I can see after our trip to the grocery store today that much of my education about Chinese culture and people will come from those aisles. I have learned a few things to help me out when it is just the kids and I going to the store. First, let them turn their minds to mush playing their iPods while I shop. They are sitting quietly in the cart, and I’m not worried about losing them among the sea of people. This gives me more time to stare blankly at the Chinese characters on the food packages. Second, I bought a backpack. This allows me to put their jackets in it while we are in the store, and some of the heavier items (like our Dynasty white GRAPE wine, can I hear a WOOT!) in it for the walk home.
At the store today, it was a tossup as to who got more stares, the kids or the kids’ iPods. I felt like such a privileged American with my TWO children, both with expensive toys. But, again, it was worth it for my peace of mind while I shopped. Those things are seriously better than Benedryl when it comes to chilling out my bundles of energy.
I’ve mentioned the attention Braedyn and Emily get from the locals, but I must spend a little more time explaining just how much and how often this attention gets directed their way. I feel like Angelina Jolie walking with her kids down a New York City street. OK, without the full lips. Or Brad Pitt. Or the commanding jaw line. Seriously though, I must be experiencing a little bit of what those stars feel like walking around. I bought ice cream for the kids yesterday and a group of people came in, sat down next to us and watched them eat, all the while chatting and smiling our way. The thing is, they didn’t order anything! The little blonde white kids were the attraction! Then today in the store, a woman said “hi” to us in English, followed by “how old?” as she pointed to the kids. Oh, did I ever want to stick her in my pocket to be my personal food translator, but instead we chatted through our limited shared vocabulary. Then she asked if she could have her pictures taken with Braedyn and Emily. Since she explained how to cook the rolls I was staring blankly at in the freezer section, I figured it was the least I could do. It’s a good thing we are only going to be here three months; any longer than that and this star status might go to their heads.
Napkins? Paper towels? These are words I need to learn in Chinese because I have scoured the aisles in the super market THREE times, spending extra time near the Kleenex and toilet paper, and I can NOT find them. We’ve noticed in restaurants, they will give one or two napkins even though there will be five or six of us. In America, the waiters see children, and they bring over a palette of them. The fact that I can’t find them in the store is even more puzzling than this newfangled Chinese math. Are we just messy Americans? Is it that it is considered wasteful?
The last few times I’ve gone to the market, I get home and realize I am missing something that I know I had in my cart. Where are my bananas? I even remember putting them on the conveyor belt. I bag my own groceries, so I figured I must have left them on the counter. Today I spent more time in the fruits and vegetables area. I have been a little nervous about buying any because of the safety issues with fresh foods, but as I dig my heels into the culture more and more, I figured I have to at least give the foods I can peel a shot. I found a beautiful avocado (hooray for good fats!), an enormous apple wrapped in a special bubble wrap to keep it from bruising, and several bananas. While checking out at the store, I kept a watchful eye on my precious fruits, making sure I didn’t leave them on the counter. Only this time they didn’t make it past the checker. She left them on the conveyor and gave me the universal no movement with her hands. Then she pointed to a sticker on a set of knives I bought (because I was tired of trying to cut cheese with a plastic knife).
Ding! <—the sound of the light bulb going off over my head.
Doh! Fruits and vegetables work the same way as the rice did for me the last time! You must have a worker weigh them and price them, or else? No apples for you! Braedyn was very sad about not getting his bubble wrapped apple, but I promised him I understood now and would be able to get them next time. Honestly, I was equally disappointed about not getting that perfectly ripe avocado.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Jacob skyping me when I got back from the market. Our conversation went like this:
Me: We just got back from the market!
Jacob: What did you get?
Me: Food for dinner.
Jacob: What are you having?
Me: Ham!... I think.