College tours, jet lag and frozen chickens, Oh My!


I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and a great start to the new year!

S2 enjoying the snow on the university campus.

We have been a little bit crazy busy over the past few weeks, thus the lack of blogs.  But I can foresee a lot to blog about coming up so the procrastination must end here and I will bring you up to date on things so far…..

This is our first Christmas in Asia and we were planning on staying ‘in town’ as it were, since we just arrived in August and only get one trip home a year covered by the work contract.  However, as with many things in my life, I make a plan and God laughs!

On arriving in Shanghai S2 worked diligently with his new guidance counselor to firm up which colleges and universities he wanted to apply to.  Most of his choices were places that had been on his radar for a while and we had already gone to visit.  But there were three schools in the north east USA that he did not see.  He applied to one of those ‘early action’ and got in, which was great news!  But how could we expect him to make an educated choice without seeing the places?  We took this holiday break as an opportunity to go see the three schools and to visit with family and friends.  It was an incredible whirlwind tour but well worth every minute!

We had two weeks at home.  S2, unfortunately, spent week 1 in bed with a stomach flu 😦  But he perked up by Christmas eve and we had a nice relaxed holiday at home.  Then we did the fly by pass of the three schools in question and headed back to Shanghai.  We landed on January 3 and the kids started school on January 4.  Thank goodness for young constitutions which can withstand time zone whip lash much better than their mom can.

I never quite completely got over jet lag while in the US.  I used this to my advantage and bought a two week package at a local gym.  I got their at about 6am (having been up since 4:30 or so I was raring to go by 6).  I got the christmas cookie calories burned off and headed home to shower and start my day before all the teenagers were even thinking about getting up.  Now that we are back in Shanghai the kids are well and recovered but I am still waking up at 4:30 😦  The gym here isn’t open at that hour and from 6 to 7 I am making sure that the kids have all their stuff and are out the door on time for the bus.  (There is a 40 minute/$20USD taxi ride to contend with -never mind the wrath of mom- if they miss the bus).

I have been giving in to the siren song of my computer in these wee hours.  I check my email, play words with friends -you know who you are!- read the NY Times online, try to appease some angry birds…..But this habit is catching up with me.  So today I took a short nap, went out and got a strong coffee after lunch and then went for a two and a half hour walk.  I have also resolved to put my computer and phone in another room for the night to lessen the attraction.  I am hoping that the idea of stumbling through the dark, cold rooms of the apartment to get the electronics will be an unpleasant enough thought at 4:30am that I won’t leave my warm bed.

As with any return home after a long vacation, this week included a few trips to the grocery stores to stock up on fresh food.  I did the usual rounds to my favorite stops for veggies, fruit, snacks etc.  Then I decided to brave the Carrefour for the ‘dry goods’ type stuff.  Having loaded up on TP, tissues, cereal, and a giant bag of rice, I headed to the prepared food section of the store.  They make these very delicious eggy crepes that they fill with noodles or potatoes or tofu and the kids love them for breakfast.

I was feeling pretty good about my ability to cope with life in China.  I wandered the aisles remembering my earlier self and the total culture shock of shopping for food in Shanghai.  I laughed at that ‘deer in the headlights’ former me!  I had this wrapped up!  I now know the layout of the store, am not shocked by the giant live bullfrogs in the ‘meat’ cases, or even overcome by the boisterous crowds of people.  And this time of year things get especially crazy because it is almost Chinese New Year at which time everyone is expected to put on a feast or bring tons of presents home for the feast there.  So imagine grocery shopping the day before Thanksgiving and then combine that with the Christmas eve rush and then double the number of people involved.  It’s quite a show.  But I was a cool cucumber, heading for my items and then getting out.

Dried giant fish hang waiting to be taken home and cooked.

As I passed by the meat section of the store I noticed that they seemed to be having a special on whole chickens.  In the US we are used to our chickens coming without heads and feet.  They are neatly tucked into their plastic wrapping with wings folded and legs stowed underneath, as if they are just roosting there in the meat case for the night.  But in China chickens come with the ability to stare you down and look as if they are about to run away.  I think they must just break their necks because the heads are still on.  From seeing the end product I suspect that the chickens are plucked clean and summarily tossed in a pile that is then put in a freezer.  There is no individual wrapping, no cozy meat case roost.  These chickens are put in one giant frozen lump in an open (cooled) meat case for people to pick through.  I saw one woman with six or seven raw, frozen chickens in her grocery cart – no plastic bags, no attempts to use sanitary handling measures. (note to self – never put raw veggies or fruit touching the metal of a grocery cart!).  But even this didn’t get me.

Whole DRY chickens for sale.

Then, from behind the woman I heard a thwack! thwack!  I expected to see someone making short work of meat with a cleaver.  What I did see both stunned and amused my now jaded self.  There was an older man holding onto the leg of a chicken.  But the chicken he seemed intent on purchasing was frozen like a siamese triplet to two other chickens.  How to solve this problem?  Ask the butcher to separate them?  buy all three and let them thaw apart?  Choose another chicken??  None of these seemed to occur to anyone in the vicinity.  The method this man chose for separating and thus claiming his prized chicken was…..can you guess????……


Yes, I am dead serious.  Picture a fairly distinguished looking man in his 60’s holding the splayed leg of a lump of connected chickens and summarily smacking them on the bare floor of the meat section of the grocery store!  OK, it gets better.  Next to this gentleman was a butcher egging him on.  I certainly don’t have full command of the language but ‘yeah! you go for it!’  seems to have international gestures and tones.  Other customers were passing by as if this sort of thing happened all the time.  Three other store employees were working behind the counter and barely looked up.

I just kept thinking of how this scene would be different if it happened in the USA.  I think that at the very least the food would end up in the garbage and the customer would be escorted from the store.  More likely the police would be called to take him for some sort of mental evaluation, because WHO DOES THAT??  And the grinning, cheering employee would be on the unemployment line.

I guess the biggest difference between my early days of shopping and now are that I found this all amusing.  I would have been sick to my stomach if I had seen this in August.  Now I just smile along with the crowd and remember to buy my meat elsewhere.

Gong xi fa cai! = May your year be full of prosperity! This will be the year of the dragon

6 responses »

  1. Soundsl ike you shop in Wal-Mart! Ha Ha. I’m suprised you don’t grow your own veg and raise your own chickens.

    • Wal-Mart will be a breeze after this! I have contemplated growing my own veggies but my balcony has a roof and thus no natural rain. I have learned over the years that I do not do well with regular watering schedules and more often than not I kill the plants that are counting on me 😦 And chickens might not be welcome in my apartment complex :p

  2. Your descriptions are priceless! i loved seeing you Tori….you all look so so good, very impressive what you all are doing.

  3. I’m glad you had a nice Christmas and are safely back in China. I loved the story of the chicken and was laughing out loud when I read the story of the man smacking it on the floor. That must have been quite a sight!

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