The wardrobe is cleared and most of the winter clothes have been washed and packed. Kitchen stuff has been sorted and what I am taking has been set aside. The geegaws, knick-knacks, tchotchkes... all have their reserved space. All that remains is for my departure date to get here, and then I'm gone and my few selected things are going with me on the plane. Because shipping anything from China has become an exercise in frustration (see A Logistical Nightmare entry, posted in January of this year).
All that's left is to enjoy the last few sights, sounds and smells (good ones, not bad ones) that Wuhan has to offer. During my forays into town, now fewer than ever, I find myself anticipating missing things that are not so ubiquitous in the west.
Cantaloupe flavored gum: Sure, you can buy Trident or Dentyne brand melon gum from Amazon, but can you find it on the grocer's shelf? Will it taste the same as the one I current am chomping on? I've gotten hooked on this tangy treat that has a kick of spearmint, and it does not stick to my teeth. Wonder if the other types have the same kick and non-stick quality.
Re Gan Mian: True, I've scaled back on eating at food vendor stalls but I can never say no to a heaping bowl of hot dry noodles, Wuhan's signature dish. While you can buy 'noodle packs' on Amazon (and probably in grocery stores, at least Asian food stores), they do not taste nearly as good as those from a food cart (Amazon sells the same brand available here, and I've tried them: they are not good). However, I know I can buy that fragrant and flavorful sesame paste and the correct type of noodles from Asian grocery stores, so I just might try to make it myself... if possible.
Maverick bacon: Unbeknownst to me till now, there is a music group called Maverick Bacon, but they are not who I am referring to as I sing the praises of a thick-slab breakfast meat: a joy to the senses. I have been buying it from Metro in 2-kilo packages almost as long as I've been here. Not that I'm obsessive; I did try other breakfast meats but this bacon is supreme! And now I have to give it up.
Over-the-counter medicines – specifically antibiotics: by no means am I devaluing physicians, their education or their services. However, when you get to a certain age, you tend to know your body pretty well and, should you ail, you probably know exactly what you need to take to fix it, especially if it is a recurring condition.
For example: if you are prone to urinary tract infections, you would remember what medication and dosage the doc recommended the first time you were stricken, and could go to the pharmacy for another round (not a refill of an authorized prescription). If you've not been to the doc but know what a urinary tract infection feels like, a simple Internet check reveals what 'family' of antibiotics you need. Head to the local pharmacy and Presto! You have that infection whipped!
Of course, I ponder this as a person without a criminal bone in her body. Seeing as nefarious people can manage to make illegal, deadly street drugs from medicines that are/were available over the counter (and also from Sharpie pens), who knows what they would do if antibiotics were sold rather than dispensed. And, I emphatically believe that some drugs need to stay behind the counter and only get dispensed with a prescription. But not antibiotics; surely not!
Farmer's Markets: From early morning until 8:00PM, seven days a week – except for the hallowed Chinese New Year celebration, local farmers hawk their wares. All over the city, every neighborhood provided for, one can head to the nong mao shi chang (农贸市场 – literally 'farmer's market') for fresh produce. My neighbors sometimes go twice daily for all manner of fresh: eggs, veggies, meat and fish. Some stalls within the arena offer condiments, cooking sauces and rice. One thing you will not find at the veg market is fruit: for that, any of the streetcorner vendors will do, and there could be more than one vendor on any street corner, all shouting their products' praises and urging you to trade with them.
I know there are farmer's markets in the west, but are they the same type of raucous outlet of produce so fresh the dirt on them is still moist that one can visit every day? Sadly, no.
Alipay: in spite of the limits this system puts on me because I am not a Chinese national, I still rave about the ease and convenience of this electronic wallet. Online shopping is done by tapping a single button. The list of conveniences this app affords is ever-growing, from food delivery to clothes purchases. Order a chauffeured car (using the Didi app, China's Uber sytem)! Send money to family! Top off your mass transit card and your phone minutes, pay your utilities and buy plane tickets: all from one convenient system.
And what is especially bruising is that I have no idea how I will manage my money once I am gone. Considering I will most likely be in transit for the next 9 months and vagabonding for the next 5 years, it wouldn't make sense to open a physical bank account, so I have to investigate other ways to manage and legitimize my funds, hopefully online.
Mobike, Ofo and Hello Bike!: I know that Germany has a bike-sharing system but I don't know if there is such a program anywhere in the states, let alone where I plan to be. Although I've not yet officially tried renting any of China's bikes, I have downloaded all of the apps (because they were free and I was curious). I've ridden a Mobike, and I am excited to try an Ofo and a Hello Bike! because the seats are adjustable (Mobike seats are not).
Timed street lights: I've gotten so used to a timer next to the stop lights that indicates how long one must stay stopped (or how long the light will stay green) that, when I head west, I actually miss them. Chinese traffic nightmares aside, those timers are a wonder of civil planning. How often have you wished, when you're stuck at a red light, that the light would just hurry up and change? With these timers, you know exactly when they will. There are similar indicators for pedestrians.
Now, if we could only get Chinese drivers to reflect on and appreciate the forethought put into their driving amenities...
Dancing women: after all the fuss I've made lately over the cacophony of this community's dancers (and the ones next door), you'd think that their pastime would be something I would be delighted to leave behind. In fact, I quite admire the idea of neighborhoods gathering to dance in the evening. When I think back to how quiet it was in other enclaves I've dwelt at, and how I never knew any of the other residents; on how sad it seems to me that people rush home, lock their doors and seldom mingle with their neighbors, nightly dancing takes on a whole new significance.
I still wish these women would not dance every night, but who am I to disparage their gathering and enjoying themselves?