Last week, I talked about eating, this week I will describe our drinking.
First, water. We are cleaning our teeth with the tap water, but we do not drink it. We purchase 18.9 litre containers of water from a company who deliver them to the apartment. Based on present consumption rates, we use one a month. We have a dispenser in the corner of our living area, by the dining table, which offers the option of cooled or warmed water. The default here is to serve water warm or hot. In the heat, we are not mimicking locals, and have turned off the heating functionality. We will see what we decide to do as it gets cooler. (The stifling heat is over, and at the moment the weather is a perfect low to mid 20s, but it must get cooler soon because the shops have removed their summer stock and are trying to sell large overcoats and heavy winter clothes.) I order the water by texting a Chinese phrase, that our contact for all things to do with the apartment gave me, to the company who deliver it within a few hours.
Second tea and coffee. I love tea, and consume many cups each day. You would think being in the land of tea would mean that it is easy for me to find what I want. But several things stand in the way of this. Firstly, I like Western style ‘black’ tea. The first couple of days, with my fledgling Chinese, I asked for hēi chá (black tea) and got blank looks, which I thought was my poor pronunciation (and may have been). However, after we had been out with a local, I realised that I need to ask for hóng chá – literally red tea (红茶) which is how Chinese see it (it depends on how strong the brew is, who is more accurate). Secondly, other tea is more popular here. Based on my recent Chinese lesson, green tea and chrysanthemum tea are the most popular. This means that the shelves in the local convenience store and supermarket abound with tea, most of which are not ‘red’ – as far as I can tell. Finally, tea making is taken more seriously and tea bags are not available in our most accessible supermarket. Almost a quarter of the store is taken up with the tea section, but no teabag in sight. I have been buying tea bags in bulk when we visit larger supermarkets, but am wondering whether to stop being such a philistine and buy a tea making set.
Raymond is more of a coffee drinker, but not as particular as some (aka we are both philistines). He is able to buy nice lattés in cafés, is making do with instant coffee most of the time, and each morning treats himself to a sachet milky coffee. For over 30 years, he has kick started himself in the morning with a self-mixed milk powder, coffee, hot chocolate ‘energy’ drink. We found Anchor milk powder in a supermarket in Xi’an yesterday. It even had its NZ packaging, with a sticker in Chinese stuck on, which made me, as a kiwi, feel a bit cheap. However, we have not yet found hot chocolate here, even on the foreign foods website. So this is what he is most missing. (Now you know what to bring if you visit.)
And then alcohol. Raymond is a beer drinker and that is plentiful here. He can buy nice local beer for a reasonable price at the convenience store right next to our apartment block. He did find out the hard way that the brand with ‘beer’ written on the outside is much closer to what we would call pineapple juice, whereas the brand that does not make such claims in English is nice beer. Our visits to bars have been linked to rugby and kiwi socialising where he has been able to buy NZ craft beers.
I like wine, but it is expensive here. A lower price bottle of NZ wine costs about NZD40. I also really like fruit juice, particularly when it is hot. At our nearby convenience store, I can buy a bottle of grapefruit juice, which is my favourite, for NZD1. As a result, I tend to drink tea or juice when we sit down for a drink, and am ordering juice at a bar. I have only drunk wine twice since we arrived – the two times we were invited to someone’s place for dinner and took a bottle of NZ wine.
Pomegranates are plentiful here just now. Last week, Raymond got given a box of 12. Apparently, it is part of this week’s autumn festival that locals eat mooncakes and pomegranates. I have no pomegranate experience and was not sure what to do with them, but I can use the internet. So, having just bought a blender, I made and drank my first pomegranate juice. (I also made a pomegranate and pistachio cake when playing ladies with a couple of other women who are not yet working, and pesto which I have not yet found in the shops.) It is all part of living in a less processed environment.
Out of home, we are on a drinking as well as eating adventure. For example, last week, we ate, for the first time, at a food mall in the large shopping centre one metro stop away from us. After a reasonable level of confusion, we worked out that we needed to get a card at a separate counter, put some money on it and then we could purchase what we were trying to buy. When we got our meals, selected after reviewing the three-dimensional examples on display (and now able to recognise, and avoid, intestines), we each received a bowl of liquid, as well as our two meals. We looked at the content of the bowls, and discussed whether it was more likely to be a sauce, a drink, or something else. We settled on drink, and gingerly sampled it. It was sweeter than expected. After further sampling and analysis of the contents, our joint opinion is that it was carrot juice. We are still not sure, but it made us both happier to drink it once we gave it that label.
So our alcohol, tea and coffee consumption is down, we are drinking more water and fruit and vegetable juices, and food is less processed. It seems much healthier. Hopefully, this will offset the increased air pollution, that we hear comes with the cooler weather.