Wednesday, April 17, 2013

data collection, take 2

Data collection again. After dinner, we walked into the village. We’re only 45 minutes from Shanghai, and yet we could be in a different world. Out the hospital window I can see farm fields, and a man cycling by. I am struck by the absence of human sound. Here, the void of noise—the incessant honking, hacking, ringing, and chatter of Shanghai—almost takes on a life of its own. It is 4:30 and the streets are filled with small children, green kerchiefs tied around their necks, and awash with a soft, buttery light. We visit a fruit vendor: a group of three chatty ladies who delight in feeding us raw sugar cane and winter melon. I am such a novelty here, and I get extra fruit for being meiguoren (American).  

my coworker/roomie  munching on some sugar cane

An old man, who thinks I am German because of my yellow hair, invites me to try his erhu, a traditional two-stringed instrument that looks like a combination of violin and banjo. With a simple sweep of his bow, my new friend produces a delicate, almost weeping melody. Of course, when I try, it sounds like a creaky door swinging shut. He’s a recent retiree, it turns out, and he is learning how to play the instrument while a puppy plays at his feet. The store shops are all open air, and their wares spill on to the street: fruit, tools, appliances, clothes. Half of the vendors are taking a siesta, and the other half are chatting to each other. Above the shops, clotheslines wave gently in the breeze, and through some open windows I can see women beginning to prepare the evening meal.
my new pal and his lil' pal

Even here, sugary beverages abound: every third shop is part-convenience store, stocked with an array of packaged drinks from plum juice to sugared coffee to Coke. Processed snacks are everywhere: bags of dried chicken feet, tofu strips, candied fruit and chocolates; instant noodles galore, seaweed-flavored pringles, what appear to be hot dogs glistening under a heat lamp.

sugary bevs galore

I have trouble understanding why people would want to eat the processed, packaged stuff when there is an abundance of fresh, hot snacks and meals prepared on the streets: steamed buns, meat skewers, grilled sweet potatoes, and fruit galore. Fresh food seems so much more accessible than in the US, where “fast” usually means a trip through a drive through, vending machine, or heating up a frozen meal. Maybe it’s because everything is new and therefore novel to me, but China’s food culture goes to show that food that is fast doesn’t need to be “fast food.” I would hate to see that disappear in favor of green-tea flavored Oreos and KFC.

In any case, we stroll back to the hospital, carrying between us a basket of strawberries, and sharing hot xiaobing (a slightly sweet flat bread made on the street). I tear off a steaming piece with my hands and savor it, grateful at least for now that, some snacks are package-free.

gratuitous dog shot

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