Wow! It truly made my antennae quiver to see that my last entry made contact with 56 of you out there. A special thank you to pepo36 for his encouraging words. My bubble is expanding every day. To continue the story…
Rewind 2.5 years and it's touch down on Planet China. We opt for a Men in Black approach and our landing goes by unnoticed in the dead of the night. Armed with 5 suitcases (and a useful set of golf clubs) we travel through the city along a 10 lane flyover highway. Through the gloom I can vaguely make out the outline of what appears to be a giant other worldly metropolis. London, in comparison, is a toy planet where even Park Lane, a major city central thoroughfare, has a measly 6 lanes.
Our exploration base for the next four weeks is a pan-galactic hotel chain; our serviced apartment, a hermetically sealed microclimate complete with oven, dishwasher and a bath tub. It smells nice, it looks normal. Here we are safe.
The next morning, peering out of our pod from an impossible height, the outside environment looks hostile. Skyscrapers disappear into a suspicious yellow fog. It's doubtful we can breath out there with our ill adapted lungs…
This marks the start of the Acclimitisation Phase.
Essential to the survival of any species (apart from breathing of course, which I soon discover I can do despite my reservations) is food. My first few weeks, whilst The Other Half ("TOH") is settling in at his company outpost, consists largely of reconnaissance missions to forage for food.
At first, the prospects look good. Within striking distance there are corner shops (familiar names like 7 Eleven) and supermarkets. However, on closer inspection, it turns out that despite appearances, the contents of these shops isn't entirely familiar. Most of the shelves are lined with packets & jars covered in hieroglyphics. What looks like a block of mozzarella turns out be some form of hardened putty (now identified as tofu) and tastes rubbish on pasta or pizza. I can find "Elaborate" bacon but standard smoked danish is not available.
And then there is the chicken. This inoffensive and staple ingredient of many an alien dinner, is readily available here. However, it appears that chickens here have been genetically modified…There are large packets of chicken necks, wings & feet - raw, frozen, pickled or dried - but where, I wonder, are the breasts in this world?
Then one magical day you discover the Alien Deli. This utopia is stocked with cheese, cereal, salad, cheese, tinned chickpeas, cheese, sour cream, avocados, cheese - need I continue. The experience of shopping here is much like walking through a museum, or a luxury boutique. Pick up a pot of small greek yoghurt, look at a price tag of 98 RMB (approx. £10) and place it carefully back on the shelf. Settle instead for a bag of Babybel at a bargain 35RMB.
At the other end from the Alien Deli, you have the native Wet Market. Called Wet, because it seems that on this particular planet one day it was decided that spraying water (laced with some heavy metals) on meat, fish, fruit & veg makes it tasty. This particular food source, a cross somewhere between an abattoir and a farmers market, is recommended for those aliens at a more advanced stage of acclimatisation when olfactory senses have adapted to cope with a wide variety of new odours. This place offers you best value for money (somewhere you can spend those monopoly sized Mao notes), and an impressive range of fruit, veg and meat parts (a degree in butchery is an advantage).
Of course, if that all sounds like a lot of hassle, there are always restaurants. Guangzhou in particular is awash with them, some of them mega sized multi-storey eateries selling a truly awesome range of food. Allow an hour to peruse a menu the size of an encyclopaedia complete with colour illustrations and then order a dish of braised mushrooms which turns out to be baby eels. Then try eating them with two sticks...
Personally, I am a fan of the the smaller hole in the wall style cafe or Xiao Chi (hieroglyphics: 小吃), where for a bargain 15 RMB you can point at a range of colourful dishes on display. The beauty of these places is that if, once you've sat yourself down on a toddler's plastic chair, you do find yourself eating pig nostrils, you can afford to go back to the buffet for a second attempt.
As a final note to all my fellow ETs. Don't live off 24 hour Macdonald's delivery. Yes, it is a miracle. No, it is not a healthy alien diet.
Coming up next in the Acclimitisation series: How to find and make your very own Alien Pod!.
In the meantime, "Live Long and Prosper".
Tags:General Food Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales Lifestyle
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