Allow me to show you around the neighborhood. Before we leave, let me make sure the two gas levers feeding the stove and the often malfunctioning hot water heater are turned off. Can't forget my keys. If I'm locked out, no manager's office to call and we wouldn't understand each other anyway.
Wait 5 minutes for the elevator. If the overhead hall lights go out, just move around and clap and stomp. They're on some kind of movement/noise sensor control, probably imported from Uzbekistan in 1998.
Down we go….Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. By. Floor. Frequent stops, especially at the 8th (housekeeping business); 3rd (mystery floor, home of young girls in jeans and tennis shoes, dwarfed by their oversized white lab coats imprinted with quasi-scientific lab looking logos.) and 2nd floor (expensive restaurant).
First floor. Watch yourself and don't get crushed by the horde trying to get in as we're exiting.
There's the callow youth of a security guard snoozing into his newspaper in an oversized uniform and hat that looks like it was last used in an amateur Red Army production of "Pirates of Penzance".
Outside, let's turn left. Wave to my new cheerful laundry lady. She's stout, usually beaming and has what appears to be a large goiter on her forehead. She's only lost one pair of jeans, two pairs of socks and several boxer shorts in the sixteen loads she's done for me so far. It's still a bargain.
There are the five elegant and comfortable wooden park benches set along the sidewalk facing a real estate office, a florist and a small convenience store where I usually buy my smokes. Older folks favor them in the evenings, sitting for hours, men and women chatting, gossiping and sometimes laughing as they watch the pedestrians come and go.
Look to your right, across the street. Hear that loudspeaker and martial music? The middle school must be having another assembly on the athletic field. See that slender woman gently swaying in the small doorway directly across from us? That's the massage parlor and she's one of their living ads.
But let's keep walking.
Be careful when navigating through the collection of anywhere from 3 to 7 small kids – who presumably should be in school – who spend their days and evenings squatting on the sidewalk, husking and hawking corn. It's good stuff, sweet, small by American standards but inexpensive – about 10 cents for 8-10 ears.
Want to duck into the covered outdoor market? First we fight our way past the Bootleg DVD Pirate Boyz. Decisions, decisions. Do I want "Gidget on the Island of the Ghost Cannibal Gods" or Kevin Smith's latest, which hasn’t even been released yet in the States? Either way it's about 75 cents and the pirates will refund my money or give me another copy if the first one is defective, which is not uncommon.
Here's the wet market. I don't buy my meat, chicken or fish here, but it's colorful and, yes, smelly. An ichthyologist’s wet dream and a nightmare for Greenpeace. I saw some shark fins the other day.
I avoid the poultry and rabbit sections, though. Bird flu worries and the sight of the pitiful fowls jammed beak to beak in small cages keep me at a distance. The poor rabbits look equally miserable on their death row.
But I've picked up some cheap durable kitchenware here and the fruit is good, particularly the apples, grapes and plums. They look like California plums to me, just like Safeway back home, but cheaper.
Back outside and we're almost off the block. There are the shoe repair families lined side by side on the walkway, complete with their cobbling equipment, glue, nails, leather and battery operated sewing machines. I've had my Japanese deluxe straw flip flops resoled here twice.
Now we pass "Cafe Starrsbook", the fake western coffee shop, which I have not checked out yet. Let's just turn right and cross the street.
Watch yourself! The concept of pedestrian right-of-way is completely alien here. See how that Mercedes almost mowed down the gaggle of tiny school kids? Leper-sucking rat bastard! Screw you, man!
Nice shade trees, huh? The city is gritty and muggy, and the sidewalks and streets often look like they've been paved and repaired by chimps randomly flinging wet cement and oatmeal, but Shenzhen loves its trees and they are everywhere the pavement permits.
More shops on our left. This place sells fabulous fresh dumplings – pork, shrimp, sweet bean – but only in the morning. There's Grape Man – he's got the best Concord grapes I've ever had, though I suspect, like the plums, they're from California – most Chinese produce isn't that large and these are like small ping-pong balls.
We're almost to the combo supermarket/liquor store/department store. Hang a left. There's the mini-park across from the department store. Occasionally you'll see older people doing tai chi in the small grassy areas near the winding path and benches. Good news. It looks like there's a beer promotion going on in the park pavilion. Kingway, Shenzhen's local brew. It's not bad and the price is right – about 30 cents a bottle.
Let's grab a couple before we go back.