Friday, March 23, 2007

Open Secret
"Where do you keep the can opener?" I asked C. I'd scored a rare two cans of Italian tomato paste and was beginning the prep work for a batch of psuedo spaghetti sauce, psuedo because ingredients I took for granted back home such as oregano, bay leaves and tomato paste aren't easily found in our area of Shenzhen forcing me into a makeshift mode of substituting say, Chinese catsup and Kraft processed cheese slices for tomato paste and parmasan cheese.

C looked at me blankly, as if I'd casually asked for a 17th century coopersmith's tool. ("Fair wench, has't thou yon stave bejoiner?")

"The what? What?"

"Can opener, you know..." I fiddled my right hand around the rim of the can, miming what was obvious to me. "To open a can."

She still looked uncomprehending, and sincere. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you mean."

C was serious. Then I realized that I'd been here for almost 4 years and had never seen a can opener. Plenty of cans, but, yeah, all that I'd previously opened had pull tabs. Until now. I momentarily recalled the cheap, functional hand cranked can opener I'd left in Colorado. Cost about $2.59 and it was, yes, Made in China.

I described it to her. She professed sincere interest and ignorance. "You've never heard of a can opener? Never seen one? They make them here."

I paused, pondering how one of the world's oldest civilizations had bypassed the humble, utilitarian can opener. "Well, how did your family open cans in Dandong when you were a kid?" I asked. "Before you had color tv, cable and pull tabs?"

"With one of these," she said, reaching for a large, lethal cleaver. She hefted it and mimed splitting open the top of the can with the 90-degree angle of the rectangular blade.

"But my father always did it," she added quickly. She knows I'm as adept with sharp objects as I am piloting a space shuttle or performing a heart transplant and she had quickly deflected my next obvious question -- would she consider sacrificing one or two of her finger tips to open the tomato paste?

"Okay, I'll try it," I said grabbing the cleaver and swinging down. "Like thi...aauuggughh! Fuck."

The next day I went online and showed her pictures of can openers, gingerly steering the mouse with my bandaged, swollen and partially dismembered right index finger. We went can opener shopping the same day. And the day after that. And for weeks to come until she called me excitedly saying that she'd found one inexplicably and randomly stocked at the corner store. Imported from Sweden, it cost the equivalent of almost US$8 -- not bad, actually, and cheaper than new fingers.
Great story and great telling too. I hope that this incident is long enough past that your finger has healed up.
Ouch! Careful, buddy, you're probably going to need just about every one of those fingers at some point or another.

I still get amazed at the level of opulence we enjoy stateside. I haven't counted, but I would bet my local grocery store would give me a selection of three or four different can openers.

And how about that at any time of year, in season or out of season, we can buy guavas or corn on the cob or yellow squash, or mangos, not to mention a host of strange-looking fruits from south of the border. And cashews (one of my weaknesses)...would you like them salted, unsalted, 50% salted, halves or pieces....jeez are we spoiled. Of course, I would have to hunt around a bit to find chicken feet...if I was so inclined.

Thanks for giving us a glimpse of how the rest of the world is living. Here's to your survival (yea, even thrival) there.
next project: an electric can opener ...
Yeah, Dave over at Mutant Palm has detailed a simliar problem in a March 12 post, "Tech That China Forgot." In his case, finding a clock radio here has been his search for the Holy Grail.
Yes sir. Better stay away from sharp objects! I learned the hard way almost 1 month ago. Almost lost my indexie too. Not a pretty sight.

So, now that I am half drunk from a bottle of wine, and the wife is home late from her first day at her internship (is that the right word) at a clothes outlet, I go and make some bread and soup in the kitchen. I had my eye on the sharp Japanese knife that only the missus has used for a good long year. Is this a good time to try out my cooking again since the accident? Hell, no need to answer we'll know tomorrow....

Nice to see you bloggin’ again Justin.
It seems to me I remember Mr. Hale's eighth-grade shop class and a certain someone who split his finger on the band saw...does history repeat itself, repeat itself?

Odd that of all the stuff the world gets from China, you can't find it there for yourself.
I had to buy a can opener at Wal-Mart. And I have broken down and taken the trip to the American store in Shekou for oregano, basil, and dill. Where'd you find a can of tomato paste anyway? I've only seen that in Shekou for far too much money. I'd rather spend the extra money to go to Carre-Four and buy their generic pasta sauce.
Hey Matthew,
The tomato paste was a complete fluke that appeared as if by magic at one of the two local grocery stores in my Nanshan neighborhood, kind of like the can opener that was teleported from another dimension into the other one later.
Subsequent sightings have not been successful.
I hate Wal-Mart here and back home, and not just on principle. Though I confess to caving in here several times when desperate and/or when it's clear that C (who is much more tolerant of the crowds and chaos in the SZ Wal-Marts and whose first major employer out of college was as a buyer for Wal-Mart in Dalian) would consider it a personal affront if I don't go.
Ah, the things you do for love, or a reasonable facsimilie thereof.
And I also "cheat" and sometimes, like an overloaded pack mule with a hernia, lug cans, bottles and packages of stuff I can't find easily in Shenzhen from Hong Kong in my straining back pack.
PS Thanks for the Carre-Four tip. 'shamed to say it wasn't until early this Monday morning when I was in a black taxi on my way to Huang Guang to go back to HK that I saw a Carre-Four supply truck. Where is it in SZ? Probably been here for eons and I never noticed.
Not sure where any Carre-Fours are in the SEZ, but in Bao'an there are two. The nicer one is in XiXiang. Buses 604 and 702 go past that one. The other one is near by new office (I think bank street or something, there are tons of banks right there). You can get there by 395, 603, and bunch of other buses I don't know.
Hi Justin, I called you, emailed you, but could not reach you. How are you doing? --Simon
Wal Mart is the best. Carrefour stinks. Having shopped at both, and bought meat from a Carrefour in China, I speak from experience. Save yourself some aggro, and pick up your stuff from Wal Mart, instead of getting crap twice from Carrefour - the second time, after the first thing you bought breaks
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