Saturday, August 22, 2009
Girls' Night Out
Aug. 16 – I asked a young woman at the hotel reception about the underground shops in Changsha.
“I take you!” she said with an eager smile.
Her name was Lai Xiang. Nineteen years old, she was tiny, with long bangs that hung over her round face. I said I could figure out how to get to the shops if she gave me directions, but Lai Xiang insisted that she take me herself.
Later in the day, a couple of English teachers and I met Lai Xiang and about ten of her friends in the hotel lobby. We took the #1 bus and got off near what looked like the entrance to a subway.
As we descended the stairs, the thick Changsha heat thinned and an underground world of clothing, shoes and jewelry emerged. T-shirts printed with “Boyfriends are recyclable” or “Vivienne Westwood” (not actually by the designer) were packed into shops the size of walk-in closets.
I ended up with three dresses, each one costing less than $7 U.S. Lai Xiang bargained down the price of each dress to less than 50 percent of the original asking price.
Without windows, we spent two hours underground without noticing the time pass. By that time, all of Lai Xiang’s friends had left to meet with other friends. The only one left with Lai Xiang was Yang Ying, another girl who works at the hotel.
Tired and hungry, we headed to Buxingjie (Walking Street) for a hot pot dinner. In the middle of the table sat the pot of boiling liquids. The pot was split into two to allow for two kinds of broth. On one side was water with dates and ginger for flavor. On the other side was a dark red broth with dried pepper flakes floating on the surface.
We dumped bean sprouts, cabbage, sausage, beef slices, lotus, noodles and dumplings into the pot. As we ate, I thought, Hot pot is Chinese people's soul food.