Nowadays, you can go to any number of stores in Shenyang for imported goods. Ikea and Yoohoo opened last summer/fall. Ole’ opened this summer. But last year, when we arrived, there was Carrefour, or as a friend calls it, HELL, because of the chaos that ensues inside those walls. A thousand people crammed into two floors of a supermarket with all four wheels on the shopping carts turning round and round. Oh, and 990 of those people are staring at you. No joke. I used to buy 5 packs of coffee at a time just to avoid going every month. I even convinced Tim to start buying it when he has business trips to France. Same coffee, but the grocery store in Clermont is a lot friendlier.
But there is salvation in Shenyang. Some might call it the Riverside store, but the cool people know it as The Little Store. I have the extreme fortune of living 1/2 block from this oasis. I don’t visit it every day, but close enough that they know me and point out things I might like. They maintain a range of imported products on a regular basis. Some are very important, such as cereal, soft drinks, chips, mustard, oatmeal, granola bars. Some products are a little less frequent, but we can find them most of the year, such as soups, bagels, fresh milk (not ultra high temperature), and alcohol. They also have lots of local products, including fresh produce, noodles, spices, sauces, beer, soda, etc. Some things, like Coke, Snickers and Oreos are universal. And then, there are the surprises. Imagine the first day I saw the bagels! How long had they been in that freezer case? Who else knew about them? I bought 3 bags. And the nacho cheese! And the Diet Dr. Pepper! Yesterday, I stopped dead in my tracks in the candy aisle when I saw that the Red Vines were back. In the US, this is my weekly go-to candy. In the year and a half that we’ve lived in China, I’ve seen Red Vines in that store 3 times. Unfortunately, I can’t buy 10 packages and save them like the bagels or canned soups. The licorice would be gone by Friday.
There are some things I can’t bring myself to purchase, I’ll be honest. The $7 bags of Hershey’s Nuggets that showed up last week. The $8 box of Cheerios. But I will buy a $1.50 candy bar if it jumps out at me. And I will pay $1.50 for Tim’s Dr. Pepper. And $8.50 for Cascade because it’s the only dishwasher stuff in town. It’s weird though. There are items I never used to purchase in the US, but holy crap, when those unfrosted brown sugar cinnamon Poptarts appear, I’ve got to have some. Yesterday, I actually picked up the box of Capn Crunch and had to tell myself to put it back. Out loud.
The funniest part about this imported products game is the shock and awe that you feel when you see something you love or miss or want or just haven’t seen on the shelves in a year. The excitement is fantastic, but know this– it does not create an inkling of the meltdown I felt in the Kroger cereal aisle in Indianapolis just last month. My Mom wondered why I brought Life cereal into her house. Because she only had Corn Flakes. I can get Corn Flakes in China.
Enjoy a few pictures from The Little Store. You’ll have to read the descriptions for some special quips. Some of the photos show the prices too. The exchange rate usually hovers around $1=6.8 Chinese yuan (or renminbi-RMB). Today, it is $1=6.3RMB. Think about what you couldn’t live without and how much you would pay for it.