Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Canton streets provide sights many visitors miss

I smiled as five clerks on break stared at me and offered me a long chunk of their sugar cane. A fellow showed me what to do, and we all roared with laughter. Wandering chickens raced to gobble the fiber they taught me to discard from the corner of my mouth.

Wandering on, I spied an interesting basket hanging in a high place under a canopy. It was filthy - must have hung there for decades. Stepping inside a shop, I asked a young man in white shorts and shirt whether he would sell me the basket. He understood and got a long pole to bring it down. He was a dentist who left his patient waiting with an old-time drill dangling above her face. He brought the basket down, set it over a drain hole in the floor and threw many pans of water on it. He shook off the water and happily handed me the basket. He would not accept money. I offered a bracelet carved of Missouri wood and a Missouri corncob pipe! He smiled and insisted that I have the basket free. He wanted it to go to America! Later I learned that it was for carrying ducklings to market.

I also saw a man carrying two baskets: A live pig completely filled each basket. Someone explained, "They eliminated prostitutes by drowning the women in the Pearl River in woven baskets." I understood carrying ducklings, but how did they get a pig or a prostitute into a basket that has no extra space? He said, "They got them drunk, stuffed them in and wove the basket tight around them." I brought that duckling basket home to my daughter, Nancy.

A young capitalist woman was repairing worn-out umbrellas on the street, earning extra money on her only day off. Sidewalk space is free. The umbrella woman and I talked and laughed about not knowing what the other was saying. There’s not a lot to say about a worn-out umbrella! I reached for my camera.

"No, no, no," she said, broadly smiling and waving the camera away.

Two dozen people had stopped to enjoy this friendly encounter, and all were begging her to let me take the picture. They urged me to take it anyway. I did.

A sweet, smiling old man was putting metal caps on worn shoe heels to make them last longer. I tried to communicate but failed; I remember his smile, and my stopping probably made his day. He was old enough to have communicated in English in his youth! I often asked, "Why do I see so few older people in the streets and shops?" The answer was, "They’re being cared for elsewhere." I thought, "Heaven?" I didn’t dare ask.

A vendor was selling a packet containing a cooked meat mixture, but we were warned not to eat on the street. A truck displayed uncovered, unprotected raw beef. It was near a hotel, hanging from the back of a parked truck on a messy street. A woman nearby was weighing clean white eggs for sale and also "thousand-year eggs" - aged for weeks in a mixture of black earth and white lime. The lime "cooked" raw eggs in a few weeks; I tasted them, along with boiling watermelon.

Today when I read about Chinese capitalism, I recall vendors selling smoked fish, bundles of kindling wood or small quantities of garden vegetables they’d raised in some tiny spot. I recall a bicycle mechanic’s cigarette and his wife’s satin slippers, men seining edible crayfish out of irrigation ditches and women sweeping tea leaves from trees along blacktop roads.

Best $3,000 I ever spent!


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