My Local Supermarket: There is No Queue!

I’ve always hoped that one day I can take a friend who’s just arrived in China to my local underground Chaoshifa supermarket just to see the look on their face. There are over twenty one million people in Beijing, so to say things get a little crowded when you go shopping is the understatement of the decade!

Today I’ve stupidly come late morning in a bid to get the shopping out of the way since Saturday is my day off. Omens already do not bode well. There are no spare shopping trolleys/carts anywhere. A couple of hours before lunchtime or early evenings at the weekend are always the worst times as everyone cooks with nothing but fresh produce. No oven chips around here that’s for sure!

Necessity therefore dictates that there are a number of people milling around waiting for someone to come along and unload their trolley. I therefore have to go directly to the checkout then follow someone after they’ve just paid until they unload. It’s heaving in here!

As per usual they are playing ‘Not a Bad Thing’ by Justin Timberlake which isn’t that terrible to be honest. The trouble is it’s on a loop and they’ve been playing it continually seven days a week since I can remember. Blaaagh! It’s driving me nuts, irritatingly circling around my head for hours after I get home every week. Even when trying to get off to sleep.

Past the relative calm of the toiletries section, turn right and enter the arena. I take a breath and mentally prepare myself for the journey ahead. The deli section has its usual interesting selection of dofu (tofu), pre-prepared salads and cold meat. I often get the wifey a pig’s foot from here and surprise her as it’s her favourite, romantic old fool that I am.

The dried fruit serve yourself section is quite something. Large square wooden boxes are brimming with all sorts of different colours including deep red dried hawthorn berries which go well in your breakfast cereal. There’s also a selection of beautiful looking flower tea and rock sugar. The chrysanthemum or pear sugars are the best, formed into big two inch white crystalline pieces in big piles.

The meat and fruit & veg sections are where it really happens. Its pandemonium in here with noise levels drowning out poor old Mr Timberlake. Above it all, sellers use microphones and amplifiers throughout the store to promote their product destroying your ears as you walk by

“DOUJIANG DOUJIANG, SAN KUAI SAN KUAI”
Soya milk 3RMB

Meat sellers in their white blooded butcher’s clothes shout out using every square inch of their lungs. There also are girls promoting milk and yoghurt at the top of their voices all in white; white puffer jackets, cap, tights and boots!

There is a serious gridlock of trolleys in every aisle. It’s an intense feeling of being unable to move and pinned in. To make matters worse, a guy with a floor cleaning machine wearing a green day-glow work coat slowly makes his way through the horde. This is indeed a special test of one’s patients and the only way to get through it is to switch off that part of your brain that creates irritation and see this an incredible phenomenon that requires mindfulness. When there is a small gap, push your trolley into it and widen the space. If there is a stationary trolley in the way, move it to one side and so on.

A small man wearing a red outdoor coat and a rucksack has lost his temper, something you rarely see in China. He angrily smashes his trolley into others that are blocking his way shouting at the top of his voice.

Once you’ve managed to get your veg’ all bagged up it’s time to join the end of the queue to get it weighed. There’s a separate queue nearby for your fruit. Two shop assistants stand side by side at the weighing-in area for this, so there are actually two queues coming in from either side. There are at least fifteen people waiting in each line which at times become broken when people come in from other directions to get though. I always smile and shake my head in disbelief every weekend at this moment. It’s an amorphous chaos of trolleys and people, kids running around and today a tall bald guy in a brown cut off jacket spits loudly on the floor driving me crazy.

And then there’s the elder generation of housewives and grandma’s who are a law unto themselves. Using their age as an excuse, they skilfully pretend to be unaware of the queue and waddle their way directly to the centre. Holding out their bag of whatever vegetable, they are for some reason, able to get away with putting it directly onto the scales in a blatant act of queue jumping. Yes of course we should give way to our seniors but honestly, anyone who is in this supermarket at this time has full mobility and knows exactly what they are doing, including pushing in.

