July 16th, 2011

mei

Birds, Flowers, Totoro

Xiao Mao here greeting you from beautiful Suzhou!

I've been quite busy settling in to my lovely new apartment to post much, but next week we should have internet in our own home and then I can provide you with photos. For now, let me tell you about an adventure I just had.

It started because of a patio. My apartment has a spacious patio in the back which I intend to fill with lovely plants. Lucian is not the only one who likes those things, you know. As with everything in China, I figured the best place to buy plants would be the wholesale houseplant market. It has an interesting name, too: Suzhou Huaniao Shichang, the Suzhou flower and bird market. This name is not just for poetic effect.

I knew I had arrived at the Huaniao Shichang when I turned the corner and found myself staring at 100 houseplants. Going off the street and into the building, I found a maze of benches stacked with potted greenery. Overhead was hung with tarps where roofs should have been, so I knew that I had entered a courtyard but how large a courtyard was impossible to determine. Visibility terminated after 5 meters in a mass of leaves.

I wandered around in silent excitement, unable to make sense of such overwhelming variety. Cacti, bromeliads, aloe and other succulents, hanging devil's ivy, mimosa which closed its leaves at the brush of a hand. A dwarf pomegranate tree with green fruit. Sellers shouted prices at me until I found myself with a companion: an asparagus fern. Fern and I followed the maze until it lead us to a dark, tight, and noisy corridor stacked floor to plastic tarp with cages. If I knew as much about birds as I do about plants, I still couldn't do justice to the variety of creatures I saw in the space of a few meters.

But it was not only birds. Somehow I found myself staring at an open-top tank full of dwarf hamsters each the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. I lowered my hand inside and touched the head of one hamster with the tip of my fingernail. Looking up, I saw rabbits of every shape and size. Including a white rabbit the size of a Maine Coon.

Down Puppy Alley, I rounded Turtle Corner and Cicada Square on my way to Goldfish Avenue. And then a startling sight caught my eye: an actual shop building, very small of course, but with a roof and closed glass doors. Was I still inside the courtyard? I have no idea. Outside this shop was a brochure stand and on that brochure was something that really caught my eye: Totoro!



You all know what I'm talking about, right?

And underneath that Totoro was a photograph of some sort of furry animal which looked remarkably similar. The name of this store is the Suzhou Totoro Store. I am not kidding.

Of course I went inside. Don't try to tell my you wouldn't. I suppose a chinchilla is basically a real-life Totoro. One of them was even sitting inside of a chinchilla-shaped container. Now that I have a chance to check, the real Chinese name for chinchilla is mao si shu, which I guess means "silky-fur mouse." But the owners of that shop were thorough in their literature, which assured me that "Totoros are well-behaved" and "Totoros are clean pets."

I didn't buy one, despite how fat and round and magical they seemed.