Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Wuhan travel series: Food and Shopping near Hongshan Square

This post is my guide to Food and Shopping near Hongshan Square, Wuhan, Hubei, China, part of a 4 part series.
Links to the other three posts are at the end of this one.
We traveled for adoption from August 14-28th, 2014

Shopping in the Hongshan Square Carrefour building
Carrefour is a slightly scruffy department store. People say it's a French Walmart, but this one is much smaller and dirtier than any Walmart I've seen. The Carrefour building has a KFC and a very nice Japanese noodle chain called AjiSen, in addition to a roasted duck shop that is a Wuhan specialty. There is also a local version of a fast food joint (burgers and fried junk) which wasn't at all appealing and who knows why a person would eat there. Be further warned we noticed a poster announcing a C- health rating. As you might guess, Jonathan ate there immediately. He did not die, but it may have been a fluke. So to speak.

The Ajisen restaurant is fine. I was just suuuuper tired.
The building also has a couple of cute kids’ clothes shops and various little vendors. Almost nobody here speaks fluent English, but they are willing to try to help you anyway, so be prepared to point and mime. A nice clear “How much?,” and remembering good manners both work wonders when you are at a linguistic disadvantage. It’s probably possible to bargain with the little vendors, but stuff is pretty cheap anyway and I’m never clear which shops allow it. Google can help you find out more about that if it’s your thing. 

The Carrefour itself starts on the second floor, and there is a sliding sloped walkway to carry you up. The second floor has clothing, strollers, and household stuff. In the back of the second floor, there is another sliding walkway to the third floor. The third floor has some personal care items and a grocery store. You’ll need to go up through there to pay and exit. You will need cash, our credit cards wouldn't work here. 

Food advice in Wuhan
Grocery Stores
When shopping for groceries in China, note that you’ll need to have any fruit weighed and tagged in the fruit department before going to the register. “Meiyo” means “out of” something (sounds like Mayonnaise “Mayo”). Nowhere will your Visa or Mastercards or any other card work, except at some ATMs. Even if a shop has the sticker for your kind of card, the ones they have seem to be part of a different network and must have a code to enter like a debit card. 

Some families use their in-room electric teapot to boil water for instant Ramen just like back in college. If you do this, my layman’s recommendation would be to either use some cheap bottled water or boil the water twice before using it. The problem with water in China is that it is often contaminated by insufficient infrastructure. In plain English, there is animal and human waste cross-contamination because the pipes are messed up on a massive level. This is a separate issue entirely from the infamous massive water pollution, which is another good reason to spend a few cents on the water you ingest in country. This is true even if you’re pouring it into some cheap freeze-dried noodles in a Styrofoam bowl. 

Remember to skip anything with ice (especially smoothies or shakes made with it) as that is often made with tap water and freezing it is not going to protect you. Several of the parents in our travel group (myself included) got drinks with ice, sipped them down quickly and escaped illness. I believe "No Ice" is something like "Bu yao bing". It would be worth learning or writing down before travel. The best option for a lot of the essential language stuff would be to print out the Mandarin. There is just about no good way to write out Mandarin pronunciation in Roman letters and the translation apps all seem to suck, so if I could go back and do it again I would bring a printed translated list with me. I'd probably still try to say the phrases, but it would be helpful to show people the written part, after they stopped laughing, wiped their eyes and recovered from whatever nonsense I just said.

Before we travelled, I read the blogs of some families who recommended bringing snacks from the US to China, which seems completely mad to me. The stores we saw were packed with snacks! Packaged nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, chips, cookies, cheese sticks, breads, Gatorade, sodas, ten flavors of Oreos (really!) and every kind of treat were everywhere. Even 7-Elevens on the street corner and inside the subway station have all that stuff. Our own new daughter loved these tiny oyster cracker balls (I call them chalk balls because that is totally what they taste like) packaged in single serving bags, which made them handy for stroller days. We even found some with characters from Madagascar on them, and have continued to seek them out in our local Asian Grocers. All this is to say I would say leave the snacks at home.

My essential grocery list for your first day in Province:
Water- a big multi pack of not-too-huge bottles (makes them simple to carry around)
Electrolyte drinks- Gatorade or similar, this is on my essentials list because I visited in the summer. They have super yummy versions here, with mandarin, blueberry, pineapple, etc. that have much less sugar than Gatorade. 
Fruit- Bananas come in their own germ-free wrappers, great even if your stomach feels lousy, only buy enough for a couple of days. Apples are pretty handy, too, and more portable but should be washed with your bottled water.
Tissue packets- Don’t bring more than one or two of these from home, they are way too bulky and readily available to bother. Get a cheap multi-pack or two when you arrive. You’ll need them at restaurants and after washing up in restrooms and in the restroom in general, if you know what I mean. I used them to dab the sweat and make-up off my face in a vain attempt to not feel gross and drippy all the time. Again, it was summer. But trust me, whatever time of year, you’ll want a lot of the tissues.

Other Grocery Items
Single serve milks for kids- There are shelf-stable adorable single serving (3 to 6 ounces) milks for kids available in both China and Japan. They are often slightly sweetened. Most of the kids in our group seemed to be used to them, and they’re handy to have on hand. Even the young kids did not seem into formula no matter what it said on their discharge sheets from foster care. Kids will be upset on those first couple of days and may not be interested in food but might take milk or drinking yogurt.

About getting snacks for soon-to-be-adopted kids; if you don’t want to buy stuff until later, don’t worry. Your kid is likely to come with a bag of junk food and drinks anyway. Our daughter had Pringles, Chips, Custard buns, chocolate wafers, rice crackers and tons of other crap. We threw most of it out because she didn’t seem interested and because to be honest it was all salty sugary terrible junk anyway. A scared, freaked out kid under age two was not going to be comforted by this and it truly did not seem familiar to her anyway. We did keep her “chalk ball” baby crackers and some of the Japanese-style crackers called “Sembei” that she liked. If she had seemed into them, maybe I would have kept more. I was glad she didn’t seem to mind we ditched 95% of it.

Restaurants in the Hongshan Square Area
The hotel staff can direct you to the nearby “Western” options (KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc). They’re all within about a quarter mile of the hotel. Our guide took us to an awesome local restaurant as well. You cross the first road and turn left, going down about a tenth of a mile. The restaurant is on the right and has a big cooler right inside offering fresh fish. The part we ate in was a big private room with a lazy susan table upstairs, but there were lots of long tