Posts Tagged ‘Shopping


Language Scores (or wars)

I continue with my weekly language lessons, but don’t tend to speak much in the office context – there is enough miscommunication without adding the additional chaos that my poor Mandarin would throw into the mix. Then there are weeks where I have to cancel my lesson because of work commitments, etc, so I still feel that my progress is a bit snail like. It doesn’t help that I have taken up painting so some of the hours that I might have spent on language study have been re-allocated to a more enjoyable use of my free time!

Some language scores…

  • having a 5 minute conversation with the neighbour – and understanding about 90% of what she had to say…… + 10 points
  • accusing the taxi driver of ripping me off because I thought he had charged me 36 ¥ when he was actually making small talk about the weather being 36 degrees C….. – 15 points
  • managing to buy art supplies using only Mandarin & hand gestures….  + 10 points
  • having to resort to using my cellphone dictionary in the aforementioned art shop to look up the correct word for “pencil”, finding the correct word, using it, and having the shop assistant throw back at me – Ah! PENCIL!….. – 5 points
  • phoning my “Dining Secretary” from the side of the road to find out what had happened to our dinner reservation; getting hold of a non-English speaking operator and managing to communicate well enough for an sms confirmation to arrive a few minutes later…. + 20 points [I find trying to speak Mandarin over the phone incredibly stressful – probably because I can’t “speak with my hands” to assist my verbal stutterings!]
  • being able to correctly identify and type the Chinese bank account details that my husband has to enter for online payments – the form is in English, but the recipient names and bank account details have to be in Chinese characters….. + 10 points
  • having a long conversation with a taxi-driver on the way to the SA consulate – discussing the difference between Westerners and Chinese…. + 10 points
  • being worried that I might have agreed with things that he said that I would have very different opinions about if the discussion took place in English…. – 15 points

A Saturday (grocery shopping) outing…


O Mom, look at the pretty fish!

Mom (thinking):

Mmmmm, which one shall we have for dinner? How fresh should it be? Dead or alive?……

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Fruit Stall on Shaoxing Lu

I LOVE taking photographs of fruit stalls – the diverse array of colours and fruit always compels me to capture the moment.

This fruit stall is on Shaoxing Lu in the French Concession, just outside the hospital on Ruijin Er Lu (which explains the additional fruit baskets and flower arrangements on display).


Meandering through the French Concession

One of my favourite areas in Shanghai is the French Concession. The streets are older and narrower and there are glimpses into the history of Shanghai hidden in dusty alleys and behind wrought-iron fences – sometimes it feels as if one is stepping back in time. In summer the plane trees offer leafy shade from the baking heat, but at the moment they seem very hesitant to welcome the incoming spring weather – their winter boughs are still without cover.

Last weekend we started our Saturday morning with a brunch in the trendy Tianzifang area – this is a community in which some of the older shikumen (stone gate) buildings have been restored and combined into an up-market arty district of art galleries, shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars. Some of the residents still have their homes above and among the converted buildings, but as the area seems to grow more popular and prosperous, they appear to be being squeezed out by more commercially viable projects.

However, it is a really an interesting place to visit, to have a drink or a meal, or just to browse through the shops or the art galleries.

We fortified ourselves with brunch at Origin – their Eggs Benedict with Salmon and Spinach was a real treat.

We had the whole upstairs area to ourselves when we first arrived, but it became busier as we lingered over our meal.

After further sustenance via a delicious bread basket, we set off through the streets of the French Concession – always finding different routes and streets to explore, always fascinating, as life spills onto the street and mingles with the passing traffic.

Our destination was the shop/fruit stall belonging to the now famous “Avocado Lady” of Shanghai. This enterprising lady is one of the few fruit sellers that stocks avocado pears and has increased her standing amongst the ex-pat community by stocking other imported goods, ranging from cheese to anchovies, olive oil to pesto, as well as all sorts of fruit and veg, both local and exotic. Her prices are considered to be cheaper than some of the retailers that specialise in imported products. I managed to limit our spending to avo’s (from Mexico), blueberries (from Chile), and some asparagus, but if M hadn’t been there to curtail my buying instincts, I am sure I would have loaded my backpack to the brim. Perhaps the knowledge that we still had to detour through Carrefour for our regular grocery shopping also helped to dampen my enthusiasm.

