Today was about living like locals, which meant a quick breakfast of vegetables, black beans, eggs, unidentified pickles and I’m-going-to-call-it-bread, hailing down a racket of a cab and heading for the nearby shopping mall, Xinmate (sounds like Shin-mah-teur). We arrived a couple of minutes before opening to find a small crowd had gathered, awaiting entry.
When the Australian heat hits its peak(s) in summer, the air-conditioner-less locals hit the shopping centres in droves to escape the heat. Today was a cool (pun not possible, due to extreme under-representation) 0 and -10, so I wondered if some of those waiting were similarly there, but to take advantage of the warmth.
In fact, the cold is an entity all of its own. Part of the experience of Jiamusi, is discovering what it is like to exist in a city where a standard November day offers up the potential for your dog’s wee to freeze. Having never experienced such weather, I was apprehensive of what it would be like, but have realised it is definitely do-able. What it means, however, is that handling the weather is the first order of the day. There is no ducking out to buy some grilled eel chips without first layering one’s self until one’s arms cannot easily bend. My advice? (still to myself, at this stage, since I am apparently prone to ‘ducking out’ syndrome); if in doubt, wear it. Wear the thermals, the gloves and the hat, because a trickle of perspiration down your back might be awful, but not being able to feel your face wins by a (while you still have it) nose.
(At one stage, mum said, ‘my eyeballs are freezing.’ I should have just led with that.)
Some of the effects of the cold take a little while to notice. Until I saw this little tyke about to push through the heavy, blue, heat-containing panels of Xinmate, for example, I didn’t notice that I have seen very few small children. It must be easier to keep the munchkins at home.
Our entry to the main, toasty (let the trickling begin) department store was not without its surprises. We were greeted by rows of store attendants clapping and calling out to us in unison.
‘They’re saying “welcome to our store”‘, said Katherine in response to our puzzlement, with her oft-used ‘geez, don’t you guys know anything?’ tone.
Equally surprising was being greeted by Australian meat. Yep, you read that correctly; the literal first thing you can buy in the Chinese David Jones is a wagyu steak from roll-top unit that looks like it houses ice-creams.
We soon realised a Chinese department store is a department store, so dragged Katherine away from the sportswear floor and charged her with finding coffee. And, before you say ‘they don’t drink coffee in China’, I know – keep trying to do at-home activities and, before you know it, you will be leaving reviews of Chinese restaurants that say ‘Very few Western options. Omelette was rubbery. 1 star’.
We deserved to end up at KFC, with milky coffees that were big enough to hide behind.
I tried to undo the damage by choosing an unidentifiable fruit from the selection on this food stall. According to Kitty, it was hawthorne, and it was delicious (to be fair, I had already chosen a tomato one the night before, and it too was delicious. Coat anything in liquid sugar, and you’re onto a good thing).
Later, when Kitty had finished basketball training (and I had finished taking a well-deserved nap) we ducked out quickly to pick up some grilled eel chips, and another of the wraps we had bought the night before, for Katherine’s dinner.
This food stall is manned by a young girl and guy, her cooking and him packaging, smoking and taking payment. She puts batter on a circular, solid grill, and smooths it out before adding eggs, shallots, a sauce, (other things), lettuce, and four sheets of what looks like pork crackle, but may be deep-fried batter. The base, in the meantime, has become crunchy, a bit like an Indian dosa, and has to be broken at the creases, in order to create the wrap. While we were waiting, I took these poor photos of the people and the process, both of which are far more special than my efforts suggest.
Then, despite not being able to feel if my fingers were actually touching the screen, I took my favourite photo to date, of the chairs sitting just to the right of their stall, where the maestros rest between wraps.
Their familiarity, smiles and enthusiastic ‘Bye!’s made me far warmer, I suspect, than gloves and a hat.
It was a good day.