Monday, July 02, 2007

Shoes and Dogs that Cross Streets

Shopping in Kunming was an eye opening experience. We spent much of the day walking around the city, going into department stores. Prices were surprisingly high and we saw very little that we felt was a worthwhile purchase. Toward the end of the day, we stopped in to Parksons, what used to be my favorite store in Shanghai. Wandering through the shoe section, we saw a huge selection of women's shoes, not unlike a large Macy's. Jen found something she liked, only $25US and needed a smaller size. The salesgirl had her try on a smaller size in a different color and said they would get the correct color for her. 30 min. later, it still hadn't arrived at which point, she revealed that it had to be picked up from the stockplace down the road by a man who had to ride a bike there. Unfortunately, the man in charge of the stock had gone to dinner and it was closed. He had to wait until the man returned before he could bring it back. Jen found another pair of shoes. Again, it had to be picked up. Did we want the man to wait for the other pair, before riding his bike to stockplace #2 for the second pair? We decided no as it would have taken another 30 min. We sent him to place #2 for the second pair instead. It makes you appreciate western inventory procedures and the ease by which we are able to obtain our goods! I told Jen she shouldn't try on any more shoes!

Street crossing in any city of China always means putting your life at risk. Early on, when we would visit, I would make sure to spot an elderly woman and walk close to her. There is safety in numbers and I figured I was safer in her shadow. One time in Beijing, the elderly woman actually grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me out of the way of an oncoming car! Now, my skills are a bit more refined and I am able to meander my way across the constantly moving traffic. It is not unlike crossing a stream by stepping on rocks, however the rocks are also moving. In Kunming, I found it particularly amazing to watch a small dog on a walk with his owner. She was pushing a stroller and the dog was off leash, as all dogs in China are. The dog walked a few paces ahead and would stop regularly to wait for the owner. When they reached the busy intersection, the dog crossed with all of the people, meandering among the people and the cars, just as the pedestrians did; it was a very interesting process. I immediately thought of Heidi, who has no sense of moving traffic, much less the skills to cross the street on her own. Having crossed streets in China, I always chuckle to myself when we talk about jaywalking across Charleston Ave. at work, where one car comes every couple of seconds!

It is amazing that I am willing to put the safety and well being of my family in the hands of a Naxi driver on a winding road full of old overpacked pick up trucks and buses. Obviously, driving in the middle of your own lane is a foreign concept; driving in the middle of the road is much more efficient, for one can see both oncoming traffic and whatever is in front of the truck in front of you! Honk your horn, and pass regardless of blind curves. If you pass quickly, you can usually dodge the oncoming car before it reaches your front bumper. Watch out for chickens crossing the road, farmers herding their cows down the street, people darting out, rocks sitting in the road, and the inevitable loads of whatever might fall off the trucks in front of you. We’ve ridden in cabs where drivers answer cell phones, eat, drink, pick at their teeth with a toothpick etc, but never miss a bit. I’ll bet they are great at video games!

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