Bingzi Walla

Bingzi_walla_1 Forgive me for mixing my languages.  Bingzi is a Chinese word for flat bread. Walla is Urdu for "man," as in someone who does something or sells something.  When I was growing up in Pakistan, there were all kinds of "wallas" in our life:  the fish walla, the meat walla, the vegetable walla, the fruit walla–all who either sold their goods in the market, or in some cases brought their wares directly to our homes.  I’ve always felt that English was missing something without a simliar word to "walla."  Maybe it’s because our society is now so geared towards everything being mass produced and mass distributed.  There was a time when we had a milk man, but not anymore. 

Anyway, Chinese doesn’t really have a great word either.  Just put the word "seller" onto what is being sold, and you’ve got it.  Fruit seller, meat seller.  But we have to be careful here, because for some unfathomable reason, the words for buy and sell in Chinese are homonyms.  Now if you can’t remember from 8th grade grammar class what a homonym is, I’ll tell you.  Homonyms are two words that sound the same, but have different meanings.  (meet/meat, red/read, for example).  The word for sell is mai, and the word for buy is mai, the only difference being in the tone used to pronounce the word.  But I digress…

We foreigners tend to put "lady" or "man" when we talk about the people we buy from.  Everyone, it seems, has their favorite "fruit lady," or "egg lady," or "yoghurt lady."

Ok, so what does this all have to do with the bingzi walla?  Well, I like the word "walla" so am using it to describe this man who runs his little business about 50 yards down the alley from the apartment complex where I live.  He and his wife are there everyday, with their rigged up oven to sell Henan-style "bingzi" to the migrant workers (mostly from Henan) who live in the nearby village.  The other day I stopped and bought a couple of bingzi from him.  It immediately took me back 20 years to when I first came to China and worked in Henan.  Those bingzi were my favorite discovery because they reminded me of the naan I’d enjoyed growing up in Pakistan.  So you see, it was only natural that I would refer to this man as the bingzi walla.

Now I like to stop at his stall on my way home and pick up a bingzi or two, take them home, and slather them with peanut butter!  Yum!

Note:  For those of you new to this site, please go to for entries prior to August 31, 2005, when I got stuck behind the Great Firewall of China!