Of cabbages and kings

Beijing's favorite winter vegetable

There was terrible traffic. My alarm didn’t go off. The weather really slowed things up. There was a cabbage and fish sale at the grocery store.

As far as morning delays go, this is definitely a new one for me.

There’s a grocery store in the basement of the building where I work, and when I’m running early I’ll sometimes pop down there to grab breakfast. Fruit, some sort of tasty bun (my favorite is this spongy eggy pancake filled with shredded potatoes and carrots) and maybe a bottle of milk tea. It generally takes an extra 10 minutes out of my morning: 5 in the store and 5 in transit.

Last week I was on my way into the store when I noticed an unusually long line of old people waiting in the produce department. It struck me as odd right away because, well… standing in line is not something that comes naturally around here, especially among the elderly. The orderliness of it all was a bit surreal, to be honest. I grabbed a pre-weighed bag of oranges and was headed the bread counter for my eggy wrap when I was shocked to see what I thought was impossible – another line! This one was in the seafood department, equally long and equally populated with senior citizens.

I tried to shake it off and headed towards the registers with my loot. Unfortunately, this was where I was met with the lines I couldn’t bypass. I thought about abandoning my breakfast, but the shredded potatoes were calling to me (“It’s hibernation season! You need your starches! Delicious starches!”) and I was running fairly early. I’m actually glad I stuck it out, because the conversations in the check-out line were amazing.

Little old ladies were comparing their giant stacks of cabbages (I’m talking 20-30 cabbages per person) and seeing who got the best looking ones. They were marveling over the price and some were even considering sending their sidekicks on a second cabbage run to take advantage of the deal of the century. Better than this was the old men holding up their fish, still writhing and twitching in the little plastic bags that sealed their doom. I was the only one in line without a cabbage and/or fish, and I’m sure that sight was just as strange to my neighbors as they were to me.

And, for the record, I still managed to make it to work on time.

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