China Red, China City: A Chinese Market in Dar

I’ve written about China several times since I’ve left the country, first out of awe that I got out alive, second because I keep going back to photos, like the ones below, of everyday life on the streets, and now, third, because I’ve just realized- I miss the place.


I left China last summer pretty darn happy to be done with the place, to spend a year in the states, to move onto Africa and content never to look back again. And I was fine (eating lots of tacos while back home helped) until I got to Africa, when suddenly everything seemed so foreign. And then, I started to miss the foreign things in China that, in retrospect, were so much more familiar than unknown: How to properly flag down a cab like a local. Ordering chicken feet during dim sum. Navigating crowds at 5pm at the Tiyu Xilu metro station (the horrors). Screaming “waiter” at the top of your lungs in a restaurant. Finding the best wet markets in all corners of town. Buying face brightening cleansers, because that’s the only thing there was. Observing the local fashion trends, oh! The fashion! It’s amazing how quickly the unfamiliar becomes familiar, no? I think of these things, and I can’t help by smile. Two years might seem short, but it is certainly enough to forever call a place home in one’s heart.


At the wet market in China

I recently took a visit to a local Chinese Market here in Dar es Salaam, and it brought back a wave of nostalgia. I had been on the lookout for some goods- tofu and hot sauce, to be precise, and was excited when a Korean friend told me about this little market not too far from home.

I’ve come to realize that no matter where you are in this world, there will be a Chinese population that will create a demand for a Chinese market. And with their savvy import and export dealings, they’ll find a way to get things like doban jiang (savory bean paste) or xia mi (little dried shrimp) or wei jing (MSG powder) to almost anywhere in the world. These are the important life lessons I’m learning by living abroad. I don’t know, maybe if you’re living in the middle of the Congo and find this to be absurd, let me know, I’d love to hear it.

sign for the market, here in dar

Big Red sign for the market here in Dar

Surprisingly, it only took me driving up one wrong driveway before I found the market. Tucked away behind a blue gate erected with sheet metal, the market looked more like a construction zone than anything else. The building was a little single-story, u-shaped complex that housed a mini wet market to the left: One meat counter, one vegetable counter (right next to each other, in typical Chinese fashion, of course). And right across the way on the right: a small but well-stocked dry goods market. With a HUGE red banner across the roof that read (in Chinese): “China Red, China City”

The outside (minus the sign) blatantly screamed Africa, but there was no mistaking its identity from the inside. Shelves piled from floor to ceiling of cooking wine, pickled mustard greens, dried plums, instant noodles, plastic bath accessories, spiral bound stationery, and more.


But most striking was that smell. As soon as I stepped foot in the store, I caught that signature Chinese market smell, of soy and sesame and dried fish and plastic wrap and damp packaging, and who-knows-what-else-makes-up the smells of China, which instantly transported me back to Guangzhou.



You know, a lot of people complain about China quite a bit, and I find myself pretty defensive about it these days. You can’t talk smack about a home of mine, after all, and expect to get away with it. They complain about everything- The smells, the pollution, the hygiene, the food, the people, the crowds, the pushing, the yelling, the fighting, the language.

But there’s funky smells, bad pollution, oily food, smelly people, massive crowds, pushy elders, couples who argue, waiters who will fight you, and communication barriers all around the world. Maybe no other place has the perfect convergence of all these things in the way that China does (I’m betting India is close!), but in one form or another, they exist everywhere.


All I’m saying here is that at the end of the day, appreciate where you are, because it’s home to someone, and before you know it, it’ll be home to you, too. The things I miss in China don’t necessarily make me want to go back and spend the rest of my days, but they are certainly enough to make me consider living again in that crazy country one day in the future.

Do you think I’m crazy that the smell of dried fish and dirty packaging makes me nostalgic? I’m curious: What smells make you pine for a previous home?

China Red, China City

Chinese goods market in Dar es Salaam
Ursino Street, just North of Bagamoyo Road (down the street from Addis in Dar)
Complex is fenced off by a blue gate with some Chinese lettering on the front. Guards man the front entrance. Drive through and park anywhere in the back lot.

