We went strawberry picking this last Friday. Like all things to a Westerner living in China it was an adventure like never before. I’m sure most of you have visited a farm or an orchard and maybe even been strawberry picking yourselves. Get that picture out of your head and let me paint for you a picture of this experience:
Excitedly we get in the van, stocked piled with snacks and books to keep the kids satisfied as the strawberry picking place is an hour drive away. Everyone is settled in and the adventure has begun. Ayi Zou is sitting up front, conversing with Mr. Xu, the kids each have a precious beef stick in their hands and are as content as can be so the focus goes from them to out the window.
As we drive along all you see is a grey, dull landscape – and I truly mean grey and dull. You will have never seen anything as grey or as dull as our area in China. Even on a clear day the sky and landscape are dull and grey it truly makes you think wasteland, as if you are driving through doldrums. Driving out of the city you will find random high rises that have popped up here and there without a real sense of belonging – as everything around them seems extremely baron. You would expect to see villages but you do not as towering high rises have taken their place. There are small crop fields scattered around, a small house/hut here or there, and more out of place high rises clustered at random places on the horizon but not much else. So as you are driving there really is nothing to see, but you cannot keep your eyes from looking out the window as it is all still completely foreign to you.
About forty-five minutes later, it is evident that we are starting to get closer to the strawberry patch as the roads we are on become much more narrow and poorer in quality. The baron land makes way to small walled structures and all of a sudden we are driving around an actual village and not just a random cluster of high rises. The poverty and living conditions are astounding as you can see each dwelling is an extremely modest rectangular house with maybe two rooms. Trash is everywhere, it is already everywhere in China, but you notice much larger piles of it as we drive along. Stray cats and dogs are prevalent and what I can only assume what are irrigation ditches are littered with trash and discarded concrete and building material. On the edge of the village are many elongated greenhouses with large rectangular concrete entry ways, that I must say are as much lacking in aesthetics as they possibly can. The roads are down to one lane now and it becomes clear that our driver, Mr. Xu is unsure of where exactly we are going. Luckily for us, Mr. Xu is excellent and when I sent him the business card for this place, he programmed the number in his phone. So Mr. Xu got on the phone and got directions to the exact place where we were to pick berries. This may raise the question of where the heck did I get my hands on a business card as such? Most all information is passed down from expat to expat here. From what I gather there may have been a school trip in the past which is where the card was obtained.
Soon we are on the road by a lady on a scooter. Mr. Xu rolls down the window and I can only assume directions are being communicated. We follow along for probably two or three more kilometers and stop just beside her greenhouse. We all excitedly hop out of the van and prepare to pick strawberries. As we enter the green house, we are given Styrofoam containers to pick berries. The smell of strawberries is in the air and we begin to pick some of the most beautiful strawberries I have ever seen. It does not take long to fill two containers, between the kids, Ayi Zou and myself. The boxes are then weighed and paid for, and this is where it stung. Strawberries are extremely expensive here. In the stores you will pay around $3 for 16 strawberries. Here I got two nice sized containers for about $40. So as I’m reveling in the sticker shock of this little adventure, I start to notice that Ayi Zou has found celery and is excitedly picking stalk upon stalk of celery. Meanwhile the lady that owns or operates the green house is neatly arranging a box of strawberries. Not thinking much of this, I round up the children and head towards the van. Mr. Xu at this time is holding and playing with the Newbie at the van and Ayi Zou is still in the green house picking celery. So we finally get settled into the van and get ready to start the journey back and Ayi comes up with two arm fulls of celery, and communicates to Mr. Xu to go to the green house, in which he comes back to the van with the box of strawberries that was being prepared by the strawberry lady. It then hits me. We paid the Western price – Mr. Xu and Ayi Zou were getting compensated for us paying the Western price (insert mental note to self to negotiate next time). In all honesty I am very grateful that Ayi Zou and Mr. Xu were given the celery and berries as I’m sure I paid for it, and if it were not for either Ayi Zou or Mr. Xu our lives would be so much more difficult than they already are. We pay the ‘foreign’ or ‘Western’ price on many items here. It is widely known that we get charged much more for the same goods and services received by locals – but hey what are you going to do? It is not like you can complain, nor put strawberries back on the vine.
Anyway, we finally get back on the road and start for home. Only now, as we are trying to get back to a main road there is a cement truck parked at the next intersection and cement is being dumped in a huge pile on the road. We are not able to go anywhere until the cement truck moves, so to Bear’s delight we get to watch cement being poured. While all this is going on a worker moves beside the van and relieves himself for all to see. And the only thing you can do is shake your head and mutter the words, “Only in China.” Finally the truck moves and we start back. Except this time Mr. Xu is taking us home a different way. We turn left instead of back right. This is no big deal except as we travel along we run out of road, and from what I can see Mr. Xu is trying to get us from the back roads to the main roads quicker. And as we have run out of road, we just keep driving, much slower as to avoid all the pot holes and dips in the dirt/gravel. We cannot turn back as this is clearly the way to go as there are semi trucks ahead of us, behind us, and on both sides of us all trying to drive the same direction. This goes on for two to three kilometers and then miraculously a four lane highway appears. Half an hour later we are safely home with our berries and Ayi’s celery.