My favorite thing about living in China was the food. A less appealing aspect of this was the inevitable trip to supermarkets.
During my first year in Shenzhen, I mostly shopped at Meijia — a small supermarket next to my complex that really wasn’t of great quality. There was very little in the store with English labels, which was a challenge for someone with limited Chinese skills. I wasn’t the only one who bought knock-off Oreos because the packaging looked the same. For more recognizable food, I took a weekly trip on bus 305 to Wal-Mart (sometimes, they even sold cheese).
Everyone in my Shenzhen neighborhood was excited when Ren Ren Le (literally: people people happy) moved in. This was a major Chinese supermarket chain that had much better quality and a larger selection than the old Meijia, which shut down shortly after the competition moved in.
The only problem with Ren Ren Le was that it got crowded — much like Wal-Mart, but with more of my local community. Because of my dislike of crowds, I opted for more trips to the local grocery stores in the neighborhood when I just wanted to pick up some produce. It also made me feel better because I was buying from family-owned businesses.
During my second year, Carrefour, the French equivalent of Wal-Mart, opened in Bao’an District. We were all excited because the quality and selection was better than Wal-Mart (and there was a mall attached). The weekly Wal-Mart trips were quickly replaced.
In a twist of fate, I had to return to Wal-Mart, albeit a different one, when I moved to Nanshan District. Fortunately, when Coastal City mall opened soon after I moved in, two international supermarket chains opened. We now had Jusco from Japan and Carrefour. Jusco was rather overpriced, but had some decent deals and really good coffee, so we usually shopped at Carrefour like everyone else in the neighborhood.
Some things I learned from shopping at various grocery stores in China:
- Carrefour is superior to Wal-Mart in terms of quality, variety, and price. However, it is interesting to see the difference between a Chinese Wal-Mart and an American one.
- Shopping carts are much smaller than in the US, and the aisles are usually more narrow.
- Going to a major supermarket on the weekend is a horrible experience; it’s just like going to a mall a couple days before Christmas.
- Small grocery stores are usually good for produce that you plan on eating within the next two days (similar to the ones in the US).
- Products you really like purchasing aren’t guaranteed to be on the shelf the following week. Stock up if you can.
- Convenience stores like 7-11 or their Chinese equivalent are plentiful. They’re great for a quick beer and a snack, which makes walking around town even better. They’ll even open the beer bottle for you.
- Kiosks within a Chinese supermarket are not necessarily owned by the store. If they are independent, you won’t be able to return the product if it breaks. The store will likely deny any responsibility for a refund (of course, this may happen even if the store owns the kiosk).