I’ll understand if you feel lied to — even, betrayed.
It’s not that I meant to deceive you. I really didn’t.
It’s just that… well.
You see, readers, the truth is… I’m a healthy eater.
I know, I know.
With all my blog posts about potato chips and cookies and, well, more potato chips and more cookies, you probably thought I was one of those girls who turns up her nose at anything even vaguely leafy and green. (Unless, you know, it happens to be those little flecks of green stuff on sour cream and onion potato chips.)
You probably assumed I just didn’t do fruit unless it came blended with tequila.
I’m sure you imagined me gorging on regular dinners of Double Stuff Oreo’s and Extreme Ranch Dorito’s. (Okay, so, yeah, that happened, but I swear it was only a one-time thing. Can you just let it go already? Sheez.)But, the fact is, I eat healthy stuff – like, all the time.
My fridge (when I own one) is always stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. I only buy whole-grain bread and pasta. I haven’t owned a bag of sugar in three years. I eat oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast almost every morning. I even like tofu – like, a lot. Heck, I haven’t had a potato chip in over two weeks. Okay, so I have had a few cookies lately — I tried out the new raspberry and blueberry cream Oreo’s this past weekend, but those totally don’t count. They tasted like fruit, okay. Cookies aren’t supposed to taste like fruit.
So, why the big lie?
Well, it wasn’t all a lie.
To be honest, I didn’t do a lot of healthy eating over the last year. Since I didn’t have a kitchen for most of the year, I was forced to eat out for a lot of my meals (forced I tell you!). Eating out is a special occasion, in my book (even when you end up doing it everyday for a year.) And lettuce is not exactly a special occasion kind of food, if you know what I mean.
Besides, I have a reputation to keep up, you know. You see, this blogging thing is all about establishing an “online personality” – an identity that really makes your blog stand out from the other blogs. Your “online personality” should be kind of like your in-person personality… just with, you know, more personality.
So my online personality is kind of like my in-person personality… just with, you know, more cookies.
But, I’m tired of living the lie.
I’m a healthy eater, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Wait. Don’t go!
Okay, maybe I am a bit afraid to admit it.
After all, who wants to read a blog about healthy eating?
Okay, maybe some people want to read blogs about healthy eating but I have a feeling these are not the kind of people I want hanging out on my blog – you know, they’re probably the type of people who eat fruit for dessert… or don’t even eat dessert because they’re so full from all that wheatgrass and flaxseed they ate for dinner.But, I promise you, healthy eating isn’t nearly as lame as it sounds – at least not in China!
It’s daring stuff around here! Heck, just eating a raw vegetable is viewed as an act of crazy. (Trust me. I shoved a piece of raw bok choy into my mouth while at a dinner party and my Chinese friend gasped and stared. From her reaction, you’d think I had just started gnawing on a live baby head or something.)
Don’t get me wrong. I have really enjoyed all the meals I’ve had so far since I’ve gotten here – probably because most of them have been deep-fried and served with a side of pork. As delicious as the dishes have been, I wouldn’t exactly say there are very many healthy eating options in the tiny village near campus where I usually eat out. What can I say? I guess the villagers just aren’t so into the wheatgrass and flaxseed. (Can you blame them? I mean, have you ever tried to eat deep-fried wheatgrass? Not good. Trust me on this.)
So rather than eating out, I’ve been making most of my meals at home, which, again, I realize may not sound so exciting. But cooking at home requires actually having food at home, which means I have to go grocery shopping — which is where things start to get a bit “off the hook” as the kids say.
Listen, grocery shopping in China is a competitive sport. In fact, I would not suggest a trip to the Chinese grocery store for the faint of heart or the unprepared. Luckily for the would-be shopper in China, I’ve written up this handy dandy survival guide on how you can conquer the grocery store with minimal stress (and only about a half dozen heart attacks… hey, I’m not made of magic, over here).
Step 1: Assemble Your SuppliesFirst you will need to make sure you have a reusable shopping bag – this will save you the hassle and expense of having to buy plastic bags at the check-out counter. You should make sure the bag is big enough to fit all your groceries, which, in my case, is quite large – roughly about the same size as one of those countries in the middle of Asia that no one can pronounce.
You see, in an effort to keep my trips to the grocery store to a minimum, I make sure to buy as many groceries as I can lug. Mind you, this is not the Chinese way at all. The Chinese way is to buy about five items and then spend the rest of the shopping trip staring at the white girl with her cart filled with enough food to last her through the month or, say, through the duration of a zombie apocalypse.
You’ll also need to bring money. I know, this was a big surprise to me, too. After all, isn’t China a Communist country? Shouldn’t living in a Communist country be more like living on a kibbutz or something? Shouldn’t we be trading goods and services for our groceries? Or, at least, shouldn’t there be more goats involved? Really. I expected more goats.
Step 2: Get thereThere are three large grocery stores all about ten miles away from where I live, which means I have to take the bus there.
