Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back in the US of A

I was back in the Bay Area this past weekend for my sister’s wedding. I had a great time, and it wasn’t just because the wedding was a wonderful event. The weather was nice (~70 degrees fahrenheit the whole time). And even though a lot of guests complained about the overcast skies caused by recent forest fires, I thought the sky was incredibly, beautifully blue. Being back in the US reminded me of so many things I miss about home when I'm here in China. Sure, you can become incredibly content and comfortable in China; pretty much everything you want materially is available. But it's not necessarily convenient to get it.

My first stop from the airport was In-n-out for a double-double protein style. I hadn’t eaten lettuce so fresh in at least a year. Don’t know why lettuce in China sucks. Yes, the demand for Iceberg is probably lower, so the stuff we do have is less fresh. But I think it may also have to do with the fact that US restaurants soak their lettuce in ice water to make it more crisp. Since both clean water and clean ice are more precious commodities in China, the lettuce we eat is as limp as wet paper.

My next stop was to a Citibank ATM. It’s like some sort of foreign exchange loophole that I can’t exchange RMB into US dollars, but thanks to an agreement between Citibank and Union Pay (the Chinese version of Visa), I can withdraw up to $600 a day from my RMB denominated Bank of China account at any Citibank ATM in the world. Therefore, almost every day that I was in the US, I maxed out my withdraw limit.

The next day, I went to a local supermarket to buy breakfast for my family. I truly believe US supermarkets have every right in being designated “super.” It was fantastic. I didn’t go to some high end place like Whole Foods, Wegmans, or Mollie Stones; it was like a Safeway or Albertsons. What made it so nice? Nothing in particular, but a lot of little things. 1) Fresh bakery that makes sandwiches, sushi, bagels and so on. Yes, there are bakeries here in China, but of course they don’t sell bagels, nor will they sell anything except baked items. 2) Random household items like ear plugs and shoe polish. I have no idea where I would even go to look for ear plugs in China. 3) No crowd of people. There were probably less than 40 customers in the whole store when I went. 4) Self-checkout lines. I took my 5 items and checked out in less than 2 minutes. 5) Everything was clean and the aisles were wide. China has its share of hypermarts, but hyper does not equal super. Hypermarts (think Walmart/Target) are huge and can offer most of the above. But it’s not an enjoyable experience. The selection is smaller and particularly in China, there are hundreds of people pushing you around. Besides, I live in a neighborhood especially because of its proximity to Carrefour. If I lived where most people do downtown, getting to the hypermart would be a task in itself. Even New York City has its D’Agostinos, why can’t Shanghai?

I checked out a blog today that I regularly visit. It turns out that the writer was on my same flight to SFO last week and is returning today, two days after I did. There was a link to another expat forum asking the question: “What do you miss most in Shanghai?” The answers (most of which I agree with) are telling: politeness, fresh air, honesty, customer service, owning a car.

I was a little sad to get on the plane to come back to Shanghai. I’m sure my spirits will improve once I get a $6 massage, but truth be told, I’d rather have a $2 In-n-Out burger.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I am so glad that you were a "little sad" to leave SF. :-p