Shopping can be a lot of fun in China, especially when you are an expat with a little available cash in your pocket. In Linyi, there isn't too much to do for entertainment, so on weekends I often find myself indulging in a little "retail therapy." Retail therapy is possible in China during these tough economic times because I'm usually buying things like cheap keychains and writing pens. (But I have been known to sneak off to Hong Kong to purchase things like a Nintendo Wii and Asus eeePC!)

Row of Shops

A local Linyi "strip mall"

Despite what you might have heard about China being a "communist" country, really it is "communist with Chinese characteristics." I don't know exactly what that means, either, but I think it means consume! consume! consume! Everywhere I look people are buying stuff. Brand name stuff, too, especially Apple, Nike, Adidas, Audis, etc. There are entire streets here devoted to shopping.

Silver Plaza

Linyi's largest department store - Silver Plaza

As foreigners in China, we might have amazing access to computer parts, but we have had to make some sacrifices when purchasing foods. You can imagine what a big bummer this is, because we moved to China from Toronto, Canada where you can find just about any food and any ingredient you ever wanted. Creativity and perseverance are pretty valuable attributes to have when foraging for food in a semi-rural Chinese city. We've seen lots of chicken feet. There are not a lot of foreign foods available, but we have found Chinese versions that are similar, if not always the same. We do the bulk of our staple food shopping on the street where we live. Yup, on the street, although we do also frequent the neighborhood supermarket. Here we buy fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, noodles, etc. Yogurt, pasta, bread, lunch meat, cheese, beef, etc. are purchased in our RT-Mart.

Veggie Lady

We usually buy our veggies from this lady

Greens Ladies

And this is where we buy our greens

Nut Stand

There's a vendor just for nuts and seeds

Dry Goods

Here's where we get our eggs, vinegar, noodles...

Eggs

Close-up of eggs - farm fresh!

Alleyway

This little alley is full of "shops"

Assorted parts

This woman sells assorted pickled vegetables and smoked/dried animal parts (not that I've ever bought any!)

Favorite Baker

Our bakery

Breadsticks

These breadsticks - crunchy with scallions baked in - are the reason why this is our favorite bakery.

This bakery has been a real god-send for us. We both love bread, but we found Chinese bread to be slightly sweet. We got too used to the artesanal bread loaves in Toronto. The bakery produces these amazing breadsticks which kind of make up for the lack of good bread products across Linyi. Last week I uncovered a non-sweet wheat bread in the RT-Mart, which was a hallelujah moment for me. I guess it goes without saying that every time I visit Victoria, my first stop is HEB where I usually walk dumbstruck behind my mother, shocked that there are entire aisles and special sections of the store devoted wholly to bread products. And cheese!

Back to our neighborhood... We love the availability of food on the street, but since the vendors line the edges of the road, the afternoon traffic snarls and twists around the stands and the crowds gathered there, leading to some risky and awkward shopping experiences. Once or twice a year the local police will kick everyone off the street, but slowly they will trickle back.

Street View

A view of the street vendors

The man visible at his vegetable stand in the above photo is one of our favorite vendors. When we first met him, he was selling a few vegetables off of a blanket on the sidewalk. Over two years later he has a table, a scale and a wide variety of vegetables. We frequent his stand because he is friendly. A stroke left him weak and unable to verbalize clearly, but since we can't speak Mandarin anyway, we get along even better with just hand signals. In fact, his positive attitude - he always has a smile for us - keeps us coming back.

Clothes Market

Every five days a clothing market appears

Our local street shopping is not isolated to food, however. Every five days a roving market sets up along the sidewalks. Here you can find shoes, towels, bedding, sweaters, t-shirts and miscellaneous household goods. Bargaining is required, but the opening bids are reasonable, unlike Shanghai or Beijing, where any expat will find relentless bargaining skills a necessity. We've bought really random things here like a wheat sifting basket, a nutcracker, shower shoes and a tablecloth.

Household Goods

Household goods for sale

Now a little about food quality. Hmm. Yea. I really have no idea. I like to buy fresh vegetables from the street vendors because they look like they were just plucked out of a garden, but I have no idea what the garden is fertilized with... I clean everything really well. I stopped drinking the milk for a while after the melamine scare, but I have no illusions that there are quality issues with other products. We try to buy foods labeled with the Chinese government's "S" safety seal of approval, but with corruption rampant, we have no guarantees. Since we can't really know, we just stopped worrying and got on with life. We've been here for three years and so far so good.

Speaking of good, I am here to testify that restaurants here churn out some amazing, amazing stuff. Next week I'll focus on restaurants. Before that, however, I will write about the cost of food. I spent two hours on Sunday wandering around the supermarket writing down prices and boy did I get some funny looks!

Got a question about life in China? Please leave a comment!