When our family arrived in Beijing, 2 weeks ago, and drove to our new home, it felt mostly familiar and only a little new. That feeling continued when we walked over to the shopping center for dinner that evening. After living up on the mountain, in Taipei, where choices were basically non-existent, we were all very excited to have so many dining and shopping options so close to home. The most exciting part of our first evening back in our old neighborhood was Bob discovering that the international grocery store, just a mile from our house, sells Hot Pockets. He was overjoyed! They aren’t cheap, but comforts from home are priceless.
As is typical here, the problems with our house have persisted. Every day has brought another phone call or email request to have something fixed. Two nights ago, our water dispenser quit working. Having a water dispenser might sound like a luxury, and not a big deal if it’s out of service, but we cannot drink the tap water here. It contains Lead. So, we were all a bit concerned about the thought of not having drinking water. The next morning, Zack, Dwight and I worked out at the neighborhood gym and filled our water bottles there. After an email to a new friend, who happens to work at the embassy, a new machine was delivered that afternoon. It was a huge relief to have renewed access to drinking water.
On Tuesday, I had a great day with a new friend. Leslie picked me up in her tuk tuk and we went to a local market. Our intention was to buy some cleaning products and a few groceries and then head home. What played out, though, was much better.
We found the cleaning products in a shop among a row of identical shops. A cultural characteristic, here, is that shops selling specific categories of products are all grouped together. So, we walked through the narrow streets of: household products, curtains, and small electronics; each with its own block. Then, we came upon an opening to a larger building and pushed in to find it was a wet market. There were rows and rows of fruit and nuts, and the prices were significantly better than at the market near our house. Using our survival Chinese language skills, we bought dried kiwi and dates, as well as peaches, grapes and apples. When Leslie was trying to ask which type of apple would be sweet and crisp, a local man spoke up, in English, offering to help. He translated for us and then said he wanted to help us find other things we were looking for, around the market. We expressed our sincere gratitude and he said he likes to help because he’s a Christian. Leslie and I smiled as we replied to tell him we are Jewish and we like to help, too.
We ended up spending about 2 hours with the man who, we learned, goes by the English name, Eric. He helped us find fresh tofu and chicken and an entire building filled with vegetables and spices. We will definitely return to these markets for our produce needs. Leslie, (whose blog you can find here) suggested we take Eric to lunch, so we did. He guided us to a tiny shop where we sat at a low table, on stools, and ate meals of vegetables, tofu, and noodles (or rice), and the total cost was 23 RMB, which is about $3.50 USD, for the three of us!
After lunch and an exchange of contact information, we parted ways and headed for home, braving traffic in the tuk tuk. It was a great day; one that reminded me of what I loved about living in Beijing. I know there will be some good days, and some not so good days, as we continue to settle into our new normal here, it’s to be expected. I’m moving on to the Culture Shock stage of remembering to keep things in perspective.