Queen of the Supermarket 超市

There's a wonderful world where all you desire
And everything you've longed for is at your fingertips
Where the bittersweet taste of life is at your lips
Where aisles and aisles of dreams await you
And the cool promise of ecstasy fills the air
At the end of each working day she's waiting there
-Bruce Springsteen

Occasionally I shop at a nearby supermarket called Merry Mart. But I rarely leave Merry Mart feeling very merry.

Merry Mart is stocked with normal things, like eggs, milk, and bread. It is also stocked with not-so-normal things (for me, anyway), like salmon fish heads, dried sea cucumber, pig feet, and unrefrigerated hamburgers in a cardboard box. In addition to the dairy, produce and meat departments, shoppers can also buy clothes, televisions, hair dryers, massage chairs, and toilet paper.

Forget the BBQ, you only need a microwave!
Yeah, it's just like Target--- except instead of cheap stuff looking expensive, expensive stuff looks cheap, and instead of friendly, helpful clerks bending over backwards to find the exact thing you want, even if it means calling every sister store in the state, you find agitated cashiers who, if an item doesn't scan correctly, refuse to sell it to you or demand exact change because giving change is too much of a hassle.

The bedlam begins with workers positioned near promotional items. Usually female and young, they don a polyester ensemble--a mix of 1960s airline stewardess and highschool cheerleader--while robotically repeating the benefits of the yogurt drink, sweet sausage, chocolate cookie, or whatever's on sale, into a microphone mouth piece attached to their heads. Their voices while loud are barely audible amid the sounds of squeaky carts, ayis (elderly aunties) shuffling feet and shushus (elderly uncles) complaining about the price of tomatoes.

In their frazzled state, un-merry shoppers have no time to think about bacteria transfer. Shoppers use bare hands to pick through raw chicken, pork, and beef for choice pieces. After picking through the meat, they head over to the produce department and sort through the mushrooms, potatoes, strawberries and various greens. After that, they can sift through the beans, rice, and nuts in open bins. Yep, everyone can pick through anything, including the workers, who use bare hands to package snacks and kill time by running their fingers through rice grains.

Is there hidden treasure in the rice?
After bagging bin items such as vegetables or rice, shoppers must queue up to have items weighed and priced. Whoever elbows to the front of the line gets the clerk to weigh and price items before anybody else. Usually the ayis win. Nobody wants to push aside a determined elderly lady with twelve bags of various vegetables in her cart.The clerk furthermore pays no heed to who was in line first or who is the most polite. The clerk's job is to weigh and tag, weigh and tag, weigh and tag, weigh and tag. Asking a question will just induce a blank stare or a colorless reply directing you ask someone else.

So why foray into Merry Mart's innards? Mainly because of the peanut butter. Also like Target, it is a one-shop-stop to buy unrelated items and find bargains on toilet paper, dishwashing soap, and snacks. I just have to mentally prepare myself for the crowds, the lines, the line cutting, impatient clerks, the raw meat, the mayhem. Then I have to remind myself why I love China and pray and hope the shopping trip will not turn into a I-hate-China day. Better yet, quickly return home and eat a spoonful of peanut butter. There's nothing like peanut butter to turn a Merry Mart un-merry mood into a merry-- I mean-- a merrier one.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 超市 chāo shì
English Translation: supermarket

Entering Merry Mart, so far so merry
It's a merry frenzy!
Merrily, merrily, merrily, push your cart...
Greek goddess of yogurt of drinks
I feel better, he has a face mask...but what about gloves?
Meat department with shopper hands all over the bacon
Where's the end of the line?
Weigh and tag, weigh and tag, weigh and tag

Caught! Bagging dried fruit no gloves! I hope he doesn't pick his nose.

Give me peanut butter or give me death!
This cashier is thrilled. We paid in EXACT change.