Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Things That Have Made it Over Here

Recalling the time of Yore, when I couldn’t even find Metro, those far distant days of 2010 when I first came here… I was sick, lonely, wondering if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. Small triumphs, like finally finding Metro and buying an oven (See Oven Lust entry, dated October 2010) were turned into occasions of savage glee. I still have that oven, too. Works like a champ! I’ve definitely gotten my money out of it.

Since then, it has become routine for me to make the pilgrimage to Metro. My freezer, though small, can accommodate several bags of chicken parts – great on the grill; hamburger patties for that occasional indulgence, and a few convenience foods: the heat and eat kind.

When I arrived here 3 years ago, it was all I could do to find anything, food or otherwise that was familiar. First came the Oreos bought at a local supermarket, which taste nothing like Oreos in America. Then there was Chicony, an upscale store that caters to the superwealthy, or those who wish they were. I’m not. But I did find some French cheeses there and yes, I indulged.

One day, while rambling around an IGA store close to Aloha diner I found Pledge furniture polish and a few Armor All products. If I had a car I would have jumped on the tire gloss and turtle wax, as it was I made do with lemon scented Pledge. I kid you not when I tell you that, once home I stared at that can for close to thirty minutes, just for the comfort of holding a product with a label written in English.

I was giddy with joy at discovering German linseed bread. Going even further back in my past, into ancient history, I enjoyed a nice sandwich or two in Germany made with that kind of bread. Chinese bread is always too sweet and unsubstantial for my taste. However, the hearty, whole grain texture of this bread definitely satisfies my palate.

My! The things that have changed since I’ve been here! The Chinese are not fond of dairy products and they still believe cheese is the vilest of substances… to an extent. Now I can go into any store, Chinese or ‘foreigner’, and find entire selections of cheese, yogurt and even some milk. I tend to stay away from the chocolate flavored cheeses marketed to kids, but the plain Milkana sandwich slices are not bad at all. 

I have to be careful not to eat too much cheese, but every once in a while, a nice pizza just hits the spot. Used to be the only place to get a decent pizza in Wuhan was Pizza Hut. Their personal pan pizza tastes exactly like Pizza Hut in the states. Now I no longer need to plunk down more than 50Yuan for a meal at Pizza Hut. Metro has several varieties of frozen pizza, one of which tastes exactly like California Pizza Kitchen pizza.

That’s a little over five hundred words to talk about food. Let’s move on now.

Till just recently the only hope I had of buying any clothes to fit me over here was to have them custom made. It is relatively cheap to have clothes made, but it is still a rather large expenditure to anyone watching their pennies. The one time I had clothes tailored specifically for me was, you guessed it: 3 years ago, when I first came here. A linen dress and a skirt cost 600Yuan – about $100. Truly not a bad price. I still wear them, too.

Now I can walk into nearly any store and find something to fit me. Not just men’s clothes, either! Wuhan has several H+M stores, a British clothing retail chain and C&A, a German outlet. The clothes there are fashionable and, while not all styles come in my size I can find an adequate selection to update my wardrobe. They do tend to be a bit pricey, but on the other hand… I reasoned that I would be returning stateside each year and could then replenish or replace whatever I need, clothing wise. While I am not likely to find undergarments in my size over here, I can now shop for socks and clothing. Binge shopping during those thirty days I’m stateside is no longer a requirement. 

I was ecstatic when relaying to my conspirators that I had bought a gallon of Clorox bleach, some Clorox II for colors and even a bleach pen for isolated spots. I actually held the bottle up to the camera for them to see! That shopping trip is when I discovered pre-moistened cleaning wipes, something I had been longing for pretty much since settling in over here. Of course that yearning was not nearly as deep as my desire for paper towels, being as most Chinese hold toilet paper to the same standard as paper towels.

Paper towels have been a kitchen standard of mine since I found them over 2 years ago at Metro, of course. All other stores seem to resist the idea of stocking them. Metro is having a hard time keeping them in stock. I give it another 2 years before every Chinese kitchen comes equipped with a paper towel dispenser.

The find of the year has to be Pledge floor care. It is not as convenient as a Swiffer but it works like a charm! Since treating my floors a month ago, I’ve yet to see any accumulation of dust. Once every few days I will run the dust mop, but nowadays my floors are looking really, REALLY good. A vast improvement over my former trials of spraying a water-based cleaner and mopping it up, and mopping it up, and mopping it up. Not that I’m repeating myself, I’m just describing the action. Until about a month ago, my floors looked terrible. Now they gleam, and I beam.

Doritos would be a good way to celebrate, right? It just so happens that Metro has started stocking them, the Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese varieties. My jaw literally dropped when I saw them, lingering on the shelf, begging me to buy and buy. One bag costs 33Yuan, steep for sure! But, as an indulgence, I don’t mind. Besides, now I have a lot of friends hooked on them so I have to race them to Metro before they buy them all.

It seems I talk a lot about Metro, doesn’t it? And somehow, I got back on the topic of food. Let’s walk away from that… again.     

Looking back on all this I reflect: goodness! How time flies!!!

Today I had lunch with a former student, Summer and her mom. We’ve been good friends pretty much since I got here. Summer was in one of my first classes. Now she is graduated, her mother has retired and we had nothing more to do today than go out and enjoy the sunshine. We chose to meet at Han Jie, a premier shopping and cultural district.

I could have been in any shopping venue stateside. There is Gap, Baby Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, as well as the aforementioned H+M and C&A stores. There is Dairy Queen, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins, and of course McDonalds. A few housewares stores, similar to Bed, Bath and Beyond.

We wandered into a shopping mall so new you could still smell raw construction materials. Not many stores open yet, but those that were, are upscale. In the basement of this megamall is a grocery store much like Chicony, but with greater variety. When I say ‘variety’ I mean a substantial array of foreigner goods.

There were several different types of German bread and an entire aisle full of coffee products. The cold case was stocked with exotic meats and cheeses. Along the wall, those shelves were reserved for baking goods. Here too are Doritos, and several other types of chips/crisps. I even saw a bag of Fritos! And then… Lo and Behold: they had a selection of decaffeinated coffee AND flavored coffee mate! Yes, it was expensive, but… guess what I did? Come winter time I enjoy a creamy beverage but need to steer clear of caffeine, especially in the evening. I believe it was that hazelnut flavored coffee that I drank just prior to sitting at the keyboard that prompted the thought:

Nowadays, shopping over here is comparable to shopping stateside. Any size shopping center is sure to have at least a small section stocked with foreigner goods, if not entire stores dedicated to such items. Clothing retailers are now catering to larger sized people. There is a greater variety of cleaning products. Most are comparable to what you would find in any store in America. Even dishwashing liquid has been revolutionized.

How ironic: when I first came here I would have given my eyeteeth for familiarity. Now that I’m comfortable among the Chinese and with their wares, suddenly there is a bevy of American products to choose from! 

Never mind. I’m going to go to Burger King, have a whopper and try to forget all about foreigner goods.

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