Thursday, March 1, 2012


I know I should begin this blog with lofty reflections on China today compared with when I first visited at the end 1994, and maybe I will at some point. For now, I just want to talk about my experience with the local Chinese supermarket, which, as a mother buying food and clothes for a family of five, is a major (possibly THE major) point of contact for me with the outside world (so much for women's liberation)

* Profound observation number one. The Chinese really do not like cheese. There is no cheese in this supermarket, unless you include a few plastic slices in a packet, which go by the name of Milkana, propped somewhere by the yoghurt, and even these are exceedingly few in quantity and somewhat pushed to the back. For all the talk about China's development, in the cheese-making arena, this is definitely a step back from 1995. In those days, there was a joint venture selling mozzarella and taleggio from a kiosk in Sanlitun, one of Beijing's embassy districts. The taleggio was so delicious I ate it virtually every day (and I'm quite picky about cheese). I am told they are no more. I did read an article about a Dutchman making Gouda locally. I would love to meet him, because I'm not going to pay fancy imported prices to get my fix of cheese.

* I got back my electric blanket!  So I am riding a bicycle around, which is far too small for me, as I guess Dutch people are still taller than Chinese people, on average. The advantage is that it's easy to put my feet on the ground. I am also wearing a helmet, which I never have before, as helmet-wearing seems to be de rigueur these days. I also have to wear gloves thanks to the biting cold (it's snowing today). The result is that when I leave the supermarket, I have a lot of stuff, and some might say, am even a bit all over the place, dropping things on the ground, holding up the checkout queue because I am so slow etc. When I got home last night, I found that the most expensive item I had bought, a Rmb 100 electric blanket, was not amongst my purchases. I bought it for my mother-in-law Tessa, who is coming to visit in less than a week and is -- very rightly -- concerned about the cold in our courtyard house. Well, I thought, it's less than 20 bucks down the drain, annoying, but not a big deal. The thought crossed my mind that maybe someone had stolen it, but it seemed more likely that I had just dropped it. So today, when I was back at the supermarket, I couldn't help but show them my receipt and ask if they'd seen my blanket. They had it right there, stored away, with a little note on it. They said, "You had so much stuff, you left it here." And that was that. One of those things that restores one's faith in humanity.

* No cereal. I really couldn't see any at the local supermarket, but perhaps I didn't look hard enough. It's sort of a relief. I find American-style cereal a depressing variety of food, even though hubbie and the kids love it, so I always have to buy boxes of the stuff.

* It took me a week to find the salt. Yes, really. I bought MSG first time around, by mistake, because it said "China Salt" on it. It's only when I got home that I checked the small print.

* There are a lot of staff. Hold off on the comments about rising labour costs in China, we're really not there yet. There are just too many people around doing minor tasks (dusting plants etc.) to make this a credible argument.

* In China it’s OK to call someone fat. I found this out as I was browsing some puffy jackets in the department store just above the supermarket (in China, supermarkets tend to be in basements, for some reason, and there are often offices or department stores above). I was being very attentively attended to, when a Chinese woman came in and asked if they had any jackets for fat people as she was a bit fat (she pointed to her waist). I wouldn’t have called her fat myself, but anyway. The shop assistant’s response: “ No, we don’t have jackets for fat people, sorry.” And that was that. 

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