Every now and then I forget that I am in Lanzhou, China.
I look up from my laptop and see our new flat, and I feel a moment of surprise.
This is strange of cause because the smooth tiles have been warm under my bare feet the entire time, and the air has continued to smell oddly smokey – a dry smell that I still haven’t figured out.
It’s – 4 degrees outside, with a very light coating of snow, but our flat is so oddly warm that we are barefoot in shorts and t-shirts. We have even opened our windows, letting in the pungent air, and we are still toasty…
Lex and I have already eaten our first meal, cooked in our new wok and eaten in our new bowls with our new red plastic chopsticks.
Our lips are constantly very dry, as is our skin, but the meal tasted good, flavoured as it was with some flaky ingredient from a packet with a label we do not understand.
It was impossible to find dinner knives in ‘Wu Mart’ during our first shopping spree yesterday. Forks, and large dangerous cleavers, yes, but no knives. So chopsticks it is.
Perhaps there are knives somewhere in ‘Wu Mart’- but how could we know? We could ask no one and all labels and signs in Lanzhou remain a mystery.
As do we. We are a mystery to all who clap eyes upon us in this part of China. I know of 6 foreigners (all teachers at the school- one New Zealander, one Turk, one Indian, one Romanian and us two South Africans – English teachers all…) and have seen no others on our excursions out into the city streets over the last few days.
Those who know me know that I am tall, even by Western standards, so you can imagine how very ‘different’ I am.
As a good friend said to us on the phone a moment ago – ‘let’s face it Michelle, when last did you and Lex turn so many heads?’
It was a whirlwind visit to the shops, and we were rushed through by a fellow teacher who has done it all before, and although Romanian, speaks perfect Chinese. He knew that our taxi would arrive at the designated spot and the designated time and we needed to be there. We were not, and he had to come back to fetch us as there is no parking and he could not linger.
Lingering is an unknown word on the streets of Lanzhou. No one pauses for a second, not even when turning, or stopping, or deciding to do a rash u-turn into the face of on-coming traffic.
Our driver, when he did arrive, seemed grumpy to me. Our Romanian friend assured us that he was simply being funny, and not grumpy. Lex and I felt unsure. Next time we will definitely be on time.