I can’t even begin to describe my culture shock! There’s a market near my new home in Yantai full of stands selling fruit, noodles, vegetables, breads, dumplings, seafood and any other kind of food you can imagine. For a few dollars, you can buy more groceries than you can carry, and that’s the ripoff price for Westerners who don’t know any better.
However, they don’t seem to refridgerate anything so the fish market is just a guy with dirty tupperwares full of headless fish and oysters! They also sell animal parts I can’t recognize, and I thought I’d have kind of “live and let live” attitude but it smells awful!
There are street vendors selling meat on a stick, cooked over a fire in what looks like a metal trash can. Others sell big warm pancakes like buttery naan, charred sweet potatoes on a stick and peeled juicy pineapples.
I’ve eaten at a few restruants here, and tried everything that was put in front of me. Including sea cucumber and blood tofu. So far, the food is groos beyond belief. When I find something that I can tolerate having in my mouth, I get really excited and memorize the name so I can ask for it again. Ok, I’ve only done that that twice, actually. Once was an omelette with scallions in it, you rip it into pieces with your chopsticks and eat it with a bowl of rice (which is served cold, not out-of-the-fridge cold, because that would imply a fridge, but sitting-at-room-tempature-for-who-knows-how-long cold).
I went to the grocery store here, there’s a table in the middle where a butcher just hacks an animal to pieces, with a cleaver, sending blood flying. Customers point at the animal part they would like to buy, and it’s not just chops or ribs… I stared at it, like a train wreck, until an assistant wheeled in a new skinned animal. Blood is tracked around the store. There’s a section like a deli, with batter-fried fish, with heads, tails and bones and all, the omnipresent chicken feet and other things I can’t even think about!
The bakery is next to that, and I shop there while trying not to think about what’s behind me. I can’t read Mandarin, not that the names would mean anything to mean, so I point at some kind of cake or buns and say “one, please” in Chinese. I have no idea what I’m getting, sometimes it’s filled with sweet bean paste or sesame seed concoction or revolting cabbage-y pickles.
On the plus side, I’m learning a lot in my travels around town. I can easily recognize the words for “beautiful foreigner” in Mandarin because people say it in the streets as they point at me and stare and sometimes take photographs.