Dispatches from the motherland: At the neighborhood vegetable market

Across the street from my neighborhood compound sits a small grocery shop. I had hoped in my heart of hearts to make it mine. It had everything I needed: fruit, vegetables, tofu, even some meat. The summer peaches were plump and juicy, the grapes bright green and turgid. Best of all, it’s so close to my home. But my dreams were dashed by the mewing of a tiny kitten scampering, unseen, somewhere among the crates of potatoes and corn. I followed her mews all the way to a cardboard litter box tucked away in the back corner of the shop next to the onions. There I found her hopping between the onions and kitty litter with not a care in the world. A cute sight to see, sure, but soon the question of hygiene eclipsed all else. Never mind that onions are encased in protective skins and that kittens are cute; suddenly the shop seemed a little darker, mustier, and dirtier than I liked. I stopped patronizing the shop that day.

The other day the kitten sat at the entrance guarding a crate of tomatoes. She’s twice as big now because she’s a teenager. When I stooped down to tease the cat, the shopkeeper said, “Long time no see! You haven’t shopped here in a long time.” (Four months and three days, to be exact.) Rather than explaining my thoughts on the onions and kitty litter, I gushed on and on about wow, how big the cat is, wow, how cute she’s become! I felt a pang of guilt. It’s true: the less we know the better. I sometimes wish I’d never discovered Littergate.

I didn’t want to tell the Madame Littergate that I have a new market to call mine now, up the block and around the corner. This market is brightly lit, not musty at all, and covers all the major food groups: seafood, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, and pickled things. Plus, there is a diary shop next door. Here you can buy different varieties of peaches and grapes, the peaches pale as a fresh pair of sneakers or yellow as a meadow of sunflowers, the grapes fat like water balloons. Here you can find all kinds of mushrooms – white buttons, oysters, enoki (aka 明天见, so called because they pass through your system intact, so you can see them the next day in the toilet), shiitake, cremini, portabello, and other varieties I don’t know the names of.

The only downside here is the vegetable man smokes like a chimney, lets the ashes fly while he arranges the potatoes in neat rows or stuffs 5 kilograms worth of eggplants into a giant bag in the middle of the night (perhaps for a restaurant that produces baba ghanoush, is my guess). The first time I went into the shop, he told me he couldn’t take his eyes off me (hopefully not in a creepy way). “Your hair is so short, but it really suits you!”. Now whenever I go into the shop, he says, “Ha? Your hair STILL hasn’t grown out yet?” Maybe one day I’ll go in with a wig.

Once, the vegetable man asked me why I always buy the cheapest variety of mandarin oranges. It’s because I like my fruit to be mildly tart. How can anyone resist the crispy tang of a Granny Smith apple? When I’m feeling extra fancy, I treat myself to a Granny Smith apple (or something that looks close to it) from the international imports supermarket. Only when I’m feeling extra fancy.

I struggled to come up with something interesting to write about today, but writing this post made a bunch of other topics pop up in the back of my head. Note to self on other things I can write about: retired aunties, going to the park, the security guards, things my Chinese teacher tells us that aren’t in the textbook.

3 responses to “Dispatches from the motherland: At the neighborhood vegetable market”

  1. Word of the day: turgid. The last time I used that word was to describe my arm after I got rhabdo. 😦

    I would say the best part of my day is taking a break from whatever I’m doing to savor the first bite of a piece of fruit. Today, I spread that out over three moments: I ate a mandarin, a Mcintosh apple, and a tiny jar full of pomegranate arils that tasted faintly of the cutting board I used (that is to say: like an onion).


    • You savor the first bite, but what about the rest? Leave it for someone else to eat?

      I always thought you were weird for liking McIntosh apples. They smell good and make a nice pie (with lemon juice, of course, for a kick of tartness) but don’t you find them too mealy? I remember you went through a mealy Red Delicious apple phase.

      Today I learned what an aril is. Thank you.

      Did you know that cherries and peaches and plums and nectarines and apricots all belong to the same family, that is drupes? I always thought the Drupal logo was a peach pit but I think it’s actually a drop of water or something.


      • I lied, I don’t usually savor the first bite like a slow person. It just sounded more romantic and complementary to your post. More accurately, I snarf. I will bisect a mandarin and eat the halves like they were hearts. And I will chomp on an apple the way I imagine a horse chomps on an apple. And the pomegranate seeds, I pour into my hand and slap into my mouth like a drunk.


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