Sunday, August 5, 2007

I Could Never Be a Travel Writer

It takes me a long time to get accustomed to a place, to start to make sense of what’s around me. I find it difficult to jump in and write up a vignette that tells a story and describes a place, with a beginning, middle and end. Problem is, at first there are so many stories that I can’t decide which is the one to write about. Is my story going to be about the nasty pollution, the air so dirty and grey that it can seem like night is falling? Or should I write about how Aidan disappeared from a toy store and we spent a heart-stopping ten minutes searching for him in the shopping center? Maybe you’d rather know how difficult it is to get a kid’s chocolate milk in Starbucks? Or should I tell you about the crazy 3-story shopping center, full of bizarre fruits and mop salespeople?

As I said, I have trouble figuring out where the story should take me. But I need to start somewhere, and those of you who know me well have probably already guessed that I’ll need to start with the hunt for food, my favorite topic in any language.

I used to love shopping at Wegmans grocery store in Fairfax, Virginia. But those days are over. Now, the store of choice is Jenny Lou’s. It’s within walking distance from our house, maybe a ten minute walk beyond the main gate of our complex. It ain’t big, but it’s full of food. Shay and I had a contest today. He asked me to think of one thing I could get in the States that I couldn’t find at Jenny Lou’s. They have cake frosting. They have diapers. They even have El Pato salsa, a favorite brand of mine. They really do have a lot of things for sale – even chocolate chips, though at $5 a bag I still think I’ll have to mail order. But I finally came up with a few things they don’t have. Graham crackers. Flax seeds. Veggie burgers.

The best thing about Jenny Lou’s is that they deliver. You can phone in your order, or you can do what we did today: go in, load up your cart, pay for your groceries, give them your address and leave. In short order, a gentleman will appear at your doorstep, riding a three-wheeled contraption called a sanlunche (san=three; lun=wheel; che=car). It’s a bike, but the back end has two rusty wheels, with a little metal box between them. Your groceries will be stacked in the back of that sanlunche, and he’ll carry them into your house. You won’t tip him, and he won’t expect you to.

Even though it seems as though Jenny Lou’s has everything, it’s still different. There isn’t a lot of produce, for starters, and that’s bad for this little family. Some of the things we use regularly, like frozen raspberries, are impossibly expensive. No veggie burgers, so Bart will go hungry. But we found edamame, so Aidan was happy.

A neighbor drove me to another store this afternoon. This one is a big discount store called Makro, closer to the town center, between the 3rd and 4th ring roads. It’s massive: whereas Jenny Lou’s is the size of a big country store back home, this one was the size of a 3-story Super Wal-Mart. There were all sorts of crazy things there: One fruit looked like a cantaloupe that had mated with a sea anemone. There was a bag of something that looked like greasy black pumpkin seeds. I even saw asparagus juice – ewww. Then again, watermelons were about 5 cents a pound. Still no graham crackers. I guess there’d be nowhere to put them, what with the aisle after aisle stacked high with monster jugs of peanut oil and sixty pound sacks of white rice.

We won’t starve. But we’re currently in the beginning stages of what I like to call the “Foreign Service Diet.” We go on this diet every time we move to a new post. You’re just too exhausted to make a complete meal, and you don’t have many spices or utensils anyway, not until your air freight shipment arrives. So you try to make do with pb&j or toasted cheese, but the jam tastes funny, or you can’t find ketchup, or the bread isn’t whole wheat, and so you give up eating for a few days, until suddenly you start dragging and you can’t figure out why. Then, like tonight, you take the whole family out to a restaurant where the kids can get pizza. And you plan to breakfast on 5-cent-a-pound watermelon.

My brilliant sister figured out how I could post to my blog, so I’m back on board with a plan to keep you informed. I’ll be able to post to the blog, but I won’t actually be able to see it, so if she goes in and changes the background to pink and yellow polka dots, I’ll never know. And I won’t have internet access in my house for at least another week, so my postings will be somewhat sporadic for a bit longer. Bear with me as I try to figure all of this out.

And I’ll try to come up with a more interesting topic for my next post.


Isabelle Yemenijian said... [Reply]

You are a super Travel Writer. Good luck at the new post and new country. isa

Please. Write your own stuff.