i went on my blind date in chongqing and it went better than i expected. first of all, i finally found out her name - bai hong (白红) - white red. secondly, she was a lot prettier than i expected. a lot. so much so there were times were i wasn't even listening to what she was saying, just staring at her face. when i finally returned to changshou around 8:00 (i left chongqing at 6:00 but the rain made for a slow bus ride coming back) i realized my predicament: too many interesting girls! as far as problems go, it's not a bad one to have.
also earlier today i was doing some shopping. bought a suit jacket for RMB$280 (have to replace the buttons though, way too shiny), a shirt for RMB$85, and a red tie RMB$38. i did visit the G2000 shop sarah recommended, but even with a 50% off sale, the suits were still at least RMB$1300 (more than US$200). at that price, i can have one tailor-made (RMB$1000).
originally i planned on waking up as early as 5:30. but the power of rationalization to keep on sleeping is strong so early in the morning. i decide it was too early, and decided to sleep until 6:30. when my alarm rang again, i thought 6:30 was still too early. i mean, the department store i was supposed to go visit wouldn't even be opened yet, probably until 9 or 10. i finally woke up around 7:30, and left the apartment by sometime after 8:00. it was raining slightly, but i was hoping it was just a morning event. a wet chongqing is a dirty chongqing and a dirty chongqing is almost unbearable. on the bus i realized forgot my umbrella, figured if i really needed, i could just buy a cheap one for US$2 from a street vendor.
the bus left the station for chongqing around 8:30. i sat on the very front seat behind the driver, a first for me on one of these chongqing-bound buses. despite the slight rain, there was almost no traffic and we made it to hongqihoguo in about an hour, arriving at 9:30. i went to the metro station and headed to jiefangbei. by the time i made it to the department store sarah recommended to me that i check out, it was a bit after 10:00, perfect timing since that's when they open.
as far i can tell, there are two kinds of department stores in china: the traditional kind like the ones we have in the US, where each store has its own storefront; and the second kind, where there are no storefronts, but each brand his its own independent department. shopping in the latter is kind of tedious because the clerks have been instructed to grab your attention, so you end up suffering through a guantlet of sale pitches and you never know when an associate is actually trying to be helpful or just pushing some merchandise on you. anyway, G2000 - the store sarah recommended - was in one of those pushy retail malls. i had to ask someone for the location, but it was actually right there in front of me. they have nice clothes - very modern yet simple - but the price was too high. suits are sold as a complete unit including a dress shirt and pants. the going rate for a suite was around RMB$2400, but there was a 50% off chinese new year special, but even then, at RMB$1200, that's still US$200. in comparison, for just RMB$1000, i can have a suit completely tailor-made for me from scratch. although the G2000 suits look good, they have very thick shoulder pads that almost stick out like wings which i don't find attractive.
the good thing was this mall was very close to the discount retail sprawl that i frequent for my shirts and pants, so i headed there next. i only hesitated because that is one of the dirtiest places in chongqing because of the congestion of people and trash and feeding.
i first went to the place with the stone lions by the entrance. i found a suit jacket right away that fit me. the seller wanted RMB$280, i talked him down to RMB$200 after threatening to go elsewhere because i thought it was too expensive. but when i told him i still wanted to look around a bit before deciding, he got angry and said he wouldn't sell it to me anymore. plenty of other vendors, not a problem. however, i didn't find anything else there, so i crossed the street and went to the side stores besides the men's mall. i'm always on the lookout for bargain shirts and i saw one in pale blue that looked promising. the shop owner told me RMB$95 when i asked; i thought it was a bit much so i left to do more browsing. eventually i found a suit place that had a suit that fit me. it came with matching pants, but i just wanted the jacket. with pants, RMB$360. just jacket, RMB$280. it was an okay jacket, good fit, but it wasn't worth RMB$280 (US$46). on the outside it looked okay, but on the inside the stitching was very cheaply done, with different colored threads. the buttons were also these gaudy things that need to be replaced if i'm to be seen wearing this in public. but the label on the inside said it was 65% wool, even though it didn't feel like wool (who knows if it's true or not). but it was getting late - around 11:30 - and i just wanted to be done with my shopping so i can head over to guanyinqiao, so i decided to get the suit anyway, after getting the owner to steam iron it for me first (which was a waste of time, because by the time i got it home, it was wrinkled again).
i wandered to the men's mall a little bit, but things there are of a higher (and more expensive) quality (chinese name brands, all unknown to me), and i already got my suit jacket, so i decided to leave.
however, i did go back to the shirt place i saw earlier to get that shirt. i saw some other shirts and they were all RMB$95, so i figured that's the going rate. the owner recognized me from before. i bought the shirt but told him if it didn't fit when i try it on right then and there, could i swap it for a different size? he was fine that idea. he must've also forgot what price he quoted me earlier, because he only charged me RMB$85 for the shirt. besides dress shirts, he also sold ties, so i decided to get a tie while i was there. i picked a nice red tie for RMB$38. i told him it'd been a while since i tied a tie, so he tied it for me and gave it to me with a ready-to-be-adjusted knot already in place. he asked me how old i was, guessed maybe i was 29. so close!
