HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS BACK HOME AND AROUND THE WORLD!!
Life in Henan is very unique. There aren’t many places left in the world where life moves at a slow and steady, almost methodical pace. The attitude of the people is modern, yet traditional. Their habits and activities are innovative, yet remnant of the past. In this post, I will discuss some of my observations of the people of Henan Province, China.
Food is an integral part of life. China’s food scene is probably one of the most diverse in the world. While many people (myself included) talk about the culinary delights of foreign cities, they often overlook where people go to get their food. In the United States, with the exception of Farmers Markets or home grown goods, people generally go to the supermarket or grocery store to purchase their food. From produce to poultry, people look through the weekly ad for the best ‘deals’ and make their way to those stores to save some money. In many places though, especially developing countries, there is more of a dichotomy between where people go to purchase staples for their kitchen.
In my city, there is an upper class of wealthy individuals, a very small middle class, and a large group of people living in poverty. As with my time living in Ghana, I noticed that the poorest are not shopping at the local supermarket, known as the PDL. The PDL is by far the nicest shop in my city. There is a separate, but connected pharmacy on one end, and down the street is a smaller PDL dedicated to electronics. Inside the main building is a large grocery store, Food Court, and five stories worth of shopping that can compete with the malls in many upscale cities. And of course, where things glitter and shine, there is a higher price tag.
If one ventures farther out, in fact, about a 10 minute walk past the PDL, there is a huge outdoor shopping market. This is where the locals go to get much more affordable clothing, toiletries, household goods, and anything else they need for living. Similarly to the large outdoor markets of Thailand, this market appears to have just about any material item you could want.
On the outskirts of the PDL and the outdoor market, there are numerous food stalls set up. These stalls cater to anyone and everyone looking for a quick, delicious meal at an affordable price. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about them yet. Once when I attempted to purchase some street food, I came very close to eating a mule pita pocket. Needless to say I now stick with sweet potato fries, caramel popcorn, and slices of fruit.
One interesting thing about the food stalls is their ability to transcend social class. For example, on any given day, people from all walks of life can be seen purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from vendors alongside the road. Women pushing carts will stop and buy goods alongside the woman who just parked her imported luxury car.
Another notable occurrence is the influx of foreign teachers. I remember my Chinese co-teacher telling me that the university has hired more foreign teachers this year than the year before. Every time (I mean every time) I walk through the grocery store or get on the bus, people stare at me in bewilderment and amazement. It’s still hard for me to believe that in 2016, there are people who have never seen a person outside of their ethnic group before. It goes without saying that bringing in ‘foreign talent’ is one way China is trying to get with the times, but many of the locals seemed perplexed and confused about the non Chinese person’s existence.
Many people see Henan as a province that is ‘stuck in its ways’. And in some regards, they seem to be very traditional. The elderly enjoy stretching at bus stops and children are encouraged to go to the bathroom where they please. But in other ways, with flashy appliances and modern technology, they are advancing in ways some developing cities are not. Regardless to how the local, foreigner, or visitor feels about it, Henan is changing. And for better or for worse, it is a province where modern mingles with traditional.