With the winning post in sight, it’s time to take one more deep breath and hit the checkout. Joining one of the long lines of customers, clearly I’m in for a long wait today. Each till is open though the one near the far wall is not in use. Hedging my bets I take the queue next to it in case by some miracle it opens. And so it goes on. It’s a painfully slow process that makes me contort inwardly. To cap it all, the cashier at the top of my line is actually working one handed chatting on her mobile phone. Amazing!

Suddenly I see a couple of cashiers talking on the exit side. One of them points to the empty checkout and I read their body language like hawk. In a huge gamble I break away the back of my line and speedily barge past down the narrow aisle of economy bags of monosodium glutimate. A few others see my move and follow suit and a domino effect takes place with people charging into the empty space. A rattle of trolleys crashing together forming a new line is a sight to see I can tell you, though smugly it’s yours truly that’s being served first!

Wonderful Chinglish at the checkout. Click to enlarge

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49 replies

    • I think being able to slither between the gaps is the way to go. I was a bit nervous about taking photos in the supermarket but no one seems to take any notice. I got to your page first this week ha ha.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. gave me chuckle .. we have the smaller version here in Canada any of the big Chinese grocery stores which are huge, are somewhat like your experience without the loud music, and the hawkers.non Asian customers, tend to shop during the week… my husband won’t even go in at any time.. I loved your rendition… thanks

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  2. I laughed when I read a guy on a cleaning machine chip into the hurdle of madness. Kudos for another piece of humorous writing. I developed a habit of just shopping with baskets, instead of the cart, at the grocery store that way i can move around easier. I assume grocery shopping is a huge part i need to get used to upon return after wander around the quite and organized grocery store in Canada.

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    • Hiya Julie. Its been a while. Yes you have to focus, become fluid in movement and keep super calm the whole time. What have you been up to these days Julie? Anything interesting?

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      • I wondered if you were writing. Great to hear you’ll be on the road. I’d love to wander around Canada. I reckon July will be my time. Gotta save the cash for it.Safe journeys Julie and will be waiting on your posts 😉

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  3. Thank You for this interesting post. In my country we have rush times generally on Fridays, when people buy “everything” for weekend. Normally we visit shops in the morning, due to nor rush time. The distribution of people is this: In the morning retired people. Midday families and evening those coming after workday.

    To select “right” row for paying is art, which needs to observe people.

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  4. Wonderful description! Sounds familiar like the supermarket in my suburb, especially the old ladies who pretend not to know there are queues. Build courage, stamina and thick skin once you shop here often enough. Bravo on surviving your grocery run 👏👊

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      • Living in a teeming city gives you that bipolar effect. You are swept away in the nervous energy and feel drained yet miss it terribly when you can’t get your high from the pulse of life it offers up. I grew up in a tiny village, alternated between big city life and small town living, even on a stretch of lonely beach at one point. The big city life always called me to return. Reflectively I think you must be comfortable with your own company to survive any place. As you seem to be, a contented observer to the time table of life in Beijing. I enjoyed wandering the streets in my mind thru your story.

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      • Yes well if I go out at night there are less people around and generally more comfortable in the dark. I like the winter > I have regrets and wishes/longings about who I am but its better than the waves of anxiety I faced in the UK. One day I plan to go back and give the UK another try 🙂 Glad you could take the walk with me 🙂

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      • Funny but I used to get panic attacks living in Auckland. I lived alone. In a city that could hold the population of my one suburb. I felt cut off and it unnerved me. I could not get used to the lack of human activity around me. I dont know how an anxiety attack is like but I hope you find peace in your nightly ventures. I read about the UK countryside but maybe living and reading about living there are entirely different. Thank you for putting up with y ramblings. 😇

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      • Its strange how we conjure our own worries out of thin air. I’ll be walking down the road with everything square with the world and no problems anywhere and I can feel myself trying to make me feel anxious. If only for a channel changer for the brain!

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      • A remote held channel changer would be nice. This made me smile. I am imagining my hand automatically go for feel good channel as soon as the first wave of panic surfaces. 😊

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