. The Huangs were more than happy to have her stay with them. It was their way of repaying Auntie’s help over the years. (In a previous blog, I explained that the aunt, the eldest of 3 daughters, has been supporting Jalin’s parents, who have no jobs, not to mention the rest of the family in Chengdu. That includes her adult son who is currently working at an antique shop across town.)
Closing Off Mid-Autumn Festival
After an evening of chatting and sampling the many varieties of mooncakes they had, I headed out the door to return to my room. The full moon shone down in quiet splendor, giving me a very cozy feeling as I made my way along the walkways.
Passing the trash can, I came very close to tossing the small bag I had been given into it. Despite my protests, several moocakes had been thrust upon me to enjoy later the next day. While I like these specialty items, enough is enough. They’re a bit like our Christmas fruitcakes–a slice is good but any more than that can be a bit much. Throwing them away seemed a waste so they ended up on the table next to the TV before I went to bed.
Next morning, not a whole lot was left of them.
Let’s just say that in the rodent world, I guess you can never get enough of anything and that definitely includes Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes.
Ping An (Peace) until more stories come your way.