An Unforgettable Day in Chinatown

I know I said I was going to look forward, not back, from now on. But I lied. There is one more day in 2011 that I want to write about.

Two and a half weeks ago I spent an afternoon in Chinatown with the blog girls — Martina, Karen, and Namrata. It was my first visit to Joburg’s ‘new’ Chinatown, which is in a suburb called Cyrildene. (‘New’ Chinatown in Cyrildene is not to be confused with ‘old’ Chinatown in the Joburg city centre. You may remember that I visited the old Chinatown a few months ago.)

My friends took me to Chinatown because I needed some cheering up, and I was also in dire need of a haircut. Karen knows a ridiculously cheap hair salon in Chinatown, and a Chinatown haircut is a great excuse to gorge on cheap, delicious Chinatown food.

The prettiest building in new Chinatown, also known as Cyrildene.

I love new Chinatown. Old Chinatown is cool from a historical perspective but there isn’t much there anymore — just a handful of restaurants and shops. New Chinatown, on the other hand, is a thriving community. And unlike the Chinatown in my home city of Washington D.C., Jozi’s Chinatown is not a tourist trap. It’s too grungy for most tourists. It’s a real place, where Chinese people live, work, shop, and speak Chinese.

It was six days before Christmas and Joburg had already started to empty out. All the shops were open but we basically had Chinatown to ourselves.

We started at the Guang Dong Hairdressing Salon. My haircut experience was fabulous and hilarious. I won’t fully recount it here because Karen has already written a charming account on her blog. The highlight of the haircut was the price: R80 ($10) for a wash, cut, and blowdry. (It’s normally R70 but I paid an extra R10 because my hair is so long.) Qing Qing, my stylist, even flat-ironed my hair and made me look like Jennifer Aniston. Qing Qing did not speak a word of English. Karen translated.

Here are a few photos. For more, check out the Story of Bing.

The Guang Dong Salon. (Photo: Karen Lim)

The cut. It was a bit painful at times because Qing Qing works exclusively with a cheap plastic comb. Not the best tool for my long tangled mane, which hadn’t been cut in eight months. Not that I’m complaining. $10! (Photo: Karen Lim)

Thank you, Qing Qing. You made me feel like a movie star. I’ll be back. (Photo: Karen Lim)

Showing off my haircut one more time, while modeling a Thai hat at a Chinese grocery. I’m not normally so vain. But…$10! (Photo: Karen Lim)

After the haircut it was time for lunch.

Don’t be fooled by the nondescript facade and the lackluster name, ‘Beef Noodle’. This place is good.

We surrendered our taste buds into Karen’s capable hands and let her order for the table. We wolfed down water spinach, fried rice, pork spare ribs, tasty meat skewers, and some other yummy stuff that I can’t remember now. We drank aloe nectar from green plastic bottles. We talked and laughed and took photos. It was really fun.

Water spinach. It might look and sound weird but I found it scrumptious.

Fried rice. Unlike the fried rice you get at an average Chinese restaurant in America, not greasy at all.

Karen attacks a meat skewer.

Toward the end of our lunch, I suddenly felt a horrible pang of sadness. ‘I’m really sad right now,’ I said aloud. My friends nodded sympathetically. We paid the bill and left.

We wandered around some more and took pictures in the afternoon sun. Our final stop was a bakery, where I bought a small, sugary ball of bean paste. I nibbled it as we wandered up the street toward our car.

Late afternoon in Chinatown.

My phone rang. That’s when I got the news that Jon died.

Karen gently pried the sticky, half-eaten sweet out of my hand and threw it on the ground.

At first I didn’t plan to blog about my day in Chinatown. I thought it might seem inappropriate, or disrespectful. But then I realized that Jon would be pissed off at me if I didn’t write this post. My visit to Chinatown, up until the last 10 minutes, was a classic 2Summers adventure. If Jon were still alive and healthy on that day, I would have rushed home and told him about my afternoon with the girls. He would admire my supermodel haircut, then I would download my pictures and we would edit through them together, talking and laughing. The photo of Bing with the meat skewer would be his favorite.

I know I promised not to blog about Jon’s death anymore. But leaving out the last part of this story would feel dishonest.

That day — December 19, 2011 — was the worst day of my life. Yet I also felt some genuine happiness that day. I think Jon would be happy about that.

I’m going to gloat one last time…$10! (Photo: Karen Lim)

Since I’ve broken my promise anyway, I may as well share this lovely obituary about Jon from the South African Sunday Times.

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  • Reply landofnams January 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    lovely, H…great writing and great pictures as usual. i know i always say that but you are both a talented writer and photographer.

    • Reply 2summers January 4, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks. Don’t worry, I never get tired of hearing that.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Good for you, Heather! This is an amazing post–a story that had to be told and one that Jon would love reading. I’m also thrilled you published the obituary link. Hooray, Heather. Jon would be proud!

