markets (august 20,2011)

The first full week of school is now behind us.  The adjustment could not have gone more smoothly (knock wood!) and the boys are completely back in their old life.  Tons of homework (which I am sure the schools do to punish parents!) and busy busy social lives!!  John too, is hard at work. He was in Shanghai last week and will probably go to Hong Kong next week. And while it sounds exotic and exciting, it’s mostly long meetings and bad food. He comes home exhausted.

I am still engrossed in trying to get Chowder back in shape.  Who knew dogs could give dirty looks. He is not at all keen on his new regime!  I, on the other hand, love it.  We do at least 8 k a day and I adore been up and out at 6 am. We walk through a tree farm near our house and are a source of great amusement to the local workers. They laugh out loud at us as I try and say good morning. These workers are usually eating their breakfast and washing as we walk by their cement huts.  They have no running water in their houses, only a single tap outside which about 20 people use.  They also don’t have indoor (or outdoor) plumbing.  There are a series of holes surrounded by a low tarp, which serves as an outhouse.  After a whole summer of use and fermenting in the hot weather, it really stinks! Chowder is intrigued when we walk by, but even he can’t get too close.

We are all a bit preoccupied by markets these days.   John with the financial kind, which I gather are rather depressing.  The boys and I with the shopping kind, which are quite fun.

We didn’t do a very good job of packing to come home to China and discovered the boys had forgotten a lot of vital things back in Vancouver.  So last weekend we headed to Yashow Market to stock up.  It’s near our favorite Peking Duck Restaurant.  It is also one of the most touristy markets and sure enough, there were buses disgorging foreigners.  All searching for a bargain! The Chinese are less and less interested in knock offs.  As they get wealthier, they want the real thing and are prepared to pay for it.  Because of high taxes, western name brands are about 40% more expensive here than in Canada or the US.

I had an epiphany.  It is way easier to bargain when you are jet lagged and cranky.  No energy to play games. The vendors are pretty clever.  They have read the guidebooks that advise settling for a price that is about half what the opening offer is.  So they start the pricing high!  Hunter wanted a pair of “Paul Smith” shoes.  The opening offer was 900 rmb (about $135).  I laughed, told them I live in Beijing and offered 70. After much wailing about how she couldn’t sell them to her father for that price, and me walking away, saying I’d come back when the tourists have gone, we settled at 100 rmb ($15).  I felt good. Hunter was thrilled.  She still made money, just not as much as she hoped for. If I looked Chinese on the outside, I would have been able to do even better!

The knock off markets are fun, but the stuff is really awful quality and falls apart pretty quickly. It is the food markets that excite me.  I am often the only westerner in the place and have to use my Chinese.  They are divided into sections…. fruit, veggies, meat, fish, poultry and dry goods. And you can find everything… that’s in season. Right now they are stocked full of stone fruits.  The best peaches I have ever had, and all grown in the Beijing area.  There are stalls selling 50 different kinds of tofu.  Live fish and dead fish.  Every part of an animal you can imagine, and some parts you can’t figure out. Some things smell so amazing and others make me ill. So far the people have always been friendly and the quality excellent.  I always finish this adventure feeling thrilled, hungry and Chinese!

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