P.S. The avo’s are delicious!


Pharmacies and Ping-pong

I had forgotten how much fun it is to play in Chinese pharmacy. You get to bounce from counter to counter like the ping-pong computer virus of a few years ago.

When I visited the ophthalmologist, I was given a “prescription” for eye-drops – you don’t actually need a prescription for them, but the doctor thought it would be helpful to assist me in asking the pharmacist for what I needed. Wise man!

[For the record: I had just had my pupils dilated for the retina exam and my eyesight was seriously blurry, affected by bright lights etc, so I walked around with a sort of scrunched up, squinty outlook on the world… I trust that no adults, elderly citizens, children or animals were harmed during events that followed.]

Stage 1: Enter the pharmacy and head for the nearest counter. Benignly smiling elderly male pharmacist looks at my brandished script and waves in a vague friendly way to direct me to the next counter. I manage to avoid the glare of sunlight coming through the window and notice a long counter with ladies in white coats scattered along at regular intervals.

Stage 2: My next attempt at seeking assistance meets with an equally friendly smile and wave further along the counter. [Thinking….this could go on for a while.]

Bounce 3: Jackpot! I must be at the right place: pharmacist No.3 is ready to assist. She checks the script, scribbles a product code and a quantity on a scratchpad, tears off the page and tells me I need to go somewhere else to pay and then I can come back to collect the eye-drops.

Bounce 4: Not thinking (or seeing straight) I head back to the elderly male pharmacist, who gleefully waves me away in the opposite direction. Struck out, again!

Bounce 5: Duh! There is a sign saying “Cashier” (in English!) I hand over the scrappy piece of paper and my cash (foreign credit cards are not welcome here). I get my change and a till slip indicating that I have paid.

Bounce 6: Back to Pharmacist No. 3 who pounces on the till slip and digs the eye-drops out of the counter and hands it over. But not until I have signed my name on her list of products issued for that day. I am also instructed to sign the till slip in order to continue with my mission. She manages to convey to me that if I need a fāpiào 发票- the generally accepted document as proof of payment  for tax purposes – I need to head over in THAT direction. I don’t really need one, but I feel that if I bail out now, I won’t get full credit for completing Level 1 in my pharmaceutical ping-pong endeavour.

Stage 7: Head towards the door, bypassing the bemused elderly male pharmacist (who doesn’t seem to do anything except traffic control), I spy someone with a computer and terminal near the exit. I hand over the duly signed till slip. A look of horror crosses the fāpiào lady’s face as she struggles to read my signature. I then comprehend that I should have printed my name, not signed this piece of paper. As she starts struggling to spell it out verbally, I help her out by rewriting it in capital letters. Luckily her computer can handle Chinese and English. After one failed attempt, I retrieve the “chopped” (stamped) fāpiào (with a sort-of Russian version of my surname) and….

Home-straight: I am ready to exit stage left.

Level 1 – Game Over!


As an aside…I just have to make reference to the wonderfully appropriate Chinese characters that are used for the game of pīngpāng! Don’t you think they depict the game perfectly?




Salt intake

In the light of the recent tragic events in Japan and the ongoing uncertainty about the possible spread of radiation, many Shanghai residents have been swept up in the rumour that they need to stock-pile and consume large quantities of salt as a deterrent against radiation sickness (and also in case the sea-water along the Chinese coast becomes contaminated and affects the future salt supply).

I think the frenzy has subsided a little over the last few days, but just in case there is actually any truth to the rumours, we are going to keep buying large quantities of our favourite comfort/snack food: Lay’s Original (Salt) flavoured Crisps. Consuming 4 kg of raw salt vs 400 kg of crisps (PS. I haven’t actually done the maths!) – decisions, decisions – it’s a no-brainer: I’m heading for the snack-food aisle.


