Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Don't stop!

Whatever you do, don't stop blogging while you're changing everything else in your life. You will be unable to start again, with each little daily anecdote accumulating in the backlog of Stuff You'll Never Actually Post. Or maybe that's just me - because that is, in fact, what's happened to me.

The Drafts folder of my blog might as well be the Siberian Exile folder. I'll try to bring some stuff back from there but no promises! I'm just going to try to post (or have scheduled to post) something every day for the rest of the month. Not necessarily horse related, no promises of quality, just some blather to get me back on track.

So here's a story about grocery stores.

Shortly after we moved out here, I discovered 99 Ranch, the Asian supermarket in Daly City. We made a few "touristy" scouting trips out there, staring in awe at the live fish and vast selection of mochi ball ice creams and honey-chrysanthemum drinks and black-skinned head-on chickens. I bought some food at Safeway and Costco. I kept thinking about 99 Ranch, and I pulled out this Thai cookbook I've had since 2005. I went on another scouting trip to 99 Ranch and yes, for the first time in my life, I could purchase EVERY ingredient for almost any recipe in the book. So I bought a wok and a rice cooker and started cooking Asian stuff almost every night.

But it was scary. You know how there's signs in the checkout islands reminding the checkers to do (or not do) certain things, like "CHECK BOTTOM OF CART" or "NO HOT FOOD ON WIC CARD"? The ones at 99 Ranch say "GREET | EYE CONTACT | SMILE." Because nobody wants to look you in the eye, smile, or say a word.

It was weird as fuck for a month. I admit, I took it personal at first, complaining to G about how they all hated me at the grocery store, but he pointed out, quite correctly, that nobody talked to anybody if they could help it. They weren't ignoring ME, it's just some Asian big-city protective adaptation.

The food was SO good and SO cheap and I kept going back, and eventually I got used to the people. (Limes for $.20 each. A huge bundle of Thai basil for $2. Like 75 tiny Thai bird chilis for under $2. I could go on forever!)

I didn't realize how used to the people I'd gotten until last week. I went and rode Dixie, and I had a hankering for something from Whole Foods - yogurt, I think - and I went to the Palo Alto Whole Foods. I wandered around and bought a few things. I was a little confused at the Asian food section - one brand of curry paste? one brand of fish sauce? One brand of coconut milk? - but it wasn't really weird til I got to the checkout.

I put my stuff down and handed my reusable bag to the bagger. Then the cashier started talking to me! Nonstop! She asked me what kind of eggplants I'd gotten (is this not your job, to know the produce?) and singlehandedly segued into a monologue about fruits and veggies and coffee and the weather. It was bizarre.

And that's when I realized I'd acclimated to 99 Ranch. Greet, eye contact, smile - totally optional.


  1. yeah, stopping blogging and starting again is hard, so glad you're back! Don't care what you write, always fun. I think the Asian market sounds awesome. I'm pretty reserved, and I hate the chitchat, or asking if I need help in the hardware store (I admit I'm weird about this, OK? I'll find it myself!) So, now which do you prefer? (Oh, and your food sounds awesome!)

  2. Okay, first of all, love the story of greet, eye contact, smile - it brings back memories of the cultural learning I did when I taught among the Dene and Inuit in northern Canada.
    But most of all, I laughed out loud at your first paragraph - believe me, You Are Not Alone!!!!! I have so many untold stories and unpublished photos from the times when there are significant changes in my life, I'm sure that even without any new material I could blog every day for a year and not be caught up.

  3. Thanks for not stopping blogging. (Was that a correct sentence?) I've been seeing a lot of that lately and always worry that the next one will be another of my favorites. Gets crazy busy sometimes and its the last thing I have time for, but the stories don't write themselves and they are burned there until I have time to write them. So pull from your drafts anytime. Its new to us.

  4. 99 ranch is germany. they train them here to only look down, and say "have a nice weekend" while avoiding eye contact. i HATE ths.

    i made a point to try to talk to them, no matter how hard the people in line behind me are pressing against my ankles. they are shocked. i get a huge audience all staring, "She's TALKING to the checker! and...with an English accent!" ("are you from england?")

    tonight i pointed out that if that plastic container with the american flags really did contain "american popcorn" - it wouldn't be the sweet variety. we like the salt.

    the person actually buying that popcorn gave me a blank stare, "She's talking about..my food?"

    i so miss it and will love it, coming home next month, and CHATTING with checkers.

