Thor's China Diary

Apples to Go

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 They know me well in the East Gate fruit and vegetable market. It's a long, narrow building with high ceilings and two aisles. The light is dim, the floor is often slippery with a mix of water and squashed cabbage leaves, and the stalls crowd so closely that shoppers have to jostle like passengers on a crowded bus. The market ladies quote prices with finger gestures as I browse, and cackle sharp comments in Wuhanese that float blissfully past my uncomprehending ear, making the passers-by smile.

Last night I bought some apples -- I eat two a day, so chomp through great quantities. Stall holders have not been slow to pick up on this. I had done my usual thing of asking the price in half a dozen stalls, and finally taken one offer because they scarcely varied. The apples, when I began to select them, were pretty clearly seconds. I had to choose carefully. Suddenly there was a torrent of Wuhanese, and a lady in bright yellow whom I vaguely recalled as one of the passed over stall holders was giving me a dressing down. The pantomime, as I decoded it, was that her apples were as cheap as these ones, and definitely of much better quality. The boy I was buying from grinned like the cat who got the cream, and a small collection of nearby sellers quickly gathered, roaring with laughter. My seller, when he gave the change, had the grace to add an extra one yuan discount, still grinning.

"Apples to Go" copyrighted to Thor May 1999; all rights reserved
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