Saturday, September 13, 2008

Treasures of the Past

After leaving Labor Park (separate blog entry), we sought out an antiques market that is held every weekend at a Buddhist temple in Dalian. Merchants from Dalian scour the countryside for every kind of item imaginable and bring their discoveries to the temple to offer for sale. There is an incredible array of fascinating objects: jade carvings, brass sculptures, jewelry, old coins, musical instruments, books, artwork, scrolls, tools, scientific instruments, Mao memorabilia . . . the list is endless. The sellers are happy to show you how things work and all prices are (of course) totally negotiable.

At the same time, the temple is a functioning place of worship where Buddhists come to meditate, pray, and make offerings. The pictures in this album are intended to show both aspects of the temple: a gathering place to buy and sell and a house of worship.

Saturday in the Park

Saturday, September 13, dawned sunny and clear with a temperature in the mid-70s and much lower humidity than usual. Our neighbor, Steve Keith, a retired middle-school principal from Indiana who has been teaching in Dalian for a year and a half, offered to be our guide to Laodong Gongyuan (aka, Labor Park). The park is a spacious green oasis right in the heart of our bustling metropolis. At the entrance to the park, we encountered a balloon vendor with strangely familiar wares (see picture within) that led us to suspect that Labor Park was not much more than a knock-off Chinese version of Disneyland. We soon realized that our mistaken first impression could not have been further from the truth. The park offers a wide variety of pleasant outdoor settings to enjoy. People of all ages and all walks of life come here to take part in many different activities. Just click on this link to join us on a quick tour of the park:

Steve Keith tells us that Labor Park is full of activity every day of the year, including a twice-a-month "marriage market" where hopeful parents trade information about their single offspring.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Street Scenes

In our neighborhood, many people earn their living by literally taking their business to the streets. Every day we see countless merchants, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and every service, craft, and trade imaginable. It's not at all unusual to work, shop, play, eat, study, exercise, dance, and converse outdoors on the sidewalk or in the park. Here is an album of people at work and play in our neighborhood, all within a five minute walk of our flat.

Because eating street food is so popular, it is important for sidewalk food vendors to display the freshness of their wares. Diners select their own ingredients and the chef prepares each dish to order while you watch. Here are some things you might find on the menu du jour:

Adventures in Shopping .. or WHAT am I buying??

I think I mentioned a few blogs back that WalMart was a welcomed signpost when we got to Dalian.  Let me hasten to say that shopping at the Dalian WalMart is nothing like shopping in the ones in the U.S.  We appreciated a few of the western items in stock, but of course, if the place is to remain in business, it must cater to the local clientele ... all 3 million of them in Dalian.

So, I thought I would give you a little visual experience of items we see when shopping in the majority of the stores we frequent (these would be equal to Kroger's, Safeway, Albertson's).

First, let me say that English is a very popular language.  Even though most Chinese can neither read it or speak it, English phrases are frequently used in advertising, though the phrase is usually absolutely meaningless and has no relationship to the item being promoted.  Here's a little phrasology slideshow for your enjoyment (later captions will tell you what is being promoted).

Can you name this fruit?    Me neither, until I looked it up after repeatedly seeing it the store of late.  It is a dragon fruit.  Further research (reading, not tasting ... yet) reveals that, once pealed, it has a crunchy texture akin to an apple and tastes like a pear/kiwi combo.  I'll report back.

What would you do if the entire fruits and vegetables sections was filled with items such as this?  Thankfully, that is not the case. However, about 70% of the items I see in the fresh foods section fall into the category of "yet to be explored."  We are working on that list, one item at a time.  We have now incorporated pumpkin squash (which looks like a small halloween pumpkin crossed with an acorn squash) into our meals.  Even items that you are familiar with, sometimes look quite different.  Leeks in the US are fat and short, here they are skinny and long.  Green beans are about 18 inches long and very, very thin.

I should have begun this post with the seafood area instead of fruits and veggies.  That is the area where I am really out of my comfort zone!  There are more squiggly, squirming, slimey things than I can begin to list.   Keep in mind that the pictures I have included don't show the dried seafood aisle.

At left ... I know these!  Crabs and turtles.  Alas, to me turtles are pets, not dinner --  especially if I have to kill them, what a softie.

So we have picked out a few fruits and veggies, passed by the seafood, stopped at the butcher (where I recognize most everything even if I can't say it or want to buy it ... like tongue and other organs that I can't truly appreciate).  Now we're headed for the dairy area and the dry goods.    If you saw this item on the shelf, what would you think is in the package?

If you said MILK ...  you would be correct.  Milk  is packaged in several differnt forms.  These bags contain about 1 cup of fresh, whote, vitamin D milk.  The colorful bags give shoppers a clue as to the "flavor" ... one can have 
plain (blue), chocolate (brown), purple (walnut), green (coconut) ... and there is one other that I can't think of it right now.  These little packets can also be bought by the case (left) -- the case comes with a nifty little carry bag!  One frequently sees children with a straw poked in the bag ... in fact the university students do the same.  Milk also comes in 1 liter boxes ...  UHT (ultra high termperature) and can remain unrefrigerated for a VERY long time.  When opened, it is then refrigerated.  We buy the dancing cow (pink), which designated low-fat milk.

Whew, we're almost done.  Of course, being in China.  We better pick up some rice.  I think Steve provided a previous image of me bagging up about 3 pounds of loose rice when we found it on special one day.  Rice is usually bought in much greater quantities -- I'd say 5 pounds minimum.  Some bags are so large we couldn't get them out of the store between the 2 of us.  We usually buy loose, brown rice and purchase about 2 pounds at a time.  We have a nifty little rice cooker that we call "Miss Piggy"  ... visual detals to follow. 

A few other details to complete your shopping experience.  

I was VERY happy to see that there is a big campaign in progress to encourage shoppers to bring their own shopping bags ... and most do.  If one forgets, it is possible to purchase a plastic bag at checkout ... 2 cents.  In large department stores (no supermarkets), the shopper usually 1) selects the item for purchase, 2) the clerk writes it up on a carbon receipt, 3) the shopper takes it to a central cashier (several on every floor) and pays, 4) the cashier multi-stamps (red ink) one of the carbons, 5) shopper takes carbon back to clerk to retrieve item.  Why do things the easy way?

The concept of customer service is alive and well here in China.  In the above scenario, when one is looking for an item to purchase, it is not uncommon to find 2-3 clerks in one single aisle offering assistance.  In our case, much of their energy is wasted because we cannot understand the nuances they are describing.  On the other hand, when we have purchased electrical items, the clerk takes it out of the box, shows you that all the parts are there, PLUGS the item into the wall to demonstrate that it actually does work!!!!  In the case of a light, the clerk retrieves a lightbulb to perform that function as well.  Can you imagine that happening in a US store???

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted.  Time to catch the 101 bus home with my 3 tote bags.  I'll be back day after tomorrow because the goods are fresh, the refrigerator is small, and the tummies are hungry.

Don't forget to check out the answers to advertising quiz!