January 16, 2016

The Gwailo Goes to the Market

"This gre-ee-n leaf-ah, is it good for cooking, lah?" I slowly said to the vegetable vendor, doing my very best interpretation of Canto-English with strategic "ah, lah, and oh's" to make it sound like I  meant business.

"This is watercress and that's bamboo," the vendor replied to me in perfect English.

Embarrassed, I quickly dropped my poor, obnoxious accent and tried to recover by asking him a dozen questions about different vegetables I didn't recognize. Ultimately I purchased only familiar things: broccoli, onion, ginger, and zucchini. But now I've got a new friend in the wet market...I think.
Wan Chai wet market

My new favorite English-speaking veggie hawker
The wet market is a series of stalls--both indoor and outdoor--that sell fresh produce, meat and fish. It's open from 8-8 each day and the produce and meat are fresh and a fraction of the price of a typical grocery store. I'm still working out the origin of most of the produce, namely the vegetables, as it's hard to tell where they were grown. Fruits are more straightforward and there is amazing fruit that comes from all over SE Asia. 

I went to the market shortly after it opened on Sunday morning and at that time was the only gwailo (foreigner)  there.  Market shopping is a personal benchmark for getting on well in a new place. I've been lucky to live within a five minute walk of fresh markets for the great majority of the last eight years. 

It's amazing that my first shopping trip in each market--be in in Rome, Hangzhou, Capitol Hill in Seattle, and now in Hong Kong--felt the same. In each place, armed with a shopping bag and a clear calculation of what was in my wallet, I felt nervous, unsure, and absolutely clueless as to what to buy and where. 

In all instances (save for Hong Kong), the market slowly transformed from an intimidating amount of produce to manageable stands where I had my hawker for eggs, tomatoes, mangoes...you name it, and I knew where to get it and they knew me. I'll get there one day in Hong Kong, it's just a matter of setting up the routine of it.

I've hit the two month mark now and I'm happy to report that I do have a sense of routine, at least a tiny bit. Anyone who knows me well knows that I adore a good routine--I'm the classic case of early to bed, early to rise, neat-freak, follow-a-schedule gal. There's nothing quite like a move around the world to shake out any dust settled from established habits.

At this point I maybe have 10% of Hong Kong figured out, but it's a solid 10%. My job is going great, I'm loving all of the food, I'm learning more about my neighborhood and the city, and I have a lovely home. Food, water, shelter, safety: all of my basic needs are more than met. However, the bus system here is still hit-or-miss for me, I have no sense of a budget, and anytime I attempt to say something in Cantonese it comes out in Mandarin. 

It's all ok though, I'm embracing my new home and shamelessly wearing my gwailo heart on my sleeve.

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