The moment we exited the Dongjiaotou metro station, two subway stops and a world away from the expat enclave that we now call home, Wifey and I looked at each other and said, “OK. Now we’re in China.”
We had descended underground in the heart of “Sea World,” which rather than being a controversial home for marine mammals is the central meeting point for much of Shenzhen’s international community. Unlike the one back in San Diego, this Sea World is a pedestrian-only “international bar street.” It’s a bit like Chinatown in reverse; the area is a Western bubble surrounded by what I can only refer to as “real China.” Here, we eat pretzels and drink German beer. A couple of short blocks away, the narrow streets contain countless tiny shops, street food vendors, and constant sparks flying from people welding random metal objects on the sidewalk.
On this, our first real expedition outside of our immediate neighborhood, we were seeking the Shekou “wet market.” “Wet” presumably because of all the live seafood for sale, this market is where many locals shop. However, our fellow expats had given us conflicting reports. While a few said, “Watch out, it’s smelly and gross!” Others claimed, “it’s very cool, and a great way to get a feel for China. You have to check it out.” So, off we went with our stroller.
When we emerged at street level, our first challenge was finding the place. There’s English on many of the signs here, but that doesn’t mean the directions are always easy to follow. So, we rolled the dice and began walking down “Shekou Old Street.” Naturally, we soon realized that we were walking away from the market, but after thirty minutes of zigging, zagging, and sweating profusely – just as we were ready to throw in the towel and take the train back home – we stumbled upon our destination.
First, our attention was drawn to the colors. These technicolored bins full of shrimp, crayfish, and God knows what else marked the entrance to the market, which was indeed rather wet. Inside, along with the profusion of fish, was a dense mass of people, delicious looking produce that I’ve never seen before, and poultry hanging from hooks. There were also whole animals being butchered, and at one point, Wifey turned to me and asked, totally deadpan, “whose tail do you think that is?”
In the central part of the market, the fish were illuminated by red lights, which made the whole experience even more surreal.
As we meandered, we seemed to be the only Westerners in attendance, although ours was not the only stroller to be blocked by scooters delivering fresh catches inside the market. At one point, when our narrow path was cut off, we had to dart outside to avoid the bottleneck, as our Mandarin is still limited to “hello” and “thank you.” But we witnessed a Chinese mother giving the driver a piece of her mind, much as I would have if I’d been able to. The New Yorker in me imagined that she said something along the lines of, “Hey, what’s a matter with you?! Can’t you seen I’m walkin’ here?”
Needless to say, all three of us had the time of our lives. This is only the beginning, and I plan to revisit the market on a regular basis. Hopefully, by the time we get back to California, I’ll actually know how to cook some of that stuff.