A Lot Can Happen in Three-Quarters of an Hour

The grocery store is a 12-minute walk from our apartment. I take Owen in the stroller, which is more like a Buick with a giant trunk, so that I can load up on heavy stuff like beer…I mean, vegetables. On our way, I note that a building has been taken over by scaffolding since were last here 2 days ago. This is barely of note; scaffolding pops up like dandelions in Hangzhou. Since it is made of bamboo and has been known to collapse, we bypass the pedestrian tunnel underneath it and cross the street, walking in front of the many upscale clothing stores that line this road. They have inscrutable names: 7cm, PassionBoy, JasonWood, Slavery.

In the grocery store, I have a hard time maneuvering the stroller because in every aisle I am confronted anew by a gaggle of people who crowd around to see the baby, thus blocking my way. I get annoyed. They don’t notice; instead, they comment on his status, which is: asleep. Everyone says, “Baby. Sleeping.” If you see it, say it!

We get our things with little hassle, stopping to say hi to the bullfrogs in the seafood section as they croak and try to hop under the weight of each other in their tank. I watch a man use a net to “fish” for crawdads in another tank. Easier, actually, than shooting fish in a barrel.

On the way home, I am wary as I near the scaffolding area and prepare to cross the street; as I check over my shoulder, I hear a deafening crash, and I look up to see that the building next to the construction site is being demolished, by hand. A crew of six men stands on a second-story ledge, sweeping giant sheets of broken glass down onto the street with huge brooms. The glass shatters into thousands of pieces and goes flying in all directions. I cross the street and get as far away as possible and stand back to watch. There’s a small crowd on this side of the street, watching the destruction with me. The baby, for once, is not the main attraction. We are at a safe distance, but I cannot say the same for the crew on the ground, who is tasked with holding a flimsy, plastic sheet up in the air, ostensibly to catch the glass shards so they don’t fly into the adjacent bike lane. The glass-catchers turn their faces away every time a new broom-full lands on the pavement, and when they wince they lift the plastic sheeting up off the ground, so bits of glass go shooting out underneath the sheeting and into the bike lane, the road, everywhere. It’s a complete and utter fail, a broken glass disaster. Most pedestrians seem nonplussed: it’s just another day in China.


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