Dusty street carts bustled along the sidewalk, passing various clothing and grocery vendors who lined the streets with umbrellas and blankets covered with fruits, vegetables and trinkets. Lao ye (Grandpa) wheeled his rusted bicycle to carry the groceries that Lao lao (Grandma) had haggled down to the best price. The first time I accompanied my grandparents to buy groceries, the antiquated process fascinated and charmed me. Reports that China was modernizing at an incredible rate were true, as indicated by the grandiose convenience store just a five-minute’s drive away. However, a grocery trip to the nearest supermarket proved too wearisome for my grandparents, who lacked a car and the knowledge of driving one. Judging by the popularity of the local morning market set up on a few small streets, others felt this way as well. Evidently, the dirt-covered side streets attracted the older generation; I was undeniably the only person on the street below the age of forty.
These minute details of life contrast with the new parts of China that sprouted since my leave. I recalled that when I came to Linyi four years ago, the traffic came from blue taxicabs and bike rickshaws. Since then, more cars populated the city, resulting in a continual cacophony of honking and wary pedestrians, reminiscent of New York City. I learned to use caution quickly, mostly because on my second day in Linyi, I was run over by a cyclist, a busy woman who proceeded to scold me in furious Mandarin. My uncle was moving into a developing part of town, where rows of sleek new apartments rose to twelve-story heights and KFC and McDonald restaurants were increasingly common sights. Yet, my family had not changed at all; the same faces, the same hair—although a little less of it, the same habits and the same large, boisterous multigenerational dinners that I had missed out on back in America where only my immediate family was present.
China was modernizing, but the contrasts showed how little had truly changed. While Linyi grew and some people indulged in luxury cars, others followed their ritual of street grocery markets and biked their way across town. On my trip to China, although the tourist attractions thrilled me, my most pronounced memories will be of the busy morning street markets and the rowdy nightly street fairs that characterize the traditional China that I recall from childhood.