More about shoes

If my feet are considered to be of a non-Chinese size, my husband outranks me by a few notches. Last Friday evening, we went looking for a pair of waterproof, not too casual shoes that he can wear to the office on rainy days.

We began our search in one of the fascinating “department” stores, which can be better described as many stores within a single department. This one specialises in sporting and hiking clothes and shoes. There are about a hundred different vendors, spread across two storeys, each selling specific brands or items, ranging from shoes to sporting equipment, hiking/skiing gear to gym clothing.

We were able to narrow our search down to those selling waterproof footwear, probably about 15 stores all together. And then the fun began…almost exclusively in Mandarin. [Ed. Translated here for the reader’s benefit!]

We need shoes, a BIG pair of shoes. Oh, so sorry, we still haven’t worked out exactly what size our feet are (as measured in China) – we use a European or UK size in South Africa and here they use something else – American? [Ed. I just re-read the labels more carefully and discovered that actually SA and the US use the same “small number” size and it’s the Europeans that use this large “what on earth does it measure?” – number.] What’s the biggest pair you have?

Everyone looks at M’s feet, much shaking of heads, méiyǒu 没有, don’t have. Strike 1, strike 2…

Then we try a new tack. We like this pair. What’s the biggest size you have? Yes, I know they might be too small, but let’s try them anyway.

With much muttering and looks of disbelief the shop assistant wanders off somewhere, to look for big shoes. She brings back a pair of shoes – size 43.

Oh dear, it’s too small.

Smirk on face of shop assistant – “I told you so, and now you’ve wasted my time having to fetch them out of the storeroom.”

Oh, look, there’s a label in the running shoes that M is wearing – and its got a UK CM, a European AND an American size – OK, so we need size 45. Do you have a size 45 in this style? In any style? méiyǒu 没有, don’t have.

Strike 3. Move on to stores 4, 5 and 6. Much simpler now…

Do you have any shoes in size 45? Oh, only in the psycho neon green with orange laces? Or the ugly brown with yellow reflectors? [I can see just picture those with his navy suit…]

Strike n. Store (n+1).

Somewhere in the preceding (n+1) stores I looked up the word for waterproof in the dictionary on my mobile phone, so by now I am actually asking: Do you have any waterproof shoes in size 45?

Strike n squared.

Last store before we hit the exit – there are two possible options: right colour and don’t look like they need to be on the slopes of Mount Everest to feel at home.

Do you have either of these in size 45? Oh, you can look them up on your computer without having to head for the storeroom – why didn’t anyone else around here think of that?

yǒu 有, have, qǐng děngyīxià 请等一下, please wait a moment…

Happy shop assistant re-appears with shoes that actually fit. We’re still a bit hesitant because even though this pair is the right size and the right colour and isn’t pining for a glacier, the label says water-resistant, not waterproof.

Look of panic appears on shop assistant’s face – I really thought I had a sale here, and now these damn lǎowài are going to back out of the deal. shìde shìde, 是的是的, they are waterproof – look – read the Chinese label on the back of the box.

(yeah, right! As if I can read all that…). OK, we’ll take them, it’s not as if we have a whole lot of options to choose from….

Then begins the interesting point-of-sale routine common to many of  these “department” stores.

The senior shop assistant fills out a complicated sales invoice (3 layers deep) in a book and hands the 3 copies to the junior shop assistant. You then leave your goods that you are trying to purchase and head off in the wake of the assistant to the central cash-point, which may or may not accept foreign credit cards. If they don’t accept foreign credit cards, then you have to pay in cash or enquire about the whereabouts of the nearest ATM, and make a detour to draw the required wads of cash – the largest denomination here is 100 RMB. You pay your money in an acceptable and appropriate form, and then the central cashier keeps the top copy and the remaining copies are carried back to the store, where they are handed back to the senior shop assistant, who then holds onto the second copy for her records and gives you the third one, reuniting it, and you, with the goods of which you are now the proud (hopefully) owner.

One pair of size 45 “Made in Vietnam” shoes later, we emerged triumphantly from yet another successful purchasing mission!

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February 2020
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