Visiting the supermarket can be somewhat of an ordeal here in Changshu. Mainly because most of them are very local oriented. While we slowly manoeuvre our shopping cart through bustling crowds who’s all overwhelming noise vibrates its way deep into our hurting head, our eyes scan isle after isle for recognisable products. It only takes a few minutes before our head is dazed with noise and impressions, and we have to give up trying to find the mayonnaise / yoghurt / grounded coffee.
And with a live fish station adding flipping, living fish to the cart next to you…well, it’s a place I am not always keen of visiting. Luckily we were soon introduced to the world of TaoBao and DingDong…a blessing or a blessing in disguise?
TaoBao and DingDong are, among many other delivery apps, certainly a blessing. TaoBao is the biggest online shopping platform where you can buy practically everything, from horses to day cream, delivered right on your doorstep from anywhere in China. DingDong is a grocery delivery app which works just like food delivery and usually delivers within 1 hour. But both come with some challenges.
One of them is that they are only available in Chinese. While TaoBao at least allows us to enter your search in English, DingDong only allows Chinese characters in the search-box. So we find ourselves flipping back and forth between our translator app, translating “apples” in “苹果” copying these characters back into the DingDong app and then end up with something that looks like apples but upon arrival turns out to be pears instead. Comparing apples to pears suddenly gets a different meaning.
TaoBao and DingDong delivery, traced from start to end.
Another challenge is that we never really know how much we are ordering. Since our comprehension of Chinese characters is still below basic, it can easily happen that 2 cans of Kidney Beans turn out to be 2 batches of Kidney Bean cans, enough to last a lifetime. A sudden craving for red cabbage leaves us with an amount of crops that can feed a small family for weeks. And an attempt to cook a Chinese recipe ends with a 2 kilo bag of Sichuan Peppercorns in our kitchen cupboard, minus a small handful of peppercorns needed for the recipe. An ordered bag of rice turns out to be a 5 kilo bag of rice….and just when we think we order a big bag of rice again since the 5 kilo went quite fast after all, we get a mini-mini bag.
Mini-mini is a recurring topic in a world where the size is just not always clear from a picture. The sturdy, steel-made garden tools? Yep, children’s beach toys. The comfy house-shoes my neighbor ordered to keep her feet warm? Well, she can warm a few fingers with it. And I just ordered a 2.1 meter high Christmas tree which was just delivered in a suspiciously small looking box. With the 20 meter string of Christmas lights I am pretty sure it will light up nicely though. And who knows, maybe it’s very efficiently packed…
Things are just not always what they seem. Corn kernels turned out to be…well, not corn kernels. I still have not figured out what they are. And the coconut cream that came in 6 little drinking packs with a very slim lady on it? Yeah…no cream. Juice! Or when one thinks one ordered a nice bag of apples but receives a bag of very small, little fruits? They’re Jujube, I found out after some research. And let’s not forget the nice looking chorizo-like sausage. The one we like to have as a late night snack because the salty/spicy taste goes so nicely with a beer? Well, the sweet taste was quite unexpected. And unwelcome, that too. Yuk.
In some cases we started to find our way around it by making products ourselves, like yoghurt. Hard to get and almost always sweetened, we started making yoghurt ourselves which turned out to be easier and tastier. Unfortunately we cannot yet say the same about the bread. Like yoghurt, bread is not a widely available product and also not very tasty. But my attempt to bake my own resulted in 4 little stones with which you could easily kill a bird or 4. And the birds do not like the taste of bread either, seeing that the breadcrumbs are still on the patio after some days. So this will need a little more practice. And yeast, that should also help…
But it are exactly these stupid and funny mistakes that make us laugh and realise…yep, we are on an adventure again. And as long as we do not accidentally order a dozen of horses on TaoBao, I think we will be quite allright!