Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chinatown in Windhoek

Wi11bed0ne called me at 7:30 on Saturday morning, informing me that she was going to be at my house in a few minutes to take me to Chinatown. Because the shops in Windhoek are generally only open when I'm at work, and close at noon on Saturdays, and aren't open at all on Sundays, this means that I generally have to get up early on Saturday mornings to do my shopping, rather than sleeping in.

Chinatown is located in Windhoek's Northern Industrial Area, not too far from Katutura, across the street from the Solid Waste Management Division for some reason. You have to walk through giant steel gates, like everything else in Windhoek, and for a moment you might wonder if you're going into some sort of industrial factory or something. Windhoek's Chinatown is a bit different from the Chinatowns I've been used to in other countries. It's not, for the most part, actually an area of the city where all the Chinese live and do their business with each other, giving me the chance to blend in for once in Africa. It's basically a giant warehouse of small shops where the Chinese store owners sell everything (seriously, everything) to a largely black African and tourist clientele. Picture a small version of Toronto's Pacific Mall, only in a concrete industrial warehouse instead of a glass mall, and without the Asian customers.

traditional Asian pose

Even though I still stuck out as the only Asian customer around, it was pretty fun weaving in and out of all the shops, checking out the amazing bargains. A lot of the stores sold the same stuff, but once in a while you'd find something different and unique, so it felt like a treasure hunt. The main thing that struck me, not so surprisingly, was how cheap everything was. If I could manage to get up early enough every Saturday morning, I should just buy everything here, because you can pretty much buy everything here for such a ridiculously low bargain, I didn't feel a need to haggle. I bought a backpack to replace the one that got stolen for five dollars. I plan to come back to buy a camping tent that I saw for less then $20. I did stop myself before buying a no-name digital camera for $40 though.

my new backpack

As per Chinese tradition, there were, of course, tons of designer name knock-offs and fake products, including an "iPade" and a "Funstation" video game console.

A lot of people, including the Chinese shopowners, still didn't know what to make of me, a Westernized tourist of Asian descent. Besides having the usual Namibians gawking at me, some of the storeowners seem confused when I spoke to them in English - I keep forgetting to speak slower. Many of them concluded that I must be Japanese, which, incidentally, is the same assumption that Korean shopowners made when I was in Korea.

in reality, I'm just special

My happiest discovery was the Hong Kong restaurant. Not only was it a new Chinese restaurant to try out, but it also had the largest Asian grocery store I've found so far in Windhoek. Not that there are a lot. Not that it was very big. But this matters to me because it is the one place where they sell my favourite 농심 brand of spicy Korean ramen noodles, 신라면. YAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

this really, really, really helps me deal with the fact that I have not had proper Korean food since last year and will not taste my family's cooking until late March. Life is freaking fantastic now.