Tales from the Bargain Bin – China Shoe Shine
Despite what the talented local propaganda spin masters would like us to believe, China and Liuzhou have not been immune to the worldwide economic crisis. The effects are definitely being felt here in South China, where most notably, food prices, electronics (read camera equipment), rent and utilities have all risen sharply during my time here. Still, some things are downright bargains. I am talking “stupid good” deals, even when taking into consideration East vs. West cost of living differences.
In my previous life I used to polish my shoes nearly everytime I wore them. Even though I hated the chore I still did it because it was part of my fabric. Before his death in Vietnam in 1967, my father had been a career soldier. I learned very early on how to perfect the “spit shine” using a diaper, kiwi wax polish and a little water. When I later did my own four year stint for Uncle Sam, I was way ahead of the “shoe shining” curve. Over the years it would never occurr to me to take my shoes to anyone else. Oh sure, I would occasionally get a shine while waiting in an airport somewhere but most of the time I bit the bullet and buffed them out myself.
Well I’m happy to report that I’ve finally beaten my shoe (shine) fetish. It was actually pretty easy, because here in my neighborhood I can’t walk a city block without passing a shoe shine gal. Maybe it’s the same across China but here, especially in the areas around the parks and in the city center, they flock together like ducks on a pond. I recently counted 15 women in one block of Fie’ E Lu near my home. They crouch together in groups of three or four, jabbering excitedly as they wait for the next customer. I have been seeing the same girl for nearly two years now. Meet Xue Feng Qin .
Xue Feng Qin
Xue Feng Qin is a 33 year old mother of two. She and her husband come from a small village in the south of Guangxi, near the border with Vietnam. She has been polishing shoes on the streets of Liuzhou for more than 10 years.
Tools of the Trade
I’ve been taking shoes to her every couple of weeks for nearly two years now and it never fails to draw a crowd of gawkers. Aside from the usual “Where are you from?” queries, everyone wants to know what size the shoes are. When I reply “si shi ba” or 48 (13 US), there is always some good-natured ribbing about my “boats”. My Chinese has improved to the point that I recently realized Ms. Xue charges me more than her other customers. Her usual fee is 1 1/2 kwai but she always charges me 2 (about 30 cents). Yesterday I asked if she charges me more because I am a laowai.
“No, no!”, she said excitedly, “I charge you more because your shoes are so big!”
Everybody had a good laugh…
So, that was yesterday’s afternoon excursion. on the way back to the house I came across this old fella’ . I find folks sleeping here anytime, anywhere and in any number of positions. Sometimes the balancing acts are quite impressive. I am actually gathering a nice little collection you can see here. This cat today was totally out of it, enjoying a nice spring afternoon in the riverside park at the south end of Liujiang Bridge. Most impressive was that he stayed in this position for at least half an hour while I was getting my shoes polished down the street. Traffic, people in the park, even a jackhammer on the corner across the street and he was gone!
I should probably write about the whole Chinese barber shop experience sometime. Talk about a deal! What you get for 25 RMB is crazy. There are so many barbers the competition is fierce. That’s good for me.
So I made some progress on my list. I didn’t finish of course but I did manage to take a big bite out of it. Still more email to return and I absolutely must get some stuff together for Ryan (Dao by Design) so he can begin to work on my websites. If you are reading this Ryan, I swear, I’ve been working on it… really, I have been. Little sister and Jo Ellen, email still to come tonight, I promise!
Apparently a fellow by the name of Mr. Chan has opened a doughnut shop here in Liuzhou. Pray for me…