Having led college students through Spain, France and other foreign countries, I had no fear. Here are a few experiences of that day:
● A half-dozen workers sitting on the ground near a container of sugar cane stalks. I smiled and asked "... guns? Ball bats? Weapons?" They laughed, and the man grabbed one, cut and chewed and cut some for me. When the sweet was swallowed, we discarded the fiber and chickens raced up to fight over the fiber. There was laughter all the way.
● A side of freshly killed beef hung from the back of an open truck. Buyer and butcher were bartering at curbside; the cook from a nearby hotel was the customer, and curious people stood around. Meat was still being sold from that unwrapped side of beef later in the day.
● A woman weighing hen’s eggs on old-fashioned, hand-held scales; it makes sense to weigh eggs instead of selling them by the dozen! The seller used an ancient, flat box instead of a cash register; he tossed coins into various compartments, from a distance, with amazing accuracy as people stood to watch.
My dentist had asked me to bring him an acupuncture needle, and when I entered a large corner drug store, several people followed, staring at me. Others came in both doors, staring and smiling gently. How could I pantomime acupuncture needle? People crowded forward to help, but my words did not make sense to anyone. The store was soon crowded with polite onlookers. An elderly woman pushed her way to my side to help me spell out "acupuncture." But that wasn’t Chinese for the needles! I guessed that she studied English in school, long ago.
Finally a young man at my side produced pencil and paper; and I drew a sketch of a man with a needle in his forearm, pantomimed pain and the fellow said, in Chinese, of course, "The lady wants acupuncture needles." There was a rumble of conversation and applause. I bought a dozen needles of various sizes and extended a handful of coins, but the druggist chose only a small-value coin.
Huge kettles of food boiled at curbside when I moved on through the business district to make a few other purchases. People were scooping steaming white rice into their hand-held china bowls at mouth level and gobbling plain white rice, their chopsticks flying. I walked to our hotel with several small purchases in my bicycle bag and snapped a few photos on the way. I was the only biker at the table with four Chinese men - our "back-up crew" - who had never seen hotel food like ours. They snatched, grabbed and gobbled. This was a privilege they had not enjoyed before.
I went back to stores and shopped seriously: the fine bamboo hat a man was wearing, a bamboo baby bicycle seat, nine tiny porcelain "gods," a soldier’s cap with insignia required to be removed, bike bells, an unusual basket for Nancy, three kinds of Chinese hats for grandsons and many color snapshots for slides.
Our final banquet included "Thousand-year eggs." I saw those for sale on the street; black mud mixed with white crushed lime "cooked" the eggs. Yes, they had "cooked" about a month and were dark gray with yellow yolks. Another delicacy was boiled watermelon. It was carried out, steaming in the rind, hard to prepare but not worth the trouble!
Special handmade certificates were given to some. "Most Popular" went to "Sue and La-O-Shu, her jumping handkerchief mouse."