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Chinese Four Tigers Market in Budapest

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Chinese Four Tigers Market in Budapest

“I want moon cakes!” exclaimed Kaitie from the Loft Hostel. “I want moon cakes!”

When Kaitie says that she wants something, she means it. A trip to Chinatown was in due order.

I have lived and traveled in China for a long time, but I cannot say that I had any idea what in the world a moon cake was. Kaitie told me that they were from the Middle Kingdom, so I pooched up my Asiatic authority and stoutly pretend to know what she was talking about. She then invited me to put my expertise to use and join her on a mission to the Chinese Four Tigers market in the eighth district of Budapest. I, of course, could not decline such an invitation, and at the word “Chinese” and my head automatically entered into a fit of frantic nods and I probably even jumped up and down in excitement. Simply put, I am longing for China and anything Chinese here in landlocked Europe.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Budapest, Hungary- July 29, 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos
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The simple leafing through a National Geographic China Special Issue has sent me into a mania for China that nearly shipped me off for the far side of the globe a few days ago. I love that country, and it is my favorite place on earth. Any exposure to anything Chinese makes me frantic with deep feelings of Romance. So I gathered up my tea thermos, put on my boots, and ran out the door bound for Budapest’s Chinatown.

Photo of the entrance of the Chinese market in Budapest, Hungary. Photographs and cameras were highly prohibited, but I took some anyway, and only had one minor altercation.

This mission for moon cakes included Kaitie, her boyfriend Cliff, Samoan – a tall, model-looking girl from Perth who is the younger sister of some famous Australian actress – and myself. We went out into the streets and jumped into a crowded city bus and rode out to the Chinese/ Turkish district of Budapest. We grew excited when the bus route began to leave the huge stone buildings of Old Budapest behind for the shanties and slums that make up the market grounds of the Asian district.

The Chinese market was proportionately sized to the country that is its namesake: It was huge. The market stretched for over a mile on both sides of a road and stretched away from it at least another quarter on each side. Within the market were, yes, Chinese people. I feel oddly at home in large groups of Chinese. I tried to quickly assemble and rekindle my knowledge of Mandarin.

I speak Chinese decently. I studied in Hangzhou at Zhejiang University for two semesters and for another semester with a private tutor in India. But I learned to really speak the language while hitchhiking across China from Mongolia with Loren Everly in the summer of 2007.

Chinese people playing cards in Budapest’s Chinatown.

As our group approached the first little Chinese food market in search of moon cakes I did not assume that Mandarin – or Putonghua– would be understood by the girl behind the counter. Most Chinese in Chinatowns across the world either speak Cantonese, Hakka, or have forgotten Chinese all together and just speak the native tongue of the region they immigrated to. My Mandarin has never gotten me too far in Chinatown before.

When Kaitie began trying to explain to the counter girl what she wanted, I intentionally hung back to avoid jumping into a potentially embarrassing situation. I did not want to speak what sounded like Chinese in front of my friends and not be understood. So I let Kaitie try first with English. But the Chinese girl gave her a little attitude and I became slightly annoyed. More than any other people in the world, I refuse to be disrespected by the Chinese. So I jumped in and asked the girl if she spoke Mandarin. She understood my Chinese and said that she did. In my rashness, I had committed myself to explaining something that I had no clue of in a language that I have not spoken in over a year. I did not know what a moon cake was or what they even looked like, so I asked her if she had anything that was sweet, sort of like bread, and made from lotus seeds – which were the attributes that I guessed that a moon cake should have. She looked at me like I was nuts. I felt nuts, and added to this feeling by pulling up my shirt and showing the girl the big tattoo of a lotus flower that spans across my stomach. I then asked her if she had bread from the seed of this flower, while pointing at my exposed belly.

She thought that I was really nuts now.

So I gave up my assault and asked her if she knew at all what I was talking about.

Bu Zhidao,” she said while looking at me a little sideways.

I gave up and said goodbye to the girl as we went to look for another store. She just laughed at me and returned my zaijian politely.

Group of Chinese men at the Four Tigers market in Budapest.

The next store had a nice looking Chinese girl behind the counter, and we fell into an affable conversation. At Kaitie’s prompting I again tried to explain what I thought a moon cake was. The girl understood Mandarin as well, and said that she did not have what we were looking for. I then flaunted my Chinese a little more as we told each other where we were from and that I had traveled and studied in China.

I was in my glory.

Budapest’s Chinese market.

Chinese underwear for sale with a Chinese man looking at them.

Kaitie then seem to grow disheartened at our fruitless search for moon cake, and we all just walked around the market looking over the illegally imported Chinese goods being sold by illegally imported Chinese women. Knockoff jeans hung next to knockoff sunglass which sat next to knockoff watches, and the vendor women wore knockoff scowls. I cannot say that tourists are made to feel welcome here. But plastic junk abounded everywhere, which Kaitie and Samoan shamelessly delighted in, while I shamelessly delighted in surprising shop owners with my unexpected linguistic knowledge.

Samoan – from Perth – posing for glamour shots in Chinatown.

I was surprised that so many of these Chinese traders were speaking Mandarin. They were straight out of the north of China, and spoke a standard Mandarin that was crystal clear and free from dialect. I haggled for cheaper prices just to speak Chinese, and they became annoyed with me.

I was in my glory.

Now that I am back in Anglo-Budapest, my mind is ever more in the clouds of Asia and China. I smile because I have an end of the rainbow to travel to. I smile because I know that I can go to “China” in any country of the world.

Links to previous travelogue entries:
The Lying Swede Portrait of a Misanthrope
Travel Cheap with Hobohideout.com
Loft Hostel in Budapest

Chinese Four Tigers Market in Budapest
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Filed under: China, Eastern Europe, Europe, Hungary

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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