Some of you are asking for day to day details of life here in Nanjing, China. Therefore I will pepper you with occasional installments of <roll Asian music …>
A Slice of Life in Nanjing
To Market to Market!
Well, we have our shelter and we brought our clothing so next up….FOOD! This has been one of our biggest challenges, other than the language, of course. We’ve been to the grocery store a few times this week and here are some of our experiences to share.
Like many stores in the USA, grocery stores are teamed up with house goods. Think Meijer, Costco, Sam’s Club, Super Target. Many stores in Nanjing have more than one level with groceries Up and home goods Down. Simple enough. Carts move from level to level on an escalator ramp that latches on to the bottom of your cart as you ascend and descend. Everyone stays to the right if going along for the ride and impatient walkers stream by you on the left hand side. Decently and in order. Then you are “spit” out into a wonderland, the likes you have never seen! Eye-popping product packaging begins its sensory trance. Lime green, hot pink, yellow, white and cool blue – these manufacturers took their lessons from Procter and Gamble, no doubt, and they trumped it. However, to know what is inside the packaging is the trick and I do mean trick.
Gordon was walking down the beverage section and stopped at a selection of stacked boxes. The label was green and white and showed a refreshing spurt across the packaging with lots of emphasis on the Chinese characters! Words leapt off the product packaging and made everything appealing. A helpful salesperson, (there is one every 10 feet, no exaggeration) pounced out of her 10 foot space to help the Big Guy with his selection. She pointed and smiled and said something in Mandarin to help him with his choice. Gordon nodded as if he knew what she was saying. He kept looking at the packaging. A smiling apple was also portrayed. He picked up the box, said “Xièxiè” (SHAY-shay) and plopped his “kill” into my cart. “Apple juice,” he said. “Great!” I replied. When we went to grab an apple juice drink box the next morning we were very surprised to find that it was room-temperature ultra-pasteurized milk in packets. The smiling apple did not mean “apple juice” after all. They’ve been refrigerated ever since.
It’s just tough to know what is inside the packaging. Another example is a bottle that shows a drawing of a white cat and clearly states in English the same, “White Cat.” Near the bottom are some vegetables. Come to find out it is dishwashing liquid. I don’t know about you, but neither a white cat or vegetables indicate clean dishes to me! (see photo – no that is not my bacteria-laden wood cutting board, it is a stock photo.)
There is a classic business case study regarding this same thing. It went something like this: Gerber Baby Food expanded their market into Africa. They were quite distraught to find that projected sales fell flat. Baby food in glass jars was a hard sell for some reason and it was puzzling. Come to find out the norm for that culture is “what is on the label is what is in the jar,” and the smiling baby, no matter how Gerber-cute, is what they thought was in the jar. I’m sure they changed their label quickly.
<Gerber baby food was introduced in 1927 in Fremont, Michigan.>
On we go to produce. This is as simple as choosing what you want and taking it immediately to a weighing station. It is weighed, priced and then placed in a tagged bag. Meat is a little different. All of the meat is on mounds of crushed ice in the open air. Picture a mound of chicken gizzards, chicken feet or pig parts. Just select it, bag it and have it weighed. I only had the nerve to do this with chicken breasts, knowing that I was going to cook the ba-jeezers out of those chicken parts before consuming. I refused the community meat tongs to select the three I wanted and instead used the good old ‘plastic bag grab-it method.’ I’m trying people….really trying!
There is not much diversity in Nanjing at all. If you think I’m generalizing or need statistics to back that up I will prove you wrong with one trip to the grocery store. I am followed wherever I go in any store. I am stared at and crowds gather to see what the blonde white lady is purchasing or interested in. Men are particularly interested and want to look into my eyes to see if they are blue. I try and not give them the opportunity, so they go down the next aisle and approach me from another angle. If Gordon is with me, I try and stick near him. You may think it’s flattering at my age to have so much male attention, I will tell you it’s creepy.
Large Chinese groceries like I am describing have a plethora of product pushing demonstrators. These are NOT a typical lunch lady (mature body with a hairnet) demonstrator that you might find in a western big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club. These are beautiful young Chinese women who are costumed to match their product. The lemon-lime yogurt girl was clad in lemon-lime polyester sporting a vest, product name tag and a stewardess-type hat. Yes, that was branded too. She hawked her product and offered tasting samples of the new lemon-lime flavored yogurt. I tasted it and bought an 8-pack.
Gordon wishes that they had some tasting samples coupled with a perky polyester-clad demonstrator before he flung the case of ultra-pasteurized milk/apple juice into our cart. I wonder if he would have purchased it anyway?
More shopping news to come I’m sure.
Thanks for reading,