Monday, August 27, 2007

Even the Grocery Store is an Adventure

Yesterday, our new friend Jeff took us on a bus to Shekou to check out Charlie’s American grocery store. It was full of things we’ve been hard pressed to find here in China, like baking powder, marshmallows, tortillas and chocolate chips. It’s the little things that you miss when you are away from home, I’m afraid.

Shekou is an interesting part of town. It has the highest ex-pat population in Shenzhen and so the proportion of “mzungus” is definitely much higher. It boasts a great many Irish pubs, a Papa John’s pizza buffet and the inevitable Starbucks and McDonalds. (Uganda and Kenya are the only places in this whole wide world I’ve been that haven’t had either Starbucks or McDonalds!)

The ferry port to Hong Kong and Macau is in Shekou as well, so there is a nice breeze from the bay. Getting a taxi in that neck of the woods is close to impossible. We took a bus to get there, which was an adventure all its own. The buses here get quite crowded and there is a lady who comes through the crowd to sell you a ticket. She is quite adept at remaining upright on the lurching, jerking bus while keeping both hands free to collect money and distribute tickets and change. The tactic she adopted was a wide stance, feet spread far apart. I was impressed with her detailed knowledge of the route and her instant ability to do the fare calculations in her head.

This is one of the things that surprised me in Africa as well. In the U.S, so many jobs are automated. In Africa, the technology just wasn’t available and the labor was so darn cheap, you could employ someone just to open a gate, and they’d be happy (and lucky) to have the job. Here in China, I know it isn’t a matter of technology. My guess is that is the sheer volume of the crowds here make it more efficient for everyone to just pile onto the bus and have the ticket lady wind her way through the crowd. Otherwise, no one would get anywhere. And of course, there is the issue of incredibly cheap labor here as well.

Little moments like these are part of why I love living abroad. The most mundane things become adventures and reminders of how many perspectives there are on this planet besides the American one I am used to.

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