Watch market

This weekend we made a trip to the watch market to get the DiploMan’s watch fixed and see if I could find myself a spare watch (among the errands we were running).

Finding a spare watch was probably not the best general statement when wandering around the watch market in Guangzhou- there were literally tens of thousands of watches to choose from, displayed in counter after counter of glass cases. Watches piled upon watches, upon even more watches. Shockingly, I was able to find one that I liked pretty quickly, and after an unsuccessful attempt at bargaining (vendors generally don’t bargain here, at least not until you buy more than fifty of what they’re trying to sell).

Interestingly, when laid out on display, the vendors have fake fakes (yeah, you heard me.) – brands that were specifically designed to showcase the style and design of the watches, but not to sell. Once a watch is chosen, the real imitation is dug out from the back.

After a very confusing five minutes of me almost buying the fake fake, our watch lady finally explained that if caught even displaying a counterfeit brand, a vendor would receive a 30,000rmb penalty. She stealthily uncovered a counterfeit logo on the underside of the watch strap, taped over to hide from anyone ready to fine her. Not exactly the most ingenious of disguises, but it worked- after all, we didn’t even notice the little strip of camouflaged tape hiding the watch’s true fake identity.

Why she showed this to us, I have no idea. What if we were undercover?

A not-so-super market

This is my local market. Not the big one that has a lot of really nice candies and fresh packaged eggs and a pretty decent Western section, but the one that’s next to the wet market I like to go to and kind of smells like old cardboard.

Does it scare you? It kind of scares me, too. The aisles are super narrow, a lot of the age of the items on the shelves are ambiguous, and I am pretty sure there is no stock house in the back so every single product is stcked high-high-high on the shelves.

But you know what, I don’t mind it. Not only for the fact that it is closer to home and twice as cheap, but also because I’m now becoming fond of all things Chinese. And, seeing a photo like this makes me smile with disbelief that I actually include something like this in my weekly routine.

Jewelry Markets

Guangzhou is, and always has, been known for its production and trade abilities, thus always being known as a great shopping city.  It has been, for centuries, a place of commerce, and even back in the day, traders and sailors and merchants would swing through Guangzhou to take a look at what was in shop windows.  Yeah, Hong Kong has Fendi and Chanel, but Guangzhou has every other wallet, bag, purse, pouch, fanny pack, and passport case imaginable.

Out of every five women I meet here, one will rave nonstop about the jade and pearl markets- mostly for their abundance of goods and bargain-friendly practices.  Since the markets are about a 25-minute walk from my house, I decided to have a look myself.  Just north of Shangxia Jiu Lu, a hot pedestrian street and shopping destination in it’s own right, the Jade and Pearl markets are located directly across the street from each other.  I couldn’t find the entrance to the pearl market (will have to go back another day) but I very easily found the jewelry market.  Now, the word “market” is very deceiving.  I thought I would be weaving in and out of smelly old alleyways, poking through jewels and gems like vegetables at the farmers market.  Instead, as I entered the “market” I saw the photo above- a six story shopping mall behemoth- selling nothing but jewelry.  Not only are there six whole floors, but each floor is a deep maze of vendors.  Sometimes even two separate vendors sharing one booth, selling every sort of polished rock and silver imaginable.  Rocks and silver aren’t really my thing so I didn’t stick around for too long, but next time I’m there I’m going to go in search of some gold.

I then hopped across the street, where the jade market was located.  Part indoors and also outdoors, this market held more of the old school alley-dwelling vendors I had imagined.  But even so, I couldn’t have pictured the amount of jade they had available.  People selling all shapes and sizes of jade, dark jade, light jade, jade bracelets, jade earrings, jade necklaces, jade things that I wouldn’t even know where to put or what to do with.  Even on a Tuesday afternoon they were busy- I can’t imagine what it’s like on a Saturday or Sunday.