"Beijing has captured my imagination like a snare. The bustling city, crazy culture; exotic sights and smells- they have swept me away completely. But I do miss home. Nothing is familiar here, excepting McDonalds of course. Little New Zealand feels so far away." I shut down my laptop, and sigh. Only 3 days until I go home. Right now, I've got to find something to eat.
Stepping into Hanaro Mart is like entering a magic emporium. Towering shelves are stacked with interesting bottles, whose labels read like incantations or spells. Birds nest soup... pickled quail eggs... dried sea cucumber. Hundreds of pickled shrimp watch me from their prison bottle, eyes glassy. It looks claustrophobic in there. I shudder.
Prickly durian fruits lie in piles on the floor; their smell hanging heavily in the air like a mouldy curtain. Chinese symbols are unreadable to me, they might as well say "fried rats". Actually, I shouldn't joke. Running my fingers absentmindedly along the shelves, I feel something furry. I shriek, jumping back in surprise.
Unfortunately, I land in a bin of rice crackers, which crunch sickeningly. "Its a.. it's a... rat!" I point and stare wide eyed at the shelves. The shopkeeper rushes to see what I'm staring at.
"Ah, what wrong? You think is rat?" he questions me
"Yes, yes, there! Can you see it?" I point at the offending brown thing.
"Ohh, you think is rat? Is kiwifruit!" he picks up the small, furry fruit and smiles a gap-toothed smile.
"Oh. Right". I pick myself up from the barrel. "Uh, sorry, I didn't mean to.."
"Ah, is ok. Is funny" his upper lip twitches almost imperceptibly.
And he's right. I begin to laugh, and he joins in; relieved. As my hysterical giggles and his deep belly laughter combine in a raucous cacaphony of noise, the other shoppers turn to see what's going on.
Shopkeeper Min Chu translates in rapid Mandarin, holding up the kiwifruit. "Ban! Ban!". Soon everybody is laughing. I know what they are thinking... silly white tourist girl. But that's ok.
The shopkeeper's wife bustles in from the back room, looking perplexed. After a quick explanation from her husband; she smiles. "You hungry girl? You like bird's nest soup?"
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
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