With all the costs involved in relocating from Korea to China, I’ve arrived here with enough to get by until my first payday, but with a need to be frugal. That has not only been easy to do here, but has turned out to be a great thing as I have spent my first few weeks perusing the many markets and stores making notes and comparing prices, rather than simply buying the first item I see and regretting it when I find a much better deal. I’m also taking notes and making lists for the friends who come to visit so I can steer them to the best places for whatever it is they want to buy, see or do.
Again, my colleague Brian, who leaves Monday, has been an enormous help not only with directions to the places the Chinese go to shop, rather than the more expensive Western haunts, but by demystifying Beijing’s bus system for me. The city also has an excellent subway system, but traveling by bus allows me to get more of a sense of where I am and the ability to more easily navigate the city. That will be crucial if I do decide to buy a motorbike here but, for now, I prefer to travel by foot and bus where possible, so I have the time to observe and become part of my new environment.
On Tuesday, on my first bus ride, Brian escorted me to a food market at Liangmaqiao where we didn’t see another Westerner but where many of the vendors knew him. He pointed out the best stalls to buy mushrooms (so many varieties to be had), vegetables, foreign food items (yes, there are some things I can’t do without), fish, chicken and pork. There is also a fantastic fruit store immediately opposite that also sells nuts and seeds. All only 5 stops from my home by bus, at the cost of only 1 or 2 kwai (the local word for yuan or renminbi, with 1 kwai being equal to about 16 cents US).
I was initially impressed that the small supermarket right near the China Daily complex had such a good selection of things, but have now found a hypermarket (Wu Mart) 15 minutes walk away and an upmarket Japanese department store with supermarket (Ito Yokado) another five minutes beyond that. There’s a Carrefour four bus stops away in one direction and an Ikea six stops away in another. I’ve spent much of this week walking up and down aisles seeing what each place stocks and noting down prices. Wu Mart is where I’ll do most of my day to day shopping and Ito Yokado is a good option for special treats. Carrefour and Ikea both have things I plan to buy, including imported food items, but I also have a Chinese market that sells household goods, clothes and shoes to check out, now that I’ve noted the prices in the stores.
One thing I’ve been blown away by is the selection of fresh produce available here. I’d been worried about what I could eat before I arrived, and listened to and read too many horror stories of what I daren’t eat. Some of them were sensible, and I’ll no doubt continue to avoid street food, but there is so much else available. My breakfast each morning, despite watching my kwai, has been fresh fruit – always mango, lychees and blueberries plus either nectarine, peach, banana or whatever looks best and is cheapest when I’m buying and yoghurt. Lunch is either a quick stirfry of vegetables or a sandwich or wrap and most nights I eat dinner at the canteen, which is reasonably healthy, tasty and, best of all, free (we get one free meal there a day, Monday to Friday).
|A typical breakfast tray, before preparation|
Tomorrow will be my first time cooking dinner here for friends, the Australian couple who live one floor down from me, and I look forward to visiting the market to get all I need to make a Thai vegetable curry -- mushrooms, eggplant, green or snake beans, tomatoes and maybe some squash -- and fresh fruit to follow.
|the vege vendor at the market|
|the mushroom lady's offerings|
|a selection of tomato types at Carrefour|
|part of the fruit selection at Carrefour|
This is a gourmand’s paradise, at least in summer, and I look forward to making yummy soups to keep me warm through winter.