    ~lytha, no camera yet for blogging

    now playing: meet james ensor. (i was singing it in my yard tonight, "DIG HIM UP AND SHAKE HIS HAND.."

  5. Adding this to reasons to move west.

  6. In Shogun (the book), there is scene in which Mariko is explaining to Anjin-san how with the shoji screens being so thin, you have to pretend not to hear your neighbor in order to maintain a semblance of privacy. I don't know if it's a big city thing, or what, but it's something I'm used to. With so many people crammed together, you pretend not to notice others, so that you don't go crazy with the constant human contact.

    That "rule" is NOT in place up here in the Pacific Northwest--- I'm experiencing the same kind of acclimation as you, but in reverse. I am really struggling with having to talk to every single gas attendant and cashier I come into contact with - it feels extremely awkward and strange.

    I wonder - is it only at the Asian food market up there that the "wall" is in place? I've found that Whole Foods/Trader Joe's/Hippy-type-stores tend to talk more, so I almost want to discount that experience. What about an Albertson's, or a Ralph's? Do they reach out and break through that barrier? I'd be interested to know the answer.

    Also: 99 markets are not always Asian. When you are in a predominantely hispanic area, they will carry strange hispanic foods as opposed to strange Asian foods. It's a trip.

  7. Love this. And yes, we have Ranch 99 just up the road from my library...my kids think it's heavenly!

  8. I have definitely come to appreciate the lack of interaction. I get pretty claustrophobic about how many damn people are crammed in so tight in this stupid city. It's much easier if I don't have to talk to everybody!

    I've gotta go to Safeway or something to find tri-tips tomorrow, I'll make a note of how (not?) talkative they are.

  9. Great story, I totally laughed and then read it to Husband. And I have to say, sounds like a place where I would totally fit in lol.

    It is super hard to get going again when you stop blogging. I've had so little going on lately that there just isn't much to write of personal experience. But then I start gathering these weird drafts of unrelated things that might pull people in or chase them away! I hope I can dig up something as entertaining as this!

  10. 99 Ranch is also Russia. No eye contact, no smile, no chit chat, just go about your business. In some ways it was kind of nice, you could just kind of think about you and go about your business and no worries about offending anyone.

  11. Good to hear from you, Funder.

  12. Sounds like my kind of store... I'm not exactly a "people person", or to be more correct I like people IF they're my peeps lol

    Didn't you have at least one post between this one and the House Decoration & hooves one? I was beginning to think something had happened (like overly rude comments) and you'd removed the post and stopped blogging.

  13. Yay you're back!

    I have to say, I prefer the mute experience. I've noticed a distinct lack of screeching-until-they-gag children in asian markets too, they're usually quiet and well behaved.

  14. Wait, aren't you from Mississippi??? No talking in the checkout line? Hmmmm.

    Every time I go home to Ark. I get a little disconcerted by everyone talking to me, everywhere I go. I thought the lady at Dillard's thought I was going to steal something because she was following me around the store talking. My mom reminded me that's they way in the South!

  15. I missed you when you weren't blogging!
    Nice to see you back again & I love the 99 Ranch story... it's something you could possibly come across in a small grocers in a remote village in Ireland. They will either ignore you or they will want to hear your entire life story, one extreme or the other!

  16. Keeping up with the blog is getting harder and harder. I hear you on the draft folder...

  17. 99 Ranch is also NYC (lived there for a while) - especially on the subway. No eye contact!! If you smile and try to strike up a conversation, people will move away from you, assuming you are from crazy town, are about to accost them in some way, or both.

    Amazing how quickly I acclimated (loved it), despite having come from the south. On our little island, if someone waves to you while passing on the highway, if you don't wave back you better have a good excuse in the post office later that day!

    So glad you're back posting again. In the same boat myself regarding posting. Will return soon. :)

  18. I missed your blog posts! Glad you're back. I can go both ways on the chatting. I like my small town grocery store where I know all the checkers--but I resent being forced into small talk with service people I don't know when I just want to get an errand accomplished. I would get claustrophobic (big time) if I lived in the city, so I think I would grow to love the "non-interactive" stores.

  19. At least a bit farther south, it's just the Asian markets that are like that - the other stores seem to encourage interaction in their employees.

    I much prefer the ones that don't make me talk! And I definitely had to summarize this post for my boyfriend. He's significantly better than I about changing modes based on what store he's in.

    Glad to see you back posting again!


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