i headed over to guanyinqiao a bit early, but i figured i could wander around wait i waited for my mystery date to show up. i wasn't planning on the rain to pick up again, so i hid underneath a tree to wait it out. a few minutes before 1:00 i got a text message. "i'm here, where are you?" i called her back. up to that point i didn't even know what she sounded like since we've never actually spoken before (just texted). over the phone, she sounded nice. i told her i was waiting in front of the KFC by the metro station exit. she told me she was coming right over. so i waited. not only did i not know her name, but i only had 2 photos to go on, and the person in the photos didn't match for some reason. she didn't know what i looked either, other than my buddy icon, and maybe the few photos of myself i put on my QQ zone. so she was taking a risk to, but i figured her relative might've already described me to her. i kept my eyes opened. then i saw someone waving at me. i didn't know what i was expecting. my i kept my expectations low. but i wasn't expecting someone so...pretty! my body immediately betrayed my initial attraction.
we exchanged awkward pleasantries and started walking, destination unknown. she took the bus from her driving school class by the airport, that's why she didn't come out from the subway station. "are you hungry?" she asked as we crossed the guanyinqiao plaza. so we decided to look for a place to eat. walking in a nearby mall that had a food court, i finally asked her, "i don't even know your name." "白红," (white red) she said. everything suddenly made sense. her QQ nickname is "red-head" but when she made a friend request, she wrote just one word, "白" (white), in her message. had i known her name earlier, i would've figured out who she was.
* vietnamese lunch
* there were times when i was so distracted by her face (in a good way), i wasn't even paying attention to what she was saying.
besides her appearance, she also had a very nice personality. it's hard to explain, but i felt kind of at ease with her. she apologized that her english isn't very good, but she can still understand at least 80% of what i write, although her english writing is bad enough that she doesn't even bother trying.
i'd only been to the first floor of that mall before, and only to take a peek before leaving (i think it was during that first trip to chongqing i went with lihui). what i didn't realize was there are 2 floors of restaurants on the upper floors. we toured our options, neither of us could decide where we wanted to eat. finally i decided i wanted to try the vietnamese restaurant i saw on the lower floor.
it wasn't exactly like the vietnamese restaurants i know back at home. for one thing, there was only 3 phos dishes hidden at the back of the photo-heavy menu (most mall restaurants are like that i discovered, maybe it helps with the ordering with people who can't read chinese, or maybe it's to better entice the customers with pretty pictures). most of the dishes seemed to be more chinese than vietnamese. baihong went with some stir-fried noodles, and we also ordered a plate of mixed appetizers. the dishes came in a strange order: our entrees arrived first, the appetizers appeared after we were almost half finished eating.
we chatted, mostly typical getting-to-know-each-other stuff. i told her my complex family lineage and how i ended up immigrating to the US when i was a kid. i found out she went to high school in chuanwei (川维), an industrial city purposefully created to support the factories that were built there. her family originally came from luoqi (洛碛), a little village midway between changshou and chongqing, along the banks of the yangtze river, the sort of rural hamlet that might still have ganzi market days. as for college, she majored in management at a school in jiangxi famous for its century-old pottery. she now works at ricoh, in charge of shipment invoices, in a small office with just 2 other employees.
sometimes while we were chatting i would only be half paying attention, because i was too mesmerized by her face. it's just that the 2 photos of her i found online were so...unflattering. and here she was in real life, looking so much better. usually it's the other way around, people tend to put the best photos of themselves online, and then when you meet them, they don't look that good. never have i encountered the opposite! still, i was so much in disbelief, i wondered if plastic surgery was involved somehow, as i looked for tell-tale scar signs (there were none).
afterwards baihong asked if i wanted to get some dessert. she took me to a place she knew, actually the in the ground floor level of another mall that's below the office tower where she works (2nd floor down from the topmost floor). even though i've been to guanyinqiao many times before, it felt nice being led for a change, not have to worry about getting lost or navigating. we went to honeymoon desserts, a chain i've seen in many other malls (i think the chongbai mall in changshou has one as well), and one that i've personally eaten before that time in chongqing when i went to go find the lotte korean supermarket and hung out in the new yingli department store in daping. unlike that one, this particular place was very crowded. still, there were some tables available and we found one to our liking. i ordered a sweet red bean soup dish with tangyuan (dough balls) and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. baihong went with a black sesame soup with large tangyuans (with fillings).
my order was okay, but not sure what was the purpose of the ice cream, which melted quickly in the warm soup. baihong's sesame soup temporarily stained her teeth black, but i didn't point it out to her. it also stained her lips so it seemed like she was wearing black lipstick, and i was tempted to wipe it off for her. i didn't know if i should tell her for fear of making her self-conscious, so i decided not to.
i told baihong how the custodian ladies at my office fixed me up with her. i also found out that her house close to the airport actually belongs to her parents, but they work in guangdong for most of the year, so she lives there instead, paying off the mortgage for them. she also lives with her grandfather, and i joked is it because he doesn't feel safe for her to be living alone, but turns out she actually takes care of him because her grandmother is too old to do it.
around 4:00 she got a phone call from her mother, asking her if she was coming home for dinner (apparently her mother is back in town early for the chinese new year). we kept on chatting until 5:30, even though there was a list of people waiting for an empty table. she walked me to hongqihoguo where i'd take the bus back to changshou and where she'd take the metro to her place by the airport (about an hour away). i told her there might be a chance i'd get home before her, but she warned me traffic might be slow because of the rain.
i caught the 6:00 bus leaving chongqing. sure enough, it took me 2 hours to get back home. i didn't mind, it gave me a chance to sleep, despite the sounds of crying children, people using their phone on speaker mode, and an old lady puking. i was in a good mood without a care in the world.