All Mod Cons and Mid Autumn Festival 6th September 2014

There are some things that you take for granted when buying goods in large supermarkets. The conveyor belt and the ability to pick something from the shelf, pay for  it and take it home.

The conveyor belt, probably a relatively modern invention, but I have yet to come across one in Suzhou. Here you take your shopping out of the basket or trolley (never take a trolley as no longer have a car to load up the boot!), put it where there should be a conveyor belt and push it manually towards the checkout assistant. A few items is fine, but when you have made the mistake of loading a trolley full it won’t all fit in the :”non moving runway”. First world problem. No such thing a self check out areas – however in October/November 2018 they started to do self checkout with mobile phone payments!

Today we finally bought a vacuum cleaner for the equivalent of £50 we have small pull along Lexy. A vacuum cleaner that we picked up in Auchan – well actually we pointed at it and all of a sudden the shop assistant (every aisle has one), took it out of the box, plugged it in, put the hose on for me and showed me that it was fully functioning. Then rather than putting it in the trolley, she took the price tag off the shelf, gave it to us and pointed at the electrical items cashier. We left the aisle without the hoover, but once we had paid (despite being at the front of the queue, 2 others pushed in) we were taken back to the aisle to collect the hoover. An air purifier for Eleanor was also purchased, though Martin just picked that up and paid for it rather than go through the rigmarole again. The same procedure happened when we went to buy an iPad cover several weeks ago. You pay for the item then you collect it.

Picking up lightbulbs was also an experience. Eleanor and I went to the aisle, picked them up, and again the shop assistant descended on us, took them out of my hand and plugged them into a fitting to show me they worked. Great service, but not necessary.

We also have had a lightbulb moment with Eleanor over food. She tried Chinese food without much complaint, Chinese dishes were ordered, cooked in-front of us and it was delicious. She ate a lot of rice, but at least she had a bit of everything. Her treat, was going to be a bike as we left hers in the UK, but she wanted inline skates instead. Skates, helmet, elbow, knee and wrist pads all purchased and Martin took her out when we got home. Decathlon, the French sports shop is where I have singularly spent the most money in since coming to China. 

Monday is known as Mid-Autumn Festival, also referred to as the Moon Festival as it is when the moon is at its roundest and brightest. The ancient Chinese observed that the movement of the moon had as close relationship with changes of the seasons and agricultural production. Hence, to express their thanks to the moon and celebrate the harvest that offered a sacrifice to the moon on autumn days. On the festival day, families gather to offer a sacrifice to the moon, appreciate the bright full moon and eat moon cakes. It does not feel like autumn here as it is still in the high 20s.

On Friday I asked a woman, Mary, who was waiting at the bus stop for her son as to what  could be expected on Monday. She said that family and friends were coming and that they would eat mooncakes. She asked me whether I had had a mooncake, to which I said no. I knew that supermarkets had been selling boxes of them, but I had not bought any. We exchanged phone numbers and said that she would text me with some information. At lunchtime today I had a text from her to say that in our local supermarket (Vanguard) she had asked a clerk to keep me a box of various flavoured cakes. I thanked her and at 6pm I entered Vanguard, bought a mop and a bucket (all essential items of being a housewife) and went down to the 2nd floor to attempt to find the mooncakes.

Now, my Chinese lessons are focusing on numbers, foods and shopping at the moment – but they have not equipped me to say “A Chinese Lady asked someone to save me a box of 69RMB mooncakes 5 hours ago”. I hovered around the vast mooncake display area and soon enough a shop assistant appeared. I showed her the text from Mary. She looked at me blankly but waved me towards the cigarette counter. Drawing a blank I returned to the display, another shop assistant came over, waved at me to follow her, she ducked under a display table, and brought out a box of mooncakes for me. Whatever the conversation between Mary and the shop assistant was, I will never know. But it was clearly look for the white girl and give her this! Once again I am struck by the kindness of strangers.