The bus is always crowded with college students going to and fro, and, just getting on the bus, requires some pushing and shoving. (Now, managing to get a seat? That requires either extreme luck or some extreme wrestling moves.)
The pushing and the shoving may seem like an unwelcome hassle, especially if you’re a big fan of your personal space like I am.
But it’s actually a good warm-up for the pushing and shoving you’ll encounter at the grocery store. Mind you, the pushing and shoving at the grocery store can be even more brutal – especially should there be shopping carts and vegetables involved. One time, I was standing in line to get my vegetables weighed when a woman knocked me in the head with the largest stalk of celery I had ever seen.
Warming up on the bus can mean you’re ready for action the minute anyone comes at you wielding carrot sticks like makeshift nunchucks. (Not that I’ve seen this happen before… but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised… especially if there was the promise of free samples involved.)
Step 3: ShopOnce you’ve managed to shove your way off the bus, you’ll need to start shoving your way through the store. (Good thing you got all that practice!)
Much like traffic on the streets of China, the traffic inside the grocery store is a lawless affair. You’re welcome to push your cart in any direction you see fit — or, heck, stop your cart all together in the middle of the aisle blocking everyone from passing.
Unfortunately, unlike cars, the grocery store carts are not equipped with horns — surprisingly so, seeing as how much Chinese drivers love to honk their horns. So, in addition to that huge reusable shopping bag you brought with you, you may want to bring along an air horn… or grab a stalk of celery to bat oncoming traffic out of the way.
Of course, it’s best to have a plan of attack and to know exactly which sections of the store you’d like to visit before you start barreling through. Trust me on this. You could be wandering aimlessly down the pickled vegetable aisle when you find yourself trapped between two standstill carts and a line of people waiting to get free sample cups of instant soup. You’ll want to grab a few of those sample cups because you might be there for a while… like, years.The grocery stores in Wuxi that I’ve been to have pretty much the same sections we have in our grocery stores in the States – with some variations, of course.
For example, in the seafood section of the store, you don’t just tell the guy at the counter which fish you’d like to take home with you– you get to catch it with a net from the large aquarium in the middle of the store. Yes, that’s right, you get to go fishing right in the store! (And you scoffed when I said grocery shopping here was a competitive sport.)
Of course, the stores do offer a few products you simply can’t find in the States, like these:
Live eels and frogs (don’t even ask me how you get these things into your cart)
Full-sized dangling birds
Bite-sized bits of birds (Wahoo! Chicken feet are finally available in individual snack-sized portions. It’s about time!)
Kid’s shred pork (because what kid doesn’t love some good shred pork?)
Elaborate bacon (for those days when simple bacon just won’t cut it),
And beef candy (with five spicies! Mmmm).
In addition to all these fine goods, most of the grocery stores also have a rather large selection of alcohol. I’d suggest you pick up a bottle or five before you make your way to the check out.
You might want to open a bottle before you even get there.
Trust me. You’re going to need it.
Step 4: Check OutI’m sure until now, you’re like, “This grocery shopping thing doesn’t sound so hard! What’s so hard about defending yourself against flailing carrots?”
Oh, just you wait.
Putting groceries into your cart isn’t really that difficult– heck, even getting a live eel into your cart doesn’t sound all that bad.
It’s getting all of the groceries out of your cart and into your bag where things get tricky… especially if you happen to be purchasing a zombie-apocalypse-amount of groceries and you only possess two hands.
You see, the check out counters here don’t have conveyor belts. And there is no one around to help you bag your groceries. Therefore, you need to be able to both move your groceries forward on the counter so the cashier can reach them and bag your groceries, all at the same time. Every once in a while, you’ll end up with a helpful soul behind you who is willing to shove your groceries forward on the counter (which, I feel, is how things would be done on the kibbutz… either that, or they’d employ the goats to help you bag your stuff. Really. I did expect more goats.)
But this isn’t always the case. Chances are you will end up having to run back and forth between the counter and your bag, while making sure not to trip over your cart (or the half dozen people who have crowded around your cart to stare at what’s inside). I believe in the competitive sports world this kind of maneuvering would be called a “one-person relay race.” (Mind you, in my world, it’s called, “ the reason why I’ll be drinking tonight”)
Step 5: Get Out of ThereAfter each successful trip to the grocery store, I like to reward myself with a private trip home in a cab.
This is partly because I figure I deserve it for surviving the five heart attacks I had while checking out all my groceries.
It’s also because there’s no way I’ll be able to shove my way back on to the bus with my huge bag of groceries without accidentally giving someone a concussion (or not-so-accidentally… hey, that Celery Stalk Lady had it coming!).
By the time I get home, I’m usually too exhausted to even think about cooking up any of the healthy meal options that I’ve purchased, so I usually head over to the nearby village to get an unhealthy meal option — usually something with lots of deep-fried pork on it. Sure, I do like to eat healthy, but a girl needs a little indulgence after such a trying experience. Besides, I need something to go along with that bottle of wine I opened while I was in the grocery store. (And have you ever tried to eat wheatgrass with red wine? Not good. Trust me on this.)