November 5th, 2010
Location: My bed
Today was my first real foray into a Chinese supermarket. I’ve been in and out of a few, but usually just to grab a coke or some juice. Today I actually attempted to shop. For those of you doing the math, yes, I’ve been here since late August and yes, I am just now going grocery shopping. No, I have not cooked a single thing since arriving in China – unless you count toast.
Up ‘til now, (and let’s be honest, probably until I learn to read Chinese or get really kitchen savvy) my diet has generally consisted of whatever the office staff orders me at lunch and what I order at Sherpas.com.cn – a courier service designed especially for those expats who cannot or just will not cook – or those scared to enter a Chinese supermarket. It’s a website made especially for me. It’s also utterly destroying my budget and my waistline.
And so, today after my Friday cleaning stint I tucked two shopping bags into my satchel and strolled down to my local grocery store.
The store itself is built into one of the buildings in the apartment complex. It is two levels, round, and features two escalators smack dab in the middle. It also features Cosco-sized oil – olive, ‘maize,’ bean something or other, and sunflower – all in bulk, boxes haphazardly strewn about the aisles, workers in blue smocks, and a pervasive, unidentifiable smell that always makes me slightly nauseas. Something about a place that sells food products and also makes me want to vomit doesn’t seem like such a good combination. Oh, this Chinese supermarket also features a lot of Chinese products – advertised in Chinese characters. I could list the number of Chinese characters that I know using only my ten fingers, and I’m not sure that I’d even need all of them. The only one that pertains to food is coffee.
Still, food is food and labels aren’t entirely important if you know food. Oh, except here’s the thing – I don’t really know food. I mean, I know that I enjoy eating it. But back home when I decided to cook, I mean really cook, not just whip up some eggs or pasta, I had to look up a recipe, go grocery shopping for those exact things, and then follow said recipe to the T. I tell people that I can’t really cook, but I can follow a recipe. People who can cook, really cook, don’t use measurements. They throw a little of this and a little of that and wah la!, goodness in a dish. Those people also know food. And spices. And vegetables. My knowledge of fruit and veg comes from my working days at Rossi Farms. Without those hours ringing up cilantro and carrots and 15 different varieties of potatoes all from sight (not a bar code in the old barn) I’d be totally lost in the produce section.
Now, take away all of the signs that identify what it is you’re buying and if you don’t know the difference between cumin and curry at the bulk bins, guess what? Screwed.
Somehow I still managed to load up my plastic cart with odds and ends and found the check-out. There was some kind-of blocker thing impeding my progress to the actual check-out, but the lady was motioning me forward so I just hopped over it. She then started talking to me in Chinese, to which I shook my head. She looked slightly exasperated and repeated herself. I shook my head again. She repeated herself. Again. This time I didn’t bother shaking my head, I just gave her my classic blank look. I’m getting really good at this look. Lady, I get that I’m in your country and you have every right to expect somebody shopping in a grocery store off the beaten path of tourist central to speak a modicum of Chinese. But guess what? I don’t. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Or maybe it’s moving to a country without knowing the language and attempting to go grocery shopping.
Cross your fingers and throw-up a prayer that the meat I bought is in fact ground beef. Please.