I miss shopping in Socialist China

Photo: Willem Velthoven

Published in Matador Network (September 2014).

AIYAAAAAA!” THE CHINESE SHOPKEEPER SHRIEKED, chewing on her toothpick and then spitting on the floor, just inches away from my shoe. “Ni yao bu yao?” (Do you want it or not?)

Before I could answer, she put the box back on the shelf behind her and started walking away. “I just wanted to take a look at the water thermos before I buy it,” I offered in my politest Mandarin. With her back to me, the shopkeeper yelled, “If you want to buy, buy. What’s there to look at anyway? Don’t waste my time.” She then turned up her radio, took a swig out of her glass jar filled with hot water and floating tea leaves, and ignored me with such disdain that my 19-year-old self almost broke down in tears. Shopping in Beijing in 1990 required a thick skin.

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