Me and Beijing grocery stores
canned yellow peaches, panic buying era, health code scanning
What a time to live in Beijing.
The canned fruit shelf was left entirely empty as I went in search of canned peaches, the trending “magic medicine” that many are seeking in times of fever and deteriorated appetite (see this SCMP reporting). I wanted to find one lychee jar, the kind of comfort food I used to get when I was a kid. There weren’t any. The store was basically empty. There were just a dozen costumers spreading around at different corners — most of them looked quite young. Usually in front of vegetable stands, Beijing aunts and uncles would take their time picking the best produce. They were all gone for the time being. I could hear chatters from meters away.
This was a windy afternoon in early December, I just recovered from a week of Covid. Re-embracing the world, I found for the first time ever in my entire stay in Beijing, I could walk into a supermarket without a security guard stopping me to check health code and Covid negative results. The loudspeakers weren’t repeating the entry requirements anymore. As someone who got through the first wave of Omicron in Beijing following the abrupt opening up, I found myself alone on the streets.
Jingkelong 京客隆, the neighborhood grocery store and a chain, looked totally the opposite six months ago. In May, when the lockdown rumors started, I rushed there to prepare everything I would need for a potential two-month quarantine. There was barely any clear walkways between the sections, as people and carts were blocking the aisles. I purchased everything from dark chocolate, healthy trail mixes, chips, diet coke to flour, rice, meat and vegetables. One widespread photo from that time was people lining up in the cashier while watching the press conference that day, to see if there were any signs of lockdown announcement. Outside of the store, trucks were loading cabbages and white radish, and many cars with flashing lights were parking at the curbside. There was no time to waste.
Only half a year apart, I have seen its busiest and emptiest.
Without getting any canned fruits, I came home and worked through the rest of the day. Hours later, however, I accidentally found a can inside the kitchen cabinet, exactly a canned yellow peach. Buying canned foods was never my habit, where it was possibly from? I began to think — Ah! It is a legacy product from this May’s panic buying! I guess when you were in a panic buying mode, you weren’t really memorizing what you were getting. For the whole time, it had been sitting there quietly. Now I owned one canned peach. Maybe I could post that on Instagram later, I was thinking to myself.
I didn’t expect I could get another four cans on the same day.
A neighbor upstairs suddenly added me on WeChat from the compound group chat — “Hi neighbor, I have dropped four cans of peaches and pears at your door. I saw you help us send appeals to community workers during the temporary lockdown a few weeks ago, and recently you have also offered dog walking help (note: because someone was not able to walk their dog after getting Covid). I admire your personality and I would to share these canned peaches with you as gifts.”
Feeling surprised and warm-hearted, I thanked the kind neighbor. I have five jars now. These are the most 2022 things ever. And only in China.
When it’s getting warmer, I will always go back to Jingkelong. I hope to see everyone back there after this fierce outbreak. When that happen, I am sure the canned fruit section will be filled again. And I can start a brand new chapter with Beijing grocery stores.