In each of the Asian countries in which I’ve lived, I like just wandering around and looking. There is always something new and interesting to see, particularly in the village outside our estate: Yong Tai. I’ve been around all the streets and alleys, and always find something at which to marvel.

With Helen in Beijing, I thought I might do a few more “local” things. The first one was a haircut. I’d had one before in Yong Tai, but picked the wrong place. This time, I went to the flashest hairdresser in town. I first had the Asian haircut experience nearly a quarter of a century ago, in Japan, and Indonesia has it down to an art form. Most of the 20+ chairs were occupied, and I was led to one at the back of the shop. None of us spoke each other’s language, but I got the message across that I wanted a haircut, and how much I wanted off.

I had the obligatory wash and head massage, and then a young man began to cut. A couple of others started to hang around. The one who was prepared to risk a bit of English asked me where I was from. He obviously didn’t recall the lessons in which they learned the answers to that question, because it took a photo of the Sydney Harbour bridge on my phone to convey the concept of Australia. The haircut was good, and very cheap.

In the late evening, I caught the estate bus a couple of kilometres in towards town, and got off opposite an area near a university, where we’ve been a few times. I explored the other side for a little while, and could not find any bars – the Chinese must drink while eating, at restaurants (of which there were plenty). There were two clubs on that side of the main road. They didn’t seem to have much atmosphere, and charged ~AU$50 for 12 large beers, which explained why the locals entered in groups of six.

Thinking that, maybe, students like to have a tipple, I used the overhead walkway to get to the other side of Baiyun (White Cloud) avenue. No bars there either, but there was another club. At this one, it was possible to by one small beer, which I did, then caught a taxi home.

Sunday was cool and miserable, but I wandered down to the village for a foot massage. The girl at the desk gave me a key and I was led to the change rooms, but I mimed that it was only my feet that I wanted done. The masseuse did pretty much most parts anyway, in the chair, with my clothes on. She kept on talking to me as though I was likely to answer, so we both did a lot of shrugging and smiling. When I tried to get her to go easy on my dodgy shoulder, she seemed to want to try to fix it. She was adamant. She sort of pinched the skin near the old scar, which hurt a lot, but it actually seemed to help. (I’m not sure how long it will take the marks to go away.)

I stopped the wet market for tofu, fruit and flowers, and decided to lunch at the restaurant in the estate. I would have been better off down in the village: at least someone would have had a go at trying to understand what I wanted. The girls didn’t even understand my universal mime for menu. However, I realised it was on the place mats, so I sat down. It was very Chinese – I wanted a fried rice, even though some of the dishes were tempting, for example, the double-boiled pig’s lungs with figs, the steamed fish lips with soy sauce and pepper, the aged duck egg with jellyfish, the braised pig’s skin with blood pudding and the chicken or pig feet in white vinegar.

I chose Canton style rice, which, of course, as I realised, too late, wasn’t fried. It was steamed rice with some pork and other unidentifiable bits of pig and some green stuff, all made slimy in the way that most Chinese cooks do. It was okay, but I won’t be back.

So, it was good to try a few new things. The haircut and foot massage are worth a second trip. I wish I had the language to find out a bit more about what happens in other shops, and be able to give the proprietors a better chance of satisfying my wants.


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