Soles, Souls, and Sugar in China
Right now during the Chinese New Year celebrations , it’s a lot like the day after Christmas in America .
Many have received their red packet envelopes with cash during visits to family members. So they’re making good use of time off to” invest” that newly acquired cash in the economy. Yes, they’re spending it in stores. But while most retailers are seeing a steady surge of shoppers, one type of business is eerily quiet. That would be shoe stores. Stores alongside of them are filled with shoppers .Yet the clerks in the shops specializing in shoes stand around with nothing to do.
It’s generally not because prices are better at the competition. The foot gear places have banners proclaiming discounts and even have bargain bins set up out in front. Some clerks are even aggressively clapping their hands to draw attention. The problem is what’s called “hai”. It may sound like the friendly greeting but this Chinese word means unlucky.
Traditional Chinese believe buying shoes during the beginning of the Chinese New Year is bad luck. The word “shoes” sounds the same as the word that means “rough” in Cantonese, or “evil” in Mandarin. Ironically, before the New Year arrives many buy new clothes for all the festivities…including shoes. In fact, a shoemaker in Tangjia who makes shoes by hand tells me he was swamped with orders.(He actually told a translator since my command of Chinese remains rather limited) But once the holiday arrives new footwear becomes a no-no!
I guess even from an American point of view it makes some sense . Our expression of “getting the boot” is a bad thing!
Holy Men for Hire
While shoppers may not be interested in their soles right now, it seems they are interested in their souls…or least something pertaining to their spiritual side. If you’ve ever sought counseling from a member of the clergy, usually you have to seek them out in a setting connected to your place of worship. Certain Buddhist monks make it easier for people to get advice.
Walking Street in Gongbei ( a shopping area) is one of the spots where you’ll see several Buddhist holy men lined up ready to provide guidance. You can pull up a stool and chat with them. But they are not dispensing blessings…they’re telling fortunes. The monks examine your hands and your face to tell you what the future holds in store. Suen ming is the Chinese term for knowing your fortune. In some ways this seems like the gypsy fortune tellers you used to find at state fairs and other carnivals. But these predictions can cost considerably more. The fee can run as high as 150 RMB. That’s about 25 American dollars.
Other monks roam the streets handing out prayer cards for which they expect a donation. Most passersby pass up these services. But apparently enough do stop that the monks continue to congregate in high traffic areas.
As for those souls who may feel they’re working on salvation by hearing about their future, you can decide what’s happening here. Is it a case of confidence building or just another example of that old expression: “a fool and his money are soon parted”!
Able to get Cane
Of course you’re bound to work up an appetite with all these activities. You’ll see people eating ice cream cones right now (Zhuhai is much warmer than many parts of America this time of year!) Or even indulging in some snacks from the numerous corner bakeries. But for a different treat, how does a nice stick of sugar cane sound? Apparently pretty enticing to some shoppers.
It seems a healthy harvest of it has just left the fields because lots of vendors are selling it in many Guangdong province cities. The supply should be generous since China is the world’s third largest producer of sugar cane after Brazil and India A sugar cane stick looks a lot like a piece of bamboo. To me, it tastes about the same!! I guess it’s an acquired taste since it seems to sell well. It only costs a few RMB and it’s an easy way to get a real sugar “high”. Why settle for something sweetened when you actually eat the source of sugar.
It’s a bit ironic seeing people eating pure cane since sugar has practically become a dirty word in the US. It’s been removed from boxes of cereal (no more Sugar pops, Sugar frosted flakes etc) and physicians caution too much may cause hyperactivity.
Sugar cane beverages are also available. They put it into a machine and make it into juice while you wait. So sweetness is in season..IF it suits you.