One of the best parts of adapting to a new country is the need for wandering. The need to try different roads, ask different people for directions by pointing at words in your phrasebook and trust you are heading in the general direction you are supposed to be going in. So today I built up the confidence to go wandering in search of stamps. An activity which is so banal and easy in Canada but takes all of my travelling skills to accomplish in China. I had forgotten this part of me. The part that is able to navigate the unknown and persistently push until I’ve reached my destination. It is also the part of me that knew how to go on adventures, knew how to follow my instincts, and was open to encountering wonderfully random things.
So I needed stamps and I set off down the street pointing to the Chinese word for stamp – youpiao- to ask a series of people where I could find the thing that I needed to send postcards to my family. Some people shake their head to either say that they don’t know if there is a post office near by or to tell me they are not even going to attempt to talk to a foreigner. A bank teller who speaks broken English directs me left and down the street for 15 minutes. I leave the bank after everyone has stared and stopped to look at what the crazy foreigner is asking of the bank teller.
As I keep walking the July heat is starting to wear on me. I realize that I’m going to have to buy some tissues, so I stop at a corner store. I say “Ni How, “ and pretend to wipe my face so that the clerk will know that I’m sweating buckets and need some tissues. She presents the cute tissue package complete with the obligatory cartoon character on top. There is a kitten sprawled out on the counter breathing heavily in the heat. I take some time to pet the kitten and the clerk smiles as she understands my emotion even without language. I say, “Shay, Shay, “ and I move on.
I finally reach the China Post office after making some confused detours. The shop looks dark and I worry that I have come all of this way to find a closed Post Office. I try the door and it opens and a sense of accomplishment washes over to me. I say “Youpiao” to the security guard and he directs me to a fresh faced postal clerk. He counts out several smaller coined stamps as he does not have international stamps or stamps of higher denominations. The stamps are massive. I put them on the back of a post card and realize that there will be little space left for any “Wish you were here” sentences on the card. I show the card to a Chinese man who is waiting to be served and I laugh. “Look at it, “I say. “They’re huge.” He smiles but probably has no idea what I am talking about. So I decide to purchase envelopes to basically give me enough surface space to put my stamps on.
Now I realize that I have to figure out how to get back to my residence. I didn’t think I could the handle the heat anymore so I remembered seeing a bus number on a passing bus that I recognized. K34. It should take me back to the University. So I walk to find the next bus stop and I manoeuvre deftly to avoid the e-bikes that are everywhere. I notice an e-bike with a parent driving and their child standing in front of them on the bike floor. I have seen a parent with even more children on their e-bike and sellers carrying a variety of goods on their bikes and their carts. An older man passes by on a cycle with a cart attached towing a refrigerator with him. My mouth drops open. It’s kind of dangerous and shocking but kind of brilliant at the same time. I keep walking towards the bus stop and I notice a woman crouched on the side walk rubbing a dead fish with a mallet. I would have chosen my kitchen to cut up a fish, but everyone has to do it their way. I reach the bus stop and look back in the direction of the woman and her sidewalk fish. I see a man dropping what could only be a bucket of fish blood into the sewer. Lovely on a hot and hazy afternoon. I finally caught my bus and headed back to the residence and my quiet dorm room where I sought solace under my a/c. I smiled at the thought of it all.