Last night was the first night in my new apartment that is next to the Bund. This is amazing as the housing area is beautiful, but the space is tiny. Small does not do it justice. It is a tiny lofted apartment with the bed over the living room space. This is an old Shanghai standard in the classier parts of town. Most of the residents of my area are retired and have lived in the area forever. My sweet, helpful, older neighbors cannot speak very clear Mandarin, as the Shanghai-ese accent is just too strong.
The community exercise equipment is right outside the door to my building (I live in building 11). When I went down this morning, I took out boxes from my moving as well as some old unwanted clothes. I needed to know where the trash was for the unit we live in. Since it is customary for older people to exercise in the morning, I had several people to ask for help. I started with the man working his arms on a pulley system near my door. He didn’t quite understand why I wanted to throw away the boxes, so he couldn’t really tell me where to go. He understood my Chinese, but he didn’t understand my reasoning, so it was confusing.
An older grandmotherly-type on the exercise bikes heard my questions and offered to take care of me. When given a window of opportunity, older women in the neighborhood will go entirely out of their way to help you out. Part of it is for the gossip factor. She can now tell the whole area about this strange American that lives in their housing area now. Part of it is just a good-natured motherliness. She whisked the empty boxes away from me, while I carried the one with clothes. Off we went.
She pointed out the trash and recycling shed, but she reminded me not to take boxes there when I can make a profit. This reminds me of the two older women in my last housing area who always rummaged the trash in the morning. They were very elegant women, so this always confused me. Now knowing that they were making some extra money, I smiled.
My new friend was tittering away asking me where I was from, and asking if I’d finished moving in. She was very inquisitive, but not pushy. I had to ask her to repeat things. She was speaking Mandarin, but her accent was thick. At first I thought she asked if I married my new apartment. The tone and pronunciation she used confused me. Finally, I realized she wasn’t saying “marry” (jia), she was saying borrow or rent (jie). I chuckled to myself and promptly answered her rather than give another confused look.
She clucked approval at the US while showing me a little side alley across the street from my house. We went to find the recycling guy. He actually seemed more of the gangster type, not something I associate with recycling. He couldn’t do anything with the clothing, and neither could my new friend, so in the trash they went. We then appraised the boxes, and he gave me 2 yuan to take them off my hands. My grandmotherly friend chuckled about me owing her one and with words of thanks; I took off for work five blocks away.