Halvah by any other name

A couple of weeks ago, the Sunday I discovered it is not a good idea to go to ‘the Sunday Market’ on a Sunday, at the Dashanzi bus stop I heard a voice say, ‘Lady, look’… if you have been in Beijing for a while you know to resist those words with all your will. But then the voice said, ‘Halvah’. Oh,  word i recognize. I turned around. Propped up on his bicycle  was a long piece of plywood with a 36 inch slab of  heaven. It was beautiful. He said, ‘Halvah, try. ‘ I said ‘Woa bu yaow’ (Don’t want it)out of habit as well as principle.   He raised his sharp and alarmingly large butcher knife and sliced off a sliver for me to taste.

halvaCROPI looked at him: middle-brown, hair, narrow face, behind his glasses -light brown, heavy-lidded round
eyes, long nose. I said, ‘Hao’ (okay), though normally, I’m not a halvah fan.
OH MY GOD!!!!!!  this was the most delicious food I have ever tasted – so much
better than chocolate. So I said, ‘Doe shaow chien’ (how much money) he
looked puzzled . Then he said ’20 kwai a kilo’.  Not knowing how much a kilo is I said, ‘Ee guh’ which means ‘one’. He sliced it, he weighed it, he wrapped it up and handed it to me. I said, ‘xia xia ni’.  He looked a bit puzzled again.

As I sat on the 998 bus going home greedily picking off pieces to nibble I pondered what an odd looking Chinese person he was and how strange that this Chinese street vendor should be selling a Middle Eastern treat. I was back at the studio before I occurred to me that the man hadn’t been Chinese (Han, anyway) at all. AND that I hadn’t even occurred to me to speak English to him even though he spoke it to me.

October 23, 2007