Friday, August 31, 2012

The Supermarket Saga

We moved into our new house the day after we flew in, and the first thing we had to do was to go shopping. I had packed a box of dry groceries to bring with us, but we still needed other basics- fruits, vegetables, milk and other sundries. Also, we wanted to scope out the supermarkets - the biggest and most popular, we were told, were Carrefour, Walmart and Auchan.

In Grenoble, I had done all my shopping at Carrefour. So, feeling nostalgic, that's where we started. Of course, the Carrefour here is not at all like the French store I was used to. First of all, Carrefour was in the basement of a mall - so obviously not as big! Inside the store, there seemed to be total chaos....there was no obvious pattern to the product placement. Of course, it doesn't help when none of the labels are in English. After browsing through the aisles with growing frustration, I finally turned to my agent and handed her my list. It went a little quicker after that! I was following her, pushing my cart, watching her pull seemingly random items from the shelves - all the time thinking to myself, how in the world am I going to know what to buy the next time??? Simple solution to that - buy in bulk!!! I breathed a little easier when we came to the produce section - all those lovely, lovely veggies, those very ordinary onions, potatoes, tomatoes all seemed to be the most precious things in the world at that time! And what is that elusive whiff I catch in the air? Following my nose, I came upon the most incredible sight - mangoes, tons and tons of mangoes!!! I could have wept with joy! We returned home, mentally exhausted! Naturally, for every single thing we had bought, I thought of 5 others that we now needed to get. For instance, I had laundry soap, so I could wash clothes - but we don't have a dryer. A drying rack, clothes hangers and an iron go on the list! Dish washing soap? But where am I to put the washed dishes? Dish rack and dish towels needed right away! And so on!!

So, couple of days later, Manasi and I decided to hit Walmart. In American Walmarts, 90% of products bear the label 'Made in China' - so we were really excited about going to a Chinese Walmart! We could only imagine all the amazing things we were going to feast our eyes on!! Were we in for a surprise!!! Walmart was almost exactly like the Carrefour we had been to, maybe a little bigger and less crowded. I did manage to find most things I needed to buy - few groceries, cat food and the other bigger items on the list. Feeling really proud of myself, I headed out. Walmart, too, was in the basement - so we were looking for a moving ramp that would take our cart back to the parking lot, where our driver was waiting. Well, there was no moving ramp, just the escalator we had come down on. Wait a minute, there's bound to be an elevator around here somewhere, right? We found the elevator, but the entrance was partially blocked, so shopping carts couldn't get on. I didn't have a phone then, so there was no way I could contact my driver. Walking around blindly, I felt this black wave of despair and panic wash over me - how was I to get all this stuff out of here? Then Manasi spoke up - "Mamma, why don't you stay here with the cart, I'll go get the driver?" My little chick, who won't even go the bathroom without me, my brave little princess, pulled me back from the edge that day. Looking into her trusting eyes, I knew I had to get it together, show her everything was fine. It is often when you are pretending to be strong for others, that you truly find your own hidden strength. So it was that day. We headed back to the escalator, decided to figure out a way to carry everything ourselves. I had Manasi hold out her arms for the hangers, then stuffed a box of tissues under her arm. I managed to grab hold of the box with the iron, both the drying racks, the cat food and the bag of groceries. Looking at us, awkwardly laden, Manasi started to giggle - and just like that, all my gloom was gone. What could've ended up as a disaster, had become a hilarious story! Two lessons learned that day - first, things are never as bad as they seem to be, and second, never buy more than what you can carry at Walmart!!!

Not satisfied with either Carrefour or Walmart, I headed for Auchan next. My expectations were low- but I was in for a surprise again! Auchan was huge, almost as big as the Super Walmart in Peoria! It was too bright, too loud and too crowded. It is absolutely stocked though, even has an aisle for imported products. First time I was there, I couldn't resist a box of Walkers Shortbread, expensive as it was! Ended up greedily eating half the biscuits when I got home, and felt quite sick later - all that butter!!! Anyway, Auchan is now the place where I go to get all my shopping done. I'm still exploring, and every time I find something new - just the other day, I 'discovered' mayonnaise and Thousand Island salad dressing! Heaven! It is also in Auchan, that I've seen the most incredible thing - I like to call it 'The Egg Smorgasbord'! The display was about the size of a regular dining table, piled high with baskets of eggs. Each basket was helpfully labelled with a picture of the bird the eggs came from. Started off quite innocently with the humble chicken egg, moving on to duck eggs and quail eggs, both of which I have encountered only in novels. Then there was an array of eggs from exotic birds I didn't even know existed. The grand finale - ostrich eggs, peacock eggs, alligator eggs and even snake eggs!!! Omelets, anyone?

As I write this, I find myself thinking of our initial days in France. I'm sure we were on the same roller coaster then. Euphoria - yay, I walked into a boulangerie and bought a baguette, turning to utter despair in a blink - I have no clue how may minutes or money I have left on this phone card! The memory of those days keeps me going here! After all, we ended up being so happy in France, and I know that the same will be true here in China. One step at a time, one day at a time!

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