Posted by on Apr 28, 2011 | 0 comments

It was still morning when we left the Temple of Heaven park. On our way back to the bus stop, we stopped in a bakery to have a look around. They were selling quite a variety of products, including breads, pastries and desserts. Everything here was white flour and empty calories, which I was particularly sensitive to as I was feeling rather undernourished after our nutrient-challenged breakfast earlier. The cakes were very impressively decorated, and we ended up buying a couple of slices to go. Yuan also picked out a pastry that looked like a croissant but was coated with flakes of some kind of pork. She ate it enthusiastically, but I tried it and found it singularly uninteresting.

We passed a street full of shops where the products were spilling out onto the sidewalk. We decided to take a look. I wanted to get a small fanny pack, and Yuan wanted to find me another hat – a brightly-colored one so that she could easily spot me in a crowd. We walked into one shop and found a fanny pack that was just what I was looking for, and a bright yellow hat that fit me well. Then Yuan told me to stand back and let her do some bargaining. In China, negotiating the price of anything is the rule of doing business, especially in a shop like this one.

After a minute, Yuan dragged me out of the store and we continued walking down the street. Apparently the vendor was not willing to budge on the price (or at least, not far enough), and she thought the price was too high. From my point of view the price seemed quite reasonable, but what do I know? We stopped in another shop and found another fanny pack that was almost identical, maybe even a little nicer, and she was able to negotiate an even better price. Mission accomplished, we left the store feeling satisfied.

My take on this is that psychology and emotion play far too great a role in these transactions. In this case the feeling of “getting a bargain” was more important than the actual price (the amount we saved was less than $2), the time involved (not important, I guess, if you enjoy spending your day shopping), or actually getting what you want (we never did buy a hat).

Lunch Menu

Yanjing Beer

Brian Enjoying Lunch

Wong Lo Kat Herbal Tea

When we got to the bus stop, our bus pulled up and the driver opened the door, then looked at me, then started to close the door and drive away. Yuan waved at him, and he stopped again and opened the door. As we walked onto the bus he gave me a really dirty look, like he was very unhappy to be giving me a ride. I have no idea what it was about me that offended him so much.

The wind had been gradually picking up speed during the morning, and I kept feeling like bits of dirt were blowing into my eyes. It turns out I was experiencing the early stages of a Beijing sand storm. A lot of people were walking around wearing masks, though most of them seemed to be from Japan or Korea, not locals.

Delicious Vegetables

More Delicious Vegetables

Donkey Meat

Dumplings

We went back to the condo to rest for a while and to give me a chance to work on the blog. It wasn’t a very restful place to work, however, due to the incessant sound of drilling coming from somewhere in the building. It was an annoying high-pitched whine, and after a while I felt like the drill was boring into my skull.

We left to find a place for lunch. Wanting to stay close to home, we walked down the street and stopped in a place that DouDou had recommended. It was a very unassuming location, with a menu written entirely in Chinese (clearly aimed at locals). We really wanted something nutritious, so we ordered a couple of vegetable dishes, some dumplings, and some kind of pastry-wrapped meat-filled sandwich that Yuan informed me was a specialty of the house. I also wanted to try a local beer, so I picked one called Yanjing, and Yuan ordered some herbal tea in a can.

The vegetable dishes were really delicious, with a great mix of flavors, textures and colors. This is the style of food where the Chinese really excel. The dumplings were so-so. After trying the sandwich, Yuan informed me that the filling was donkey meat! It was then that I noticed a drawing of a donkey that was on the wall. Specialty of the house indeed! The meat was dry and tough, and I couldn’t take more than one or two bites of the sandwich. But hey, at least I gave it a try, right?

Before lunch Yuan had to stop at a local shopping center to buy something, and I got to see a real local grocery store up close for the first time. It was hot, loud and chaotic. There were people behind every counter wearing masks and trying to lure every passing shopper to stop and buy whatever they were selling. There were all kinds of meats in every imaginable form, raw, roasted, sliced and diced. There were many colorful vegetables and fruits. In one area they were hawking some product or other, making their pitch on a recorded loop that repeated every 10 seconds. Even though they were speaking in Chinese and I had no idea what they were saying, the voice was so high-pitched and insistent, it managed to bore its way into my mind. I kept hearing that voice over and over again long after I left the store.

Later we went to another grocery store a few blocks away from home. I was very disappointed at the quality and selection of foods here. Organic foods are pretty much unknown, except for the occasional fruit imported from California. Processed foods make up the overwhelming majority of all food products sold. Eggs are kept unrefrigerated, making it very hard to trust their freshness, especially given how hot the store is. All the ingredient lists are written in Chinese, so I couldn’t tell what I was getting. Finding food to eat at home was going to be a real challenge.

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