Monday, September 21, 2009

Today I spent $36 on orange juice

I bet you never thought words like that could be uttered but when you live a life in a foreign land, where everything is so foreign, you rely on little things to keep you grounded in your own world. Well, they can at least make you think you’re grounded, even if you’re really not.

On last week’s shopping expedition I was really sorry to discover that the store was completely out of my favorite morning beverage, blood orange juice. I’d discovered it many months ago and being a fan of the actual fruit, I became an instant devotee to the rendered version. Knowing that I would be starting my day with a glass of that glorious blood-colored nectar has given me the energy to haul my carcass out of bed on more than one occasion. I came to rely on its tart “hello” as my ticket to happiness, at least until I went outside and got in the car. And so you can imagine how low I felt when not only was it absent from its place on the shelf, but its place was filled with something else. I moped off to find an alternative but juice buying in China is tough because almost 100% of the products offered are in fact “juice drink beverage product” - loaded with sugar and watered down to the consistency of Kool-Aid. I settled for a gallon of the store brand grape juice that promised to be 100% juice, but upon trying it suggested a call for more truth in advertising.

So today I went off to the store in search of some other goods and discovered to my sheer delight that my beloved juice was back on the shelves. I won’t say that I danced a dance of pure joy, because I didn’t – that would almost certainly get my shopper’s card revoked along with my resident alien housing permit. But I did grab four half-gallons and put them in the cart stopping only for 30 seconds to decide whether that was enough. I added two more, leaving the shelf conspicuously under-stocked in case the inventory manager happened to walk by. 43 kuai per half-gallon or around $6 but you know what, I really don’t care.

This small success set me on an expat product buying spree, so much so that I purposely avoided anything with Chinese characters on the label. Tyrolean Speck Ham, a couple of jars of Pesto, “French Boiled Ham”, a couple of cans of green beans, pepper jack cheese, boneless chicken breasts, some German cookies, Hormel Canadian Bacon and Thai coconut milk. In short a veritable United Nations of foodstuffs, and a pre-1971 UN at that, before the People’s Republic of China re-joined.

And so in the spirit of the 61st anniversary of the founding of the UN, being celebrated this week in New York, I sat down tonight to an international fare – Pellegrino Italian Mineral Water, Green Giant French Style Green Beans and through the agency of my faithful driver, Jiang, four nice Sichuan rabbit’s legs. Topping that off with a couple of Austrian chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, I’m sealing the deal later with an Iced Americano at Starbucks. Decaf, of course.

As I left my apartment tonight I took a look at my camera sitting on my desk. I’d pulled the memory card out and stuck it in my computer, planning to edit photos while I enjoyed my cup of coffee. I decided to leave the camera behind as it was night time and the photo ops are generally few and far between it being dark and all.

When I got down to the street I noticed something odd – every intersection was crawling with policemen. I figured they were setting up a sobriety checkpoint – something new to Dalian – and I went on my way. As I got closer to the main crossroads there were more and more police and this bunch was unwinding thick white rope from a wooden spool and stretching long lengths of it down the street. Crowd control? For what? Well I snapped to it right about there – on the way to the store today the traffic on the far side of the expressway was snarled up behind a series of motorized parade floats. I asked Jiang what they were and he explained that they were from a parade in Dalian that was held yesterday. I asked where they were going and he told me Kai Fa Qu which made complete sense since that’s where they were headed. For what reason though he did not say.

When I got to the coffee shop I asked my favorite barista what was going on and he stumbled a bit trying to come up with the right words. He said something about clothing and models and I figured it out – Dalian International Fashion Festival was coming out here to the suburbs. According to what little I could find on the web, more than 40 designers from Paris, Milan and London converge annually on our gritty little seaport city for a week of shows, drama, fashion and glitzy models.

The parade showed up about an hour later, perhaps 20 vehicles decorated in all kinds of oddball motifs brightly lit and pumping techno music. From what I could tell they seemed to be sponsored by stores and clothing manufacturers given that some of them sported photographs of giant industrial sewing machines. There was a Phoenix, a Poseidon, a Snowman and others too strange and numerous to describe. Each was crafted from brightly covered fabrics stretched over wire armatures. By now I was seriously regretting my lack of a camera. On each truck were the thinnest most waif-like western girls dancing and waving and spraying Silly String on the on-lookers. These girls whom I assume to be the models borrowed for a little publicity, were by far the skinniest humans I have ever seen. They were so frail it was hard to tell how old they were,but I assume they were of a legal age because I can’t imagine any responsible parent allowing their 12 year olds to come to China to dress up like this and ride around on a decorated flatbed truck. There were elves and leprechauns and fish and birds and one Marie Antoinette. There was even an Uncle Sam in a sequined stars and stripe bikini. A truck load of snow queens featuring wings and a host of fairies. One track had a family of giant stuffed mice dressed like woodsmen. Just about every whimsical character you could think of. They were sincerely waving and making all kinds of eye contact and the Chinese men were frantically waving back thinking the girls had eyes only for them. I watched for a bit and walked home quickly thinking I could get a photo from my window but alas, I was too late and got to my apartment just as the trailing SWAT trucks went by. There no doubt to keep the wavers under control. Once past it was like it had been a dream, the only proof being the confetti that blanketed the dark streets. The crowds dispersed and the train of bright trucks disappeared down the road to Dalian.




No comments: