There's a neighborhood that surrounds the bakery where we like to get mala cookies. The cookies are fantastic but the neighborhood is the real find. It's a place where naps are being taken and turtles are being fed.
And if you want to talk to people, you can stick your nose into their lives and they will warmly accommodate the intrusion. To the lady feeding a turtle with chopsticks you can say, "I didn't know turtles like to eat rice," and she will say, "Yes, my turtle likes it very much," and continue on with the meal.
If you ask the two women preparing bitter melons about how to cook the melons they've laid out across the incense sticks, one of the ladies will tell you that bitter melon should be cooked simply, with very little oil, and that you shouldn't eat the seeds. She will then use a large hooked knife to scrape seeds out of the melon she's holding in her hand, dropping them onto the pile next to her chair.
The lady selling mahjhong sets will eventually turn around and carefully observe the conversation you are having in the street with a different woman who stopped to chat about the age of your son. The mahjhong lady will smile and her dog will pant and then they will both turn back to watching the sidewalk when you're done.
And the man who is standing on a bench stirring a giant vat of oil will confirm, when you ask through the open window, that "yes" he is preparing the oil for the hot pot restaurant. And when you stick your head back inside to ask if it tastes good he'll again say "yes" as his colleagues laugh in the corner.
After all of this it's easy to forget that you came here to buy cookies. You start thinking you've swung by to see old friends instead.