December 16th or so, just before leaving Xi'an, we decided to wander around the village near the appartment. We initially thought it was just a single street but it turned out to open into an entire warren. We figured we'd be able to wander through and come out in a restaurant area. It occurred to us that our appartment is a good drive from downtown and these alleys were not very appealing; this probably wasn't a tourist hotspot. This theory seemed confirmed by the amazed stares of the warrens denizens.
A wide array of small stores selling clothing, immitation purses, shoes, and of course food were scattered around the dark maze. Occasionally we walked out of the "nice" area into blackened alleys frequently adorned with piles of garbage. In one section, under a peculiar high roof of semi-transparant plastic, a large number of pool tables were laid out. Numerous rather poor looking people were playing pool and talking animatedly. We strolled through and tried not to gawk too obviously.
A short distance further on we stopped to try to buy some stuffed buns. Our Mandarin was about on par with the hosts English, which more or less meant no communication. Eventually we managed to get across "rou (meat) ma (question participle)" and identified some meat buns. We got a steamer tray with six buns. After eating these we endeavored to ask the price. This produced considerable confusion. Eventually the host managed to point at a sign that appeared to say ¥1.50 per something. Assuming this must be per bun for meat Rod handed over ¥10. The host looked mildly concerned and started digging for change. Luckily a chap with some English strolled in (wearing a suit in the depths of the warren!) and clarified that it was ¥1.50 (slightly less than $0.25) for all six! Shortly after Pavan picked up some shoes for ¥20 (~$3). We were tremendously proud of managing to say forty-two in Mandarin. The shop-keeper seemed terribly proud of his roughly equivalent English abilities.
A little further through the maze we found a series of carts selling sandwiches in fresh buns, similar to Ròu Jīa Mó but with an egg and some vegatables in it. Delicious. Eventually we made our way through to the opposite side where the restaurants we'd originally been heading for were located, only to realize we'd had rather enough to eat along the way!
Once we got home we had to pack up a suitcase to leave in Xi'an for a co-worker to bring back to Canada in January. We discovered our tea set wasn't very well packed and as we'd had great difficulty finding bubble wrap we decided to use apple wrap. This seemed to work great but we only had a few apples. A little research turned up the phrase "wǒ xiǎng gòu mǎi" (I would like to buy) and armed with this knowledge Pavan ran down to the little store at the bottom of the building and spouted this phrase while holding up an apple wrapper.
poor-mans bubble wrap
The Mandarin efforts certainly entertained the shop-keeper if nothing else. She must have understood at least the gist of what was desired as she pulled the wrappers off numerous apples and gave them to Pavan for free! This combined with a number of towels produced a hopefully impentrable armor for our tea set to wear on it's trip home.
On one of our last days we took our co-workers who had been helping us with Mandarin out for Indian food. They seem to enjoy watching our confused efforts to consume Chinese food; we got our revenge! Curry seemed quite popular, as did samosa.
As previously mentioned (in a post that really ought to have been written after this one), we got some presents. For example:
We also got a rather nice set of lacquer bowls and chopsticks with our Chinese names on them, an awesome Chinese abacus, and a set of shoe inserts with hand-crafted stitching. These seem far to nice to actually put into shoes and walk on; Pavan figures on framing them.