Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 10/26/2011

I considered taking a "sick day" from the blog this week as 3 out of the 4 members of our family have been very sick this week, but we are rallying!  I hope to blog about our first and second visitors from the States and our October holiday soon.  I am so behind!

For this week's What's That? Wednesday post, I need you to take a look at the picture below and see if you can find the similarity between all three packages of food.  Do you see it?

 If you spotted the white "S" against the blue background, then you win the prize (your check is in the mail).  I have been told that this is the international symbol for safe foods.  I do pay attention to it when I'm shopping at the stores, but most of the things that I'm interested in purchasing have the symbol on them.

I tried to do some internet research on the symbol, but I had no luck finding anything.  Sorry I don't have more details!
A close-up of the packaging.

A few health & safety practices have already gone by the way-side.  At first I thought I wouldn't wear flip-flops outside because it's quite dirty, but that only lasted a week or so.  We also used bottled water to brush our teeth...for the first month, now we use the tap (we don't drink from the tap though).  And, I'm okay with the fact that my eggs aren't refrigerated when I purchase them.  I figure the Chinese have survived for thousands of years and we will too!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 10/19/2011

This week's What's That? Wednesday post is dedicated not to a new object or something distinctly Chinese, but rather to an art form.  The unfamiliar practice (at least unfamiliar to me) of bargaining.  I've mentioned it in some of my earlier posts about bargaining, but I thought I'd dive into a little more detail today.

Bargaining is a way of life here.  Just about everything is negotiable and if you're willing to take the time to haggle a bit, you get some really great deals.  In the beginning it was very intimidating.  Coming from a culture where all the prices are listed on the sales sticker, I didn't have much practice (although I have been known to ask in the States, "is this your best price?")  And frankly, sometimes it comes down to squabbling over a dollar or two, or less.  The exchange rate is roughly $1 USD to 6.4 RMB, so if I'm arguing over a 12 RMB price drop, that's only $2 or so.

The better actor/actress you are and the more showmanship you display, the better deal you can get.  It's important to look utterly shocked and disgusted with the first price they offer you...seriously!  Then the fun starts and you go back-and-forth until you've reached some agreement.  They've got a distinct advantage, I am clearly marked as an expat and the prices automatically double.  I've been told to offer half of what the first price is, but for some reason I usually drop it by about 40% to start.

In all but one instance I have had no emotional attachment to anything I'm haggling over and that is so helpful.  In fact, most of the time I can literally walk to the next stall and buy the same thing and the seller is very aware of that.   If I start to "walk away" (as in, walk away from the seller if they will not accept my final offer), I get called back and they will agree to my price.  Otherwise I'll walk to their next door neighbor and negotiate a good price.  The only time this has not worked was when we were looking for fabric and a seamstress to make the girls' Halloween costumes (which will be an entire post of it's own) and the lady didn't call me back!  I was flabbergasted, but she knew I was an expat and I needed costumes by October 31st, so I was at a disadvantage.  Lesson learned, go earlier!

Another trick is to lump purchases together.  I did that when I was buying scarves (a few of you will see them at Christmas...).  After the woman quoted me a price for 3 scarves and I said no, but I would pay that for 4 scarves.  She initially said no, but as I started to walk away she said "okay, okay".

In the beginning I had to take some time to explain to the girls what was going on and try to let them in on the game.  It was a little hard for LBean to "walk away" at first, but she has figured it out now!  If fact, when we were negotiating for Halloween costumes she knew that when we walked away it was because the price was too high and we needed, in her words, "to look for lower numbers, a good price, right mom?"

I don't know enough Chinese yet to bargain completely verbally, but that's why I carry my small calculator in my purse and the numbers can talk for themselves.  Plus, I've developed some pretty refined acting skills!

Be aware though, if you act interested in something, I might just negotiate for you just for the fun of it.  While my mom was here visiting she started looking at a ceramic Chinese piggy bank in Tongli and before she knew it, I had negotiated an 80 RMB price (down from 120 RMB, to about $12.50) and she got to lug this piggy bank around.  She threatened to leave it at our apartment, but I think it made it back to the States in her carry-on luggage.  Sorry mom, hope you love your new pig!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 10/5/2011

Take a deep breath.  And again.  Do you smell it?  Oh come on, try again!  This week’s What’s That? Wednesday is the Asian delicacy, stinky tofu.  The dish comes by it’s name honestly.
We have spent this past week exploring some of the local Suzhou sights.  Because it is a holiday week, there were many people out exploring and celebrating.  Part of the celebration included favorite foods such as stinky tofu.  
We got our first whiff, literally, on Monday when we were on Walking Street in Suzhou.  The smell is so overwhelming and terrible, there really isn’t a nice way to say it.  Jamie likened it to China’s blue cheese and my mom suggested sauerkraut.  
From what I understand, the smell is terrible, but the taste is mild.  I’m not brave enough to find out if that is true.  The best way to describe the smell is rotten flesh with a little manure mixed in...and then fry it in hot oil.
After we got back from Walking Street, I felt as if the stinky tofu smell was clinging to my hair and wouldn’t let go.  Not a pleasant thing!
We were so fortunate to smell it again on Tuesday as we visited Tong Li, an ancient water town south of Suzhou Industrial Park.  The tofu was fried in hot oil and then put on skewers for people to munch on as they toured the town.  I think our family will pass on this treat!

Frying the tofu.  I think the small, round canisters have
dipping sauce in them.

Time to dig in!