    • Reply 2summers January 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks Kathy. I had a feeling you would enjoy this post.

  • Reply Wayne January 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Your blog features excellent story writing and photography. My sympathies on your loss. I read Bing’s blog and noticed that you had translation help at the salon. I am anticipating moving to Joburg later this year and was wondering how easy is it to navigate Chinatown using only English.

    • Reply 2summers January 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Thanks so much, Wayne. Karen can answer your question better than I can, but I don’t think the language barrier is as big a problem in the shops and restaurants. The hair place is exceptional, I think, because very few non-Chinese people go there. To be honest I can’t be sure though, because Karen spoke Chinese to everyone for us for the entire day. I’ll have to go back without her sometime and test it out 🙂

  • Reply @injoburg January 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Bargains all round in Chinatown. What I really like about it is that it realls *smells* like Asia too… the pong from the gutter is exactly like that in Kuala Lumpur where I lived before, they must throw the same mix of spicy garbage onto the streets here!

    • Reply @injoburg January 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      (oh, and can I be your blogboy?)

    • Reply 2summers January 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      I have never been to East Asia but I know exactly the smell you’re talking about. I noticed it quite distinctly in Chinatown.

      (I’m not sure what you mean by blogboy. I’m a little afraid to ask.)

      • Reply Rhoda January 5, 2012 at 9:40 am

        hehehe……i think as in blog girls, hence blog boy?

        • Reply 2summers January 5, 2012 at 9:56 am

          Oh, right! Blogboy! Now I got it. Jeroen, in order to be my blogboy you need to start blogging again.

          Thanks so much, Rhoda. I hope you’re doing well.

  • Reply taxslaveShona January 4, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Lovely post – Obituary was wonderful though caused by a sad event. A very highly thought of person in proffesional and personal capacity

    • Reply 2summers January 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      Thank you. It kind of gives me solace to share Jon’s legacy with people.

  • Reply Catherine January 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Heather, we are all, I think, pleased to see that you still feel like blogging, and the new haircut looks fantastic! I wish you all the support you need from your friends ,you are brave and strong and I feel respect and admiration for you!

    • Reply 2summers January 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      Thanks Catherine. Blogging is one of the only things that I actually feel like doing right now. It makes me feel so much better.

  • Reply ameliaclaire92 January 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    A day in Chinatown sounds like so much fun! And your haircut looks great too. 🙂

  • Reply Debra Kolkka January 4, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    You look lovely in the photos. What a dreadful end to your little adventure. I’m glad you shared it with us, it must have been difficult for you.

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Debra. Seems like the more I write about stuff, the less horrible I feel.

  • Reply emmanuelle chiche January 5, 2012 at 4:34 am

    the man who loves the clouds

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2012 at 9:07 am

      Indeed. There were some beautiful ones here in Joburg last night.

  • Reply miadidthis January 5, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Love it! I have been living in Jozi for about 3 years now, and have not yet visited Chinatown, only driven past it. Apparently breakfast on a Saturday is great… We should all go.

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2012 at 9:07 am

      Oooh, breakfast in Chinatown. That sounds very intriguing.

  • Reply Rhoda January 5, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Heather, that hair cut is amazing – very SUPER STAR-ish! 🙂 so gloat away. *big grin*

    So sorry for your loss….thinking of you…..

  • Reply Emily cannell January 5, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Very entertaining – as usual. I’m sorry about Jon.

  • Reply Yashik Nanan January 5, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Honesty – such a rare jewel! and… with hair like that… it’s ok to gloat!

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica January 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    The best way to honour Jon’s memory is to live life to the full and with as much joy as possible. You’re doing that by writing about your happy memories of that day.

    Your hair looks gorgeous in the “after” photos – like a silky curtain. Of course, I have to add that I’d give my right arm to have had your “before” hair as well! 🙂

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks Lisa. Of course my hair is back to ‘normal’ now, as I don’t ever blowdry it and I don’t have a straightening iron. But at least the tangles and split ends are gone.

  • Reply thirdeyemom January 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    I love your beautiful haircut Heather. I agree though what a sad day. And to receive the news by phone with no warning must have been absolutely devastating. I can’t even begin to imagine how you must have felt. I think it is right to blog about last year, the days before his death and about Jon. How else can your heart heal? My thoughts are with you and I am glad you such great friends there. Keep writing and letting it all out.

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks Nicole. I’m very lucky that I was with good friends when I got this news. If it had happened an hour later I would have been home by myself. It’s one of those strange little coincidences that you wind up feeling ‘grateful’ for when a horrible thing like this happens.

  • Reply eremophila January 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing Heather. and for the obituary link. Lost for words somehow…..♥

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