First day abroad is always about settling in and figuring out the necessities. Where I am located, that means a trip to the Merry Mart, which is something of a Walmart on steroids in a far more interesting way.
The place is massive and overwhelming… mostly every food item that you can imagine with a side of toys, textiles and housewares. Photos make it look like a regular grocery store, but this place goes on and on… so much that you get confused as to how to find your way back out again. Loads of product, signage… and loads of noise—overlapping, layered noise with sounds of elevator music, loud advertisements, people talking, shopping carts clanging, and more.
As I was shopping, on this slow shopping hour, it seems that I was a bit of a wonderment to the locals. They all watched my every move and carefully examined what was in my cart. Hm. Super exciting stuff—haha. There was something like a row of five of them watching my every move down the dairy aisle… I bought butter and cheese and milk–three things that the Chinese don’t use a whole lot of and which you are sure to miss at least a little should you spend some time here.
I’m sure I was the butt of a number of jokes throughout the store after this shopping trip.
I find the shopping experience in China to be rather similar to that in Mexico—piles and piles of stuff and piles and piles of sounds, with bright color floating everywhere.
It was quite a high pollution day, and so I found myself with a terrible headache. Don’t misunderstand your headaches in China. Most of the time they are not due to your own physical ailment, but due to the terrible smog that can engulf the city on certain days. This was one of them, with a pain behind each of my ears and jet lag in full steam.
Smog in China has many causes, including pollution from industries and traffic, but it tends to happen more often in the winter, when plummeting temperatures cause electricity demand to soar. This pollution can come from many sources, but burning coal has been linked to the largest number of air pollution deaths in China. Beijing’s smog woes are compounded by an accident of geography. Beijing is bordered by the Xishan and Yanshan mountains. When a high pressure weather system moves in, air near the city’s surface doesn’t move up and over the nearby mountain ranges. It just sits there, getting more and more polluted, and residents keep breathing it in.
As I was walking and feeling misery behind my ears and in my head and my feet from the walking, a lovely thing occurred—this fantastic rainbow formed across the sky, and somehow everyone around was in the greatest awe, stopped in their tracks.
People were taking all sorts of photos, and it seemed like a bizarre sort of UFO sighting rather than a mere rainbow. Quite a wonderful thing. China is interesting and strange and beautiful in that way… how it can transform a nuisance or difficult experience into something rather inspiring. Your bad mood somehow becomes cheered by something out of the ordinary. These kinds of things happen every day here, and are a great part of China’s charm, despite the smog or whatever other thing that may be a bother to you. This place is like a good friend that somehow manages to do just the thing to make you smile after a difficult day.