Day 91: Erlian , Erlian etiquette

Two giant wind-battered Ming figures outside a supermarket.
Christmas is coming.

Last night I dreamt of riding through drafty, dilapidated, post-apocalyptic Chinese suburbs, where the residents coughed and spluttered.

When I wake to my 8am breakfast alarm, the man down the hall is loudly clearing his throat. The clear blue sky of the last two days has been replaced by a grey blanket and there is fresh snowfall on the buses parked outside my window.

Even though I am still rather toilet-bound, I decide that I should get out and at least see what state the roads are in. I am keen to get going, but I don’t savour the thought of attending to my current business whilst on a busy highway.

As I’m still not sure whether yesterday’s breakfast or general burnout is responsible for my current stomach problems, I decide to skip the free hotel option and head out for brunch.

Sliding around on icy footpaths, I snap off photos of interesting things before bumping into my driver from yesterday, who is now like an old friend.

Pressing on, I find a large supermarket.

At its entrance, two giant wind-battered Ming figures suggest that Christmas marketing might be about to ramp up. Inside, there are a wide variety of products with dedicated product sections, just like the supermarkets back in New Zealand.

As I pull away from the bulk food section, another customer chases me down to issue a reminder that I need to have all of my selections weighed. Ah, even this little plastic pouch of Selected Material Special Flavour High Quality Food? I thank him, then proceed to the fruit section.

After choosing some oranges and kiwifruit and passing over some questionable apples, I join the back of the throng at the weigh scales. However, after several minutes of watching and waiting I’m confident that pushing-in is the best and expected way to have your items weighed promptly. Doing this elicits a friendly response from the weigher and I feel like I’m fitting right in.

At the dairy fridge, a female staff member points out the different yoghurt varieties on offer. I eventually settle on plain yoghurt rather than the risky unidentifiable berry flavour. I thank her for her assistance and compliment her on her starry boots, to which she looks confused. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything.

Then, although I now have enough bread and biscuits to feed a sweet-toothed army, I head to a back-alley restaurant.

It is identifiable by the plated food pictures above the door, though perhaps I just can’t resist the red carpet which has been rolled out for Very Important People like me.

There are three choices on the menu: vegetable noodle soup, a random collection of meats and a selection of small limbs. I opt for the safe soup option. The meal comes and the vegetables are separate and pickled but the meat and noodles are great and just the kind of comfort food that I need right now.

As I eat, the chef and front of house staff use their smartphones to watch TV and chat with friends, signalling a marked difference in wealth between this small Inner Mongolian border town and its Outer Mongolian counterpart.

On the walk home I make a mental note to bring gloves on my next outing. In the absence of these I've resorted to juggling my plastic bag of purchases between my hands. The free one nestles deep into its respective jacket pocket, enjoying a brief respite from the biting wind.

Snow is blowing around too and the residents look as unimpressed as I am. Some have decked their scooters out with pogies, my favourite being those which incorporate a quilted jacket which hangs down in front of the rider. The downside to this ingenuity is the depressing realisation that this cold blast isn’t a one-off. Hopefully foreign cyclists are allowed to join in the pogie action.

Back at the hotel, I spend the rest of the day migrating my Day One diary entries into my new WordPress travel blog. There is still much to do and a lot of content to collate, but it is a good start and a positive contribution to a sick day.

My business is looking up too, perhaps tomorrow it will be safe to move on.