Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eggs, butter and black pepper sliced cheese product

I decided to do a couple of walking errands tonight after work. First, I had to go down the road to the HSBC ATM to get some cash. It’s the only machine I’ve found in Kai Fa Qu that will accept my card and so it’s sort of “cash central” for me. While I did take the time back in September to open a local account, I’ve treated that as emergency only and I still rely on this Hong Kong bank to access my funds back in the US.

It was a nice cold evening for a power walk – since I’ll be living down across the street from the bank and the gym (which conveniently sits next door) I thought I would make a big loop down to the money and then back to the other grocery store where I wanted to pick up a few more items. This urban, “shop as you need it” lifestyle I’ve adopted is actually growing on me.

After dropping off my work gear I grabbed a shopping bag, stuffed it in my messenger bag and went back outside. The sidewalks here on the main drag are pretty wide back towards the nicer, newer end of the street, wide enough for plenty of people and the car I found myself walking straight into about a block up the street in front of the Bank of China tower. I’ve seen cars on sidewalks here, and I’ve even been in a couple of taxis that availed themselves of this often faster lane, but this was a surprise as he was driving straight at me, making it clear that I should get out off the handicap access dip in the curb because that was his way to rejoin the street, the one where the cars are supposed to drive. I dodged to the side and stepped up the curb as he went down and angled across into the traffic. Ah well, just another one of those quaint little Chinese driver things you run into and that thought held until I looked up ahead and found a few more cars doing the same thing. I guess this is a regular thing, boyfriends and husbands picking up their girlfriends and wives getting off of work and coming out of the big bank. It was sort of like the little loop in front of hotels where taxis drive up and take you away, except this was a public sidewalk, for people. Dodging the traffic I kept going forward, finally stopping to watch the entry point – the cars come off a main road perpendicular to my path by way of an exit lane and halfway through that turn they drive up among the people. Thank goodness they had their headlights on.

Just beyond this little circus I turned right to cross the street figuring that since the crossing light was green and the ATM was on the other side, I might as well take advantage of the opportunity. While it generally makes little sense to use crosswalks here due to cars seeing them more as an inconvenience than a safe haven for walkers, I jogged across to the other side. Turning left to head back the way I was going I found myself sharing this crosswalk with yet another car, waiting patiently for the little green pedestrian light to clear his way. And once the light change came, he pulled out only to pass one more car heading back towards me. It was exceedingly odd, cars using the crosswalk to cross the street while their fellow cars waited at the stop light.

Retrieving my money, I went back down the road to the Trust Mart for some items I had neglected to pick up last night. Trust Mart was the first grocery store I used when I moved here, and it had sort of fallen out of favor with me as I came to like the New Mart across the street a bit better – it seemed to have more options and the shopping was easier. But for grins tonight I thought I’d head back to my roots, so to speak.

All the grocery stores in China are in the basements of unrelated buildings. Sometimes offices, sometimes malls, but never anything related to food shopping. Further confusing their access are the stalls that line the way in selling everything from eyeglasses to tea sets. Sometimes finding your way into the store is daunting enough to put you off shopping for good and the route into this one is particularly busy and crowded, but I just kept moving forward.

We’re about a week out from the start of Chinese New Year and so the already crowded aisles were further reduced by seasonal things like giant displays of 3 liter bottles of Coke, loose candy all in gold wrappers, wine, liquor and all the other accoutrement necessary for a festive New Year’s Eve. I kept to my purpose though and moved quickly around the aisles gathering the basics I wanted and hoping to find the little foreign food section I had seen on a previous visit. For whatever reason though, it kept eluding me and I was about to give up when I took a short cut through the very busy liquor section and stumbled straight into a cereal display. I was specifically looking for a cereal, and there they were, right before my eyes. The choices were not endless, a couple of chocolate puff products, a few Muesli choices and some Italian corn flakes, frosted and otherwise. I decided on some Molino Nicoli Cornflakes, tradisionali con solo 1% di grassi, ricchi di calcio and vitamente e ferro. How could I resist such temptation?

I call this little spot the Expat Section and it is stocked with all sorts of little western items. French’s Mustard, a number of pastas and many selections of European jams and jellies. It’s odd to see them by themselves, because the Chinese versions are stocked in the aisle with all the other processed foods that come in jars – peanut butter, jam, hot pepper flakes, mayonnaise, hot mustard, fish sauce, black bean and plum sauces. Shopping in that way is a bit strange for anyone who was raised looking for things among their ilk, not their packaging. I’ve walked right past something I was looking for when my brain registered “bean sauce” and so told me to keep moving. I grabbed a nice little jar of German cherry preserves and a box of Trink Schokolade – cocoa from the great Teutonic forests of the west, a favorite of woodsmen and garden trolls.

I checked out, ran into one of my co-workers trying to find his way into the store (see, I told you it was confusing) and went back up to the surface world, stopping for a second to say “hello” to his wife, abandoned for the moment in Pizza Hut.

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