East meets West

Shanghai is the biggest and most international city in China, and with a population which has increased from 15 million to over 23 million in just the past ten years it has naturally attracted a lot of interest from foreign investors.

A lot of this investment comes from wealthy banks or private businesses which you don’t tend to see on a daily basis but I find the more interesting part of foreign influence is on the high street where you see western brands catering for Chinese preferences.

Some American influence: TGI Fridays

Some American influence: TGI Fridays

Even a Hooters!

Even a Hooters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some are not so different from what you find back in Blightly. Starbucks is, of course, identical to every other one all over the world, as soon as you walk in you can instantly forget you’re in China. The fast food chains like KFC, McDonalds, Burger King etc are all here and aside from a few rice and noodle dishes you wouldn’t see in Britain, the menu is basically the same. The western clothing brands such as H&M and Forever21 are a less common sight than the fast food outlets but they’re available in the larger shopping areas and, despite being more expensive, are not so different from back in the UK either.

So I had this in mind when I heard there was a Tesco just a short walk away from the student dorms. I figured it would be similar to the ones back home, or at least that it would be the closest thing to a UK supermarket I would find here, and that maybe I could get some British snacks for when I’m feeling a bit homesick. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

There's a whole other world behind those doors

Not your average Tesco

A tasty mound of chicken feet

A tasty mound of chicken feet

The first thing that greeted me on entering was a mound of chicken feet. Raw, fleshy, toe-nailed chicken feet piled onto a counter so that customers can help themselves to however many they want and then take them to the till. Of all the unusual foods I’ve tried since coming to China (ox stomach, duck tongues, sea cucumber …), I still can’t get my head around the chicken feet. I tried some which had been boiled and they taste just like regular chicken skin, but they’re so full of cartilage (and some still have toenails when they’re served) that they still freak me out a bit too much.

Walking further into this Narnia of a Tesco I heard a loud splash and people laughing from the far corner and went to check it out.  It turned out one of the fish had leapt out of its tank onto the floor and some staff were trying to scoop it up to get it back in. I’d already seen this in other Chinese supermarkets so it wasn’t surprising to see the tanks of live fish and frogs which people come and fish out themselves to take home and cook. What was surprising though was a live turtle in a separate tank. Soft-shelled turtles are a sought-after treat here so they’re not as common to see in supermarkets as the frogs and fish. I was honestly quite sad looking at that little turtle, it looked barely alive.

On a brighter note, some friends and I went on a trip to IKEA and it was quite sad how genuinely excited we all were about it. This trusty Swedish brand was exactly like anywhere else in the world (including the meatballs, which were amazing) and I now finally have a mattress that doesn’t make it feel like I’m sleeping on a rock! The “mattress” provided when we first arrived was essentially a plank of wood wrapped in a blanket … I’m sure it does great things for your back/posture/whatever but I’m very glad to have a comfy spring mattress again!

Meatballs from IKEA, so good

Meatballs from IKEA, so good

The great thing about the IKEAs here in Shanghai is that the staff change the sheets in the beds every day in case people want to sleep in them. People will genuinely bring pyjamas and have a sleep in the beds to try them out, we even saw some high school students doing their homework in one of the fake living rooms and a young mother feeding her toddler at one of the kitchen tables. This is definitely something that should be introduced back in Europe, it’s much easier to visualise yourself / your family living in one of the fake rooms when there really is a family living in it!

 

Katie.

 

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