Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shopping at the "Supermarket"

Supermarket -- You really dont know the meaning of the word, unless you’ve been to China.... or Ikea.

The supermarket is a multi-leveled affair here in Zhengzhou (and I believe the other cities of China). No... it is not a grocery store. It is Sears + Ikea + the grocery store, and several other little shops that are set up in the area. There are usually at least three stories to these Supermarkets... and there isnt really a “the” supermarket... you certainly have a selection to choose from. However, they all pretty much sell the same things... which is everything (minus those wonderful office organizer things that you see in N.A. ... I have been somewhat disappointed with the selection on desk organizing paraphernalia).

Each of these levels is connected by a kind of escalator that looks more like an elevated conveyer belt. You ride these up to the next level, and the employees set huge columns of carts on the belts. Keep in mind that there are probably 20+ carts in these columns... and they are going... up. They ought to roll back and crush the poor folk, if not just make them feel like Sisyphus... forever pushing their boulder up a hill. however, somehow the wheels on these carts like up with the slats of these conveyer belts, and they roll not! Its mind blowing to watch... but talk about tourist/foreigner moments when you do -- gawking open mouth and all.

Wal*mart is in China. Its not what you think it is. Aside from the yellow smiley faces on things that are on sale, it looks just like every other Chinese supermarket. There was even a really cool little tea shop at the entrance. I went over to look at it, and the girls in the shop summoned me in, to sit down at the tea table and try tea with them. YAY. I have tried to buy tea before, and I miserably failed.

These girls were really nice though, and super accommodating. The spoke a tiny bit of English, and my comprehension of mandarin has grown enough, that we could bridge the gap. Their tea table was awesome! She had all sorts of utensils, and little teapots, and gaiwan (teabowls). They had the tea cups in hot water like your supposed to, and even these little stone statues of a fish, some sort of guardian dog or something and a bullfrog. When she was making tea, the first round is thrown to the dogs... litterally. it was so cool, because the dogs start steaming, and over time build up the tea-y goodness I imagine.

And all of this in a Wal*mart!

Fortunately a lot of the supermarket have random bits of English all over the place to help guide you along, but you have to get creative after that. So if I am buying soy sauce lets say: I look for one that has english on it, memorize the character, and then compare which ones have the same character and get discriminating from there on. Its a great system.

Produce all has to be weighed before you get to the checkout. anything that even resembles bulk... two apples, one large carrot, must be weighed at the weigh station. It is given a price and a bar code, and then you can proceed to the checkout. Every supermarket I have seen has a bulk section next to the produce. They sell all sorts of strange meats, mostly cooked - some raw. There are live fish in tanks you can get, and a whole array of frozen things if you want to do hot-pot yourself.

Milk comes in a little bag, and there are all sorts of wonderful and interesting types of yoghurt, from normal things like pineapple and passionfruit, to exciting things like barley and mung beans (these are definitely growing on me.)

Being limited of kitchen however, I do not cook much these days... well... at all. Its a little sad, but it will make me appreciate my own kitchen, that day that I actually have one -- no matter the size. A real kitchen sure would beat a hot-plate in a hallway... any day.

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