I had only met Arnold a few times, but I felt he was as familiar as the soy cafe au lait I held in my hands. He and I bonded over China one evening at the gym, and pretty soon we went from lifting weights to lifting coffee cups over at the Starbucks just down the street from me. I liked Arnold because he was this huge espresso shot of an African-American, the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to say — or ask — anything.
“Are you Jewish?” he asked me, after I sat down.
“No, I’m not, actually. I was raised Catholic. Why do you ask?”
“Because you have a Chinese husband. You usually see Jewish women married to Chinese men.”
“Really? How would you know?”
I was so stunned, I still I can’t remember what he said. Maybe it was because he had lived in this city (which I like to think of as Jewish as Woody Allen) his whole life. Or maybe he heard it growing up.
But later, when I left Starbucks, I wondered if I really was out of the mainstream, as a shiksa with a Chinese husband, Was it true? Were Jewish women more likely to marry Chinese men?
Just outside of the center of Kaifeng, there’s an unusual neighborhood of old one-story, brick courtyard homes, trees and labyrinthine streets that just barely fit the taxi we rode in that afternoon. It’s a marvel, because most of these neighborhoods have been consumed by the high-rise reality of China’s real estate. Even my friend from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province that sits just one hour East of Kaifeng, lamented the loss of his own boyhood courtyard home, surrounded by trees — just like the ones we pass by.
Foreign women are not available at the Kaifeng Night Market — even if there’s a demand.
“Wow, you have a foreign girl — you’re really sharp!” The almond tea vendors, wearing white coats and kufi — the traditional Muslim caps for men — reveled in the fact that my Chinese husband, John, had a foreign wife. But their revelry was more than just a casual curiosity.
“I’d like a foreign wife,” one of the vendors declared in a rough Henan accent. “How do you get one?”
You don’t get one at the Kaifeng Night Market.
But you will find so much more, from fantastic xiaochi (小吃), which means
snacks), to quirky people (including the aforementioned foreign-babe obsessed vendors) and a uniquely boisterous atmosphere. The Kaifeng Night Market is a living relic, a reminder of the forte volume and flavorful delicacies of night markets that once blanketed the country, but are now disappearing because of city beautification or cleanup projects. (Interestingly, my friend Frank G, who works as a judge in Kaifeng, said that the city cannot shut the market down, because they’re afraid the sellers would protest.) But, most of all, it is relaxing, fun and leaves you with none of the touristy aftertaste associated with China’s major attractions.
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