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, 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 higher than the shop 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 and 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 out of their sweat shop merchandise.
Chinatown. Not somewhere I'll be rushing back to. It did, however, make me want to pick fresh spring flowers and deliver bouquets to each of those sad, silent, people. To hand them over with a hug, and a kiss on the forehead.