When I first got to Shanghai walking into a grocery store overwhelmed me, the sights, the disorganization, the endless Chinese characters and odd food items none of which made sense to me. In the past few months, though, I have grown accustom to the Chinese CenturyMart less than a block from my apartment where I can get just about everything I need. I eat out most of the time anyways. Occasionally, I go to a different grocery store in my general area if I am looking for a slightly different variety or if I just happen to stumble upon one and want to pick something up.
My need for coffee, however, brings me away from the normal Chinese grocery stores as the coffee they sell is A) instant crap full of sugar B) instant crap that tastes like crap or C)very, very, rarely something ground that was probably roasted 10 years ago. Did I mention I’m a bit of a snob for my coffee? I had just finished the somewhat decent (and very cheap) bag of ground coffee I had picked up on my last trip to Ikea and needed to restock.
There is a grocery store near Jingan Temple (in the basement connected to the Jingan Temple subway stop actually) that I stumbled upon one day that has a wide selection of imported and specialty foods. A lot of Japanese items, more importantly, a selection of whole coffee beans, and a grinder so you can have them ground there. (You have to pay for it and bring it back into the store with the receipt before they will grind it for you.) The store isn’t as expensive as some other shops, and I had been pleased with coffee I bought there previously, so I decided to head that way to get some coffee.
Once I was in that part of town, I went to run another errand and it put me right outside a City Shop. City Shop is a grocery store filled with all sorts of American and other imported goods that you can’t find elsewhere in the city but they are expensive. The store is small, probably at most an eighth the size of your typical American grocery store, but there is good stuff! I decided to run into City Shop to look. Yes, it is true; City Shop is like a tourist attraction for me. I go and wander around, normally not buying anything, instead just gawking at the American foods, the selection and the prices!
Cheeses! Decent looking meat! Recognizable brands of wine (for about 4-5X what you would pay in the States)! An entire AISLE of cereal (for $10-$15 a box)! It was almost lunch time and the deli sandwiches caught my eye, I decided to splurge and bought a turkey sandwich, a block of sharp cheddar cheese (Land O’Lakes has nothing on Tillamook), and some dark chocolate (every girl needs a secret stash).
As I was waiting to check out, I noticed the lady in front of me. She bought one plastic bag worth of groceries and a pack of toilet paper for 891 RMB. I started to think of how outrageous this was, as I normally go to the grocery store and get the same quantity of items for under 100rmb. Maybe she had something extravagant in that plastic bag, but I highly doubt it having seen the prices in the store. On the top of the bag sat a bag of Tostitos Scoops tortilla chips. I began to scoff at the thought of expats who fill their cupboards with imported goods, have their ayis cook western meals for them, and only eat at western restaurants where everything is recognizable and familiar.
Granted, I was there myself, checking out with my block of cheese, lunch for the day, and sucking down my Starbucks Americano I had bought next door. Yet, it still baffles me how often you see people in Shanghai living as if they were still in their home countries with all the luxuries affordable to them because of their high expat salaries and their “hardship” pay for having to live in a third world country. I know people like this, I am friends with people like this and occasionally I like to soak up some of the imported and/or high-end luxuries available to us in Shanghai. But I feel there is a difference between occasional luxuries and ignoring or refusing to participate in the culture and way of life in the country you reside in. Anyways, that is just my little rant about foreigners (like me) in Shanghai.
I had my coffee from one shop, my lunch from City Shop and I headed home. I still had another errand to run and after eating my lunch, I headed way out to the middle of Pudong (the other side of the Huangpu River) to run my errand. I was walking through Pudong, thinking about how it felt like a different country with its big roads, endless views of massive urban sprawl (without the tall building of “downtown” Shanghai), everything was so spread out and far apart. While I was there, I ran into a Carrefour, a big French supermarket that has done well in China, now I have been to a couple Carrefours before on my side of town, but this Carrefour took up most of a huge city block! This place looked massive! Wanting again to see the selection available, I wandered inside. I went inside and was greeted by a store which reminded me of an American Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer – it was huge! They must have EVERYTHING here!
As I slowly walked around the store, picking my jaw up off the ground, I realized that going back to the states might be a bit of a culture shock for me. The grocery stores in Oregon might present me with the same overwhelming feeling that the small crowded grocery store in Shanghai presented me with. Not because of an unfamiliar language, but the size and the availability and variety of items.
I didn’t get anything or spend too much time Carrefour, I still had to trek back across town and despite the fact that they had so much to offer, an imported items section that was massive, and much greater variety (at prices far below those at CityShop), I realized there wasn’t really anything I needed. I live quite well off the basics available to me at my neighborhood CenturyMart.
Oh… speaking of food, I had my first taste of bullfrog last week. And people are right – it tastes just like chicken!