Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chinese markets

Live frogs. For you to eat.
In Shanghai you can choose to spend your days shopping in an outdoor mall that would not look out of place in LA or Miami with all the brands you've come to know and love. Or your tour guide can take you to the "Chinatown" in China which is a huge trinkets mall for tourists that feel the urge to part with their hard earned money buying Chinese tchotchkes. You cannot take one step in Shanghai without someone telling you "Watch/Bag". At first I thought they were kindly telling me to watch my bag, but then I realized they were hawking fake bags and fake rolexes (5 bucks each). A guy who looked like a public accountant looked at me and whispered "hashish, marijuana" as if I was the poster child for Western drug dependence. He looked so square that I told him, "are you kidding me?" and he burst out laughing. Our wonderful tour guide did remind us on more than one occasion that the penalty for drug dealing is death.
The biggest "Chinatown" in the world is in the Old Town, which is being torn to shreds to make way for more condos. But if you walk a block away from the very nicely designed tourist trap, you will come across a hardcore street market where most of your nightmares about what is really in Chinese food (except cats and dogs) will come alive.

Giant eel. There are also many other kinds of eel, all alive and slithering in plastic containers. They will be freshly killed in front of your very eyes, as is every kind of fish known to man. The fish is so fresh, alive, that it doesn't even smell like fish. They kill the fish and spill the guts on the sidewalk and someone scoops them up with a bag, no doubt to turn them into something edible or medicinal. You can also get still breathing fish heads to go, their detached bodies still wriggling next to them. This market was a marvel, but not for those with weak constitutions.

Look up and you will see dried chickens and skinned fish hanging from windows, many times right next to the family's drying underwear.

There are razor clams and manila clams and giant clams and these clams that seem to be marinating in some kind of blood. Yum.

But there are also the freshest, most fragrant vegetables. I could smell this cilantro from half a block away.

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