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  • Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Orientation Day - Saturday

    On Saturday, October 7th, I received my first day of orientation to living in Chengdu. My guide was Sharon, a YMCA volunteer who teaches professional English to social work students at a university in Chengdu. Sharon is from Chengdu, but went to college in Beijing and to graduate school in Shanghai. We walked through the neighborhood east of my apartment where we toured the neighborhood market where her family shops for fresh produce, meats, steamed buns, etc.

    One objective was to teach me how to use the buses for transportation. I received a bus card to pay for my bus rides. When you get on the bus, you swipe the card on the machine to pay and it subtracts the appropriate amount from the balance on the card and indicates to you the balance left on the card -- very convenient way to pay the fee which varies among the buses based on whether their air conditioned or not. There may be other factors as well but I am not sure. [A bus ride is either 1 or 2 Yuan; 8 Yuan equal one US dollar; thus, it is a very economical mode of transportation.] The bus stop information is all in Chinese so I really have to know where I want to get off. Since, I have purchased a large bus map for Chengdu. Although it is in Chinese, I can better understand the routes and I have a smaller bus map which tells the starting and ending point of each bus route. I should be able to figure it out over time with help from my friends.

    We took the bus to Carrafours which is a large French superstore where they have most everything including food. Larry and Caole, last year's NAFYR volunteers, had told me it was the best place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Sharon walked me throughout the store so I could see what they offered. One immediate impression about Chinese superstores is the large number of clerks in them. The clerks are of two kinds - those who work for the store and those who work for a product company who are there to sell the company's products. Anywhere you go in a store, there are at least six clerks to help you.

    We then took the bus to the central business district where the YMCA is located. We had lunch in a restaurant which had a partial English menu of which I made a note. Then we walked through the central business district. Saw some familiar signs - KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza Hut! Chunxi Lu, on which the YMCA is located, is a major pedestrian street with the latest fashions. Our goal was to visit another large superstore - Ito Yokado - owned by a Japanese firm. Ito Yokado had four floors of general merchandise and the basement level was the food store. We again walked through the store to see what was available. I soon realized that I could have purchased many of the things I brought with me from the USA in China (at a lower price)! Along side Ito Yokado is a new store - Bread Talk - which offers a wide range of western style bakery goods.

    The tour today helped to prepare me for acquiring the essestials for daily life and to be able to get around Chengdu by bus. I've since learned that another major superstore is the Metro - a German owned chain in China. A recent article about Wal-Mart's purchase of a chain of stores in China noted that the foreign owned stores still represent a small percentage of retail sales in China. One of the major advantages for me of Carrafours is that everything is translated into English for each product. The advantage of Ito Yokado is that it is near the YMCA and I can stop in on my way home.

    In exploring my neighborhood, I have found two convenience stores and a produce stand within a block of my apartment. These are good sources for several staples -- bottled water, milk, toilet paper, facial tissue, yogurt, bananas, apples and pears. To find Dole's vegetable juice, butter, paper towels and cereal, I need to go to one of the superstores.

    Many of you know I am a Cheerios fan -- well the version in China is good, but has too much sugar.


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