Couldn’t help it.
J-Lo circa 2002.
I think of that song every time I visit C-Block Market, the place for one-stop shopping in my ‘hood.
It’s not much to look at. Quite disgusting, actually. Blobs of sputum dot the path. Dingy concrete buildings with uninviting storefronts. Seedy looking youths at the liquor store’s take-away window. Bored men loitering by their motorbikes.
Yet, almost every time I visit this place, I find something new, encounter a friendly face and/or have an “only in Delhi” experience.
Top 10 places in C-Block Market and why I love them:
#10 – Liquor Store – You can’t swing a dead cat in Michigan without hitting a “Party Store” replete with beer kegs, 93 types of vodka, mixers galore and chipper clerks with helpful tips. I’m sad to report that is not the case in my ‘hood. If you get invited to a dinner party, or say, plan to watch 7 episodes in a row of Modern Family on Hulu, you will not easily find a place to meet your alcoholic beverage needs. This shop is not ideal. It’s staffed by surly men who clearly have strong feelings about women shopping for booze. There’s no air conditioning, so the wine is kept tepid at best and near boiling at worst. And unlike every other shop in this market, they don’t deliver. But beggars can’t be choosers.
#9 – The Pet Food Shop – Tony and I have been thinking about expanding our family. The topic comes up a lot, but we just can’t commit. We still miss Ketta, our psychotic yet loveable cat, who died about 10 years ago. Now a friend’s cat is pregnant, and it looks like a kitten or two may be in the cards. So it’s nice to know this friendly little shop sells cat food, kitty litter and toys.
#8 – The Book Palace – No bigger than a walk-in closet, this shop stocks stacks of English-language bestsellers and classics. I recently read Sweet Tooth by Ian McKewan on my Kindle and wanted an actual BOOK to contribute to my lending library/book club. The shopkeeper said he didn’t have it in stock, but he promised to find it. The next day, he delivered it to my house!
#7 – Batra Pharmacy – One hundred 5mg pills of Ambien for $5. Need I say more?
#6 – Sheviks Toys – When I need a birthday, Christmas or Diwali present for the little ones in my life, I head straight to this shop. From Legos to Bedazzlers, from The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Harry Potter, they have it all. Oh, and there’s a drycleaner in the back. Recently, I popped in to the toy store with my friend, Nancy, who tricked me into picking a belated birthday present for myself, one of the coolest presents EVER: Indian Barbie. Isn’t she beautiful?!
#5 – Electrician – Tucked in a side alley, the electrician sits in a tiny nook, leaning on his windowsill. All his wares lie within reach of his wobbly chair. One time, a power surge burned out one of our heavy-duty power strips, which caught on fire and melted. Seeking a replacement, I took it to the electrician and said, “I want a new one just like this.” He picked it up, studied it, set it down and said, “No new. I can fix.” I laughed, “It’s MELTED.” But no, he insisted and told me to come back in 15 minutes. I did, and sure enough, he fixed it.
#4 – Flower Vendors – You have to get here early or the poor flowers wilt in Delhi’s heat. A huge bouquet that takes two hands to carry will run you about 400 Rupees, or $8.
#3 – Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant – Lotus Stem Honey Chilly Crispy Spinach appetizer. Yum! Plus, it triggers nostalgia for our Shanghai years with menu items like “Troublesome Chicken” and “Pork Globules.”
#2 – Sidewalk Tailor – You know how you hold on to clothes that need to be mended, no longer fit or look outdated? I had a whole stash of such things in the back of a closet until last weekend. I finally tossed them all in a bag and headed over to a tailor’s shop recommended by my friend, Mary Catherine. By “tailor,” she clearly meant “guy who sits at a sewing machine on the sidewalk,” and by “shop,” she obviously meant “not a shop.” So the guy went right to work while I stood there, taking in a hem here, replacing overstretched elastic there, cutting a few inches off the bottom of a dress. Then I posed the big challenge. I had bought a cute halter-top maxi dress for our upcoming beach vacation, but the back was too low-cut for a bra. “Can you insert some bra cups?” I asked. “Can do,” he responded, digging through a cardboard box of notions. Lace, elastic, buttons… no bra cups. “Other shop have,” he said. “Finish tomorrow.” Then he nervously spread the halter top over the palm of his hand and cautiously checked out my chest. “Oh, do you want me to try it on?” I asked. He nodded. I held the dress up to me and tied the halter around my neck, pulling the top taut over my T-shirt. This was attracting an audience. Next thing I knew, in front of God and all creation, he reached over and chalked my nipples. Had to be done, I know. And to be honest, it didn’t even seem that weird. Have I been in Asia too long? (Update: The bra cups – and the other alterations – worked out perfectly, all for the shocking price of $6!) Today I took Tony to the tailor to get sleeves cut off one of his dress shirts – done in 15 minutes for $2.
#1 – Pal Superstore – One word: cheese. And lots of it. All different kinds. About a fourth the size of a 7-11 in the States, this “superstore” is crammed full of goodies to meet our Western cravings. In addition to the cheese smorgasbord, it sells everything from cookies to cranberry juice, Pop Tarts to Perrier, Tostitos to toiletries. The other day, I stopped by to get some Clean and Clear Foaming Face Wash. The clerk found one remaining bottle, hidden behind 17 other brands of face wash. He dug it out and discovered the top had flipped open. He tried to snap it closed. No luck. He smacked it against the wall, but the top popped open again. This got the attention of two other men who may or may not actually work there. One grabbed the bottle, unscrewed the top and made a big show of blowing on it. When that didn’t work, the other guy snatched the bottle and dramatically pressed on the top with both thumbs to no avail. Finally, he gestured to me as though asking, “Shall I ring it up then?” Ummm… I’ll say no to six dirty hands and some spittle on my face wash, thank you very much. But I will take this cheese.
So, sing it with me, J-Lo fans:
Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got
I’m still, I’m still Shazza* from the block
Used to have a little, now I have a lot
No matter where I go, I know where I came from.
* Shazza is my nickname bestowed by BFFs in Shanghai. Sounds way more hip than “Sharon from the block,” don’tcha think?