We drove in around the back, by mistake, past the big black bins oozing waste, past the back doors of the restaurants, past the chef with his greasy hair and nicotine-stained finger nails, puffing away sitting on the pavement. He didn’t even look up as we drove around the corner into yet another non-descript parking lot filled with people hunting for bargains with fistsful of cash.
The thing that struck me first was the wierd silence, despite the people. Each little shop crammed full of shiny, plasticky stuff and “brand name” takkies. The people inside quiet, the only sound some high-pitched Chinese pop music, as synthetic as the rows and rows of polyester panties and matching bras. Each shop with an owner sitting at a raised counter, higher than the shop floor, and one or two shop assistants, acting like they’d never seen each other, were strangers.
We stayed a while, until we both admitted to being overwhelmed by a sense of despair, this little shopping mecca had driven us down. We couldn’t decide whether it was some kind of spiritual aura left in all that merchandise, probably made in sweat shops behind closed doors, or if this was just the desperation of a displaced population seeping into us like damp, people living oh-so-far from home, in a country with a strange language, trying so hard to make a living.
Chinatown in Ottery. Not somewhere I’ll be rushing back to. It did, however, make me want to pick fresh flowers and deliver bunches of them to each of those quiet people. To hand them over, with a kiss on the forehead.