Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

002 : Jay Mark Caplan at the supermarket on Zhenning Lu, on the corner of Huashan Lu., French Concession
Born in 1983 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Jay Mark Caplan currently works as a copywriter. Why Shanghai? Hype. He digs the following Shanghai bits: it’s bicycle-friendly; loads of restaurants of all kinds; cheap rent; pirate DVDs; double standards. He is, however, a bit miffed by the foul air; the traffic; the beggars/salespeople; demanding, shortsighted, cheap laobans; double standards. For more info on Jay Mark Caplan you should send an email.

image: C. Clerc

“I thought of the mutilated pig lying atop cardboard boxes of cereal and pasta, seeping trichinosis as the van bounced along. ”

I had forgotten to buy meat.

I ran down the bare concrete stairs of our apartment building, unlocked my bicycle, and rode through the dark courtyard to the rusted gates of the lane[1]. A block later, I was at the glowing orange supermarket.

Of the two supermarkets near my house, this one sold cereal and pasta and was more expensive – I thus considered it more foreign, and so a better place to buy meat. Outside, the ubiquitous Chinese workers in dusty, baggy clothes were hauling boxes from a van. Deliveries.

When I entered, the cashiers stared at me. I went directly to the butcher’s counter in the back. There, lying prone over a black metal shopping trolley, was half a slaughtered pig. Freshly hauled from the back of a van, it lay naked, back arched, ribs flayed, hooves skyward. Its headless front-end grazed the meat display counter. The butcher must not be in to collect it.

I thought of the mutilated pig lying atop cardboard boxes of cereal and pasta, seeping trichinosis as the van bounced along.

I looked at the shining packs of minced pork – ribbons of meat pressing suggestively against tight cellophane wrappers – sitting here suffocated for days, dressed up to match the shelves of Pringles and Kraft. How long would this grotesque corpse glaze under the halogens before being chopped and offered for sale?

I doubted the meat was spoiled or diseased – that wasn’t what bothered me; it was the sloppiness, the indifference. How could someone sling a side-section of pig onto a shopping cart and leave it blocking the aisle? Didn’t anyone care enough to put it away?

But I wasn’t disgusted or angry; I was amused, because I didn’t care either. Despite the macabre point-of-sale display, I was still hungry, and still wanted pork. After all, T.I.C. (This Is China).

I bought 10 kuai[2] worth and rode home. I cooked the meat with mushrooms and garlic, then added sauce from a can, and penne. It was delicious.

referenced works

  1. Lilongs (lane house compounds) were the first type of mass commodity housing in China. ‘Li’ means ‘neighbourhood’, ‘long’ means ‘small lane’. In response to city’s rapidly increasing population density, Shanghai embarked on large-scale lilong construction in the 19th century; by 1949, these developments accounted for 60 percent of the total residential areas of Shanghai. Each compound generally has one main lane and a few side lanes – flanked by two- and three-storey housing units – branching off of it. Part of the attraction of the lilong was that it afforded residents relative quietude and security – most have iron gates guarding the entrance to the complex –  amidst the constant, ceaseless clamour of the big city. Today, many can still be found in downtown Shanghai in the former French Concession area.

  2. In Mandarin, kuai is the colloquial form of yuan, the base unit of currency for the Chinese Renminbi. ‘Kuai’ literrally translates into ‘piece’ and ‘yuan’ means ‘round’ (as in ‘round coin’, which is what the original yuan was, and still is today).

location information

  • Name: the supermarket on Zhenning Lu, on the corner of Huashan Lu.
  • Time of story: Evening
  • Latitude: 31.2146
  • Longitude: 121.439502
  • Map: Google Maps



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