I went to China Town in the Valley today to get more Chinkiang Vinegar and some frozen soy bean pods, and I thought if I happened to soak up some of the atmosphere of the Chinese New Year celebrations, well, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
I got off the bus and remembered that I needed some basmati rice. I like to buy it from the Indian grocers in McWhirter’s off the Brunswick Street Mall, so I went there first. Despite the rain, the markets were in full swing, catching the overflow of people from the celebrations in the parallel China Town Mall on Duncan Street. There was a girl sitting with a guitar in a coffee shop; she flicked the pages of an exercise book sitting on a music stand and said she was going to play a Radio Head tune.
I walked behind a girl who I’d seen on the bus. She had a tattoo on her arm of one of those round cartoon bombs with a lit fuse, and a red ink ribbon was wrapped around it. I’d also caught a glimpse of some musical notes on her legs. As she stood waiting for the traffic lights to change, I noticed they wound up her legs on the most delicately traced staff lines
In the Indian grocers I decided to replenish my stock of dried chillies too. At least I had used those, which is more than can be said for the dried oregano I felt compelled to throw out last night. Its use-by-date was 2004. Now I have another five years supply, even if its use-by-date is 2008 (that was the smallest packet).
Across from the Indian grocers, I saw another small supermarket I hadn’t seen since I last did some shopping here. It was called something like ‘Best Friends’ and sold a lot of snack foods imported from South East Asia. There were aisles of pork rind and potato chips, puff pastries and wafer sticks. I hesitated over some Langue de Chats from a local Manila baker, but decided to buy some Hello Panda chocolate-filled wafers, enticed by the promise of a surprise inside.
The surprise was a sticker of a panda on a windsurfer. Something else to add to my collection of ‘Things to Give to Hannah’. So far I have a Happy Feet ruler, on which Mumbles does a dance across the ice when you tilt it—I couldn’t find it to gift her, when I took her to the film, but she was delighted with the origami penguin—and a magnet to entice children about the benefits of having their eyesight checked regularly.
In the China Town Mall, I stopped and saw a brief Chinese Opera performance. I was caught by the music. I’ve always liked the costumes and dramatic make-up of Chinese Opera. The performers were engaging, telling a funny and charming love story—it was more light Opera, I suppose.
I found the vinegar in a Chinese supermarket across from the Ann Street end of the China Town Mall. I was trying to read the labels of the pre-prepared dumplings through the freezer door, when one of the supermarket staff said I could open the door to look if I wanted to. I think I’ve learned too well the lesson of choosing before opening the freezer door. I chose the prawn dumplings I’ve had before, and decided to treat myself to the pork and peanut variety, since it’s Chinese New Year. Although it’s just occurred to me that eating pork on the first day of the Year of the Pig, might not be such good luck.
I left the shop with my groceries after exchanging Happy New Year greetings with the checkout assistant. I made my way through the debris of a hundred crackers and imagined the crackle and smoke they would have released at the entrance of the shop. I walked past a man with the legs of a dancing lion.
Sitting at the bus stop with my grocery bags, I saw that the bus was late by five minutes. Another bus came along, and I sat waiting.
Then I looked up and this young, lightly-bearded man, wearing a knitted hat said a word to his friends then came over to me. He crouched down and put his face very close to mine and said ‘Do you know what the time is?’.
I thought about tilting my head down and looking at my watch, but then I remembered. My eyes stayed on his, ‘Three o’clock’, I said. I looked at the woman with him. Her face offered nothing. The man hesitated, then asked me the time again. I looked at his teeth which were chalky as if there had been too much fluoride in the water when he was growing up. ‘Three o’clock’.
I just looked at him, not feeling anything, there didn’t seem to be any time for a reaction. Then, with his face still close to mine, he said, ‘Say hello to Yazzie for me’, and went with his friends.
My bus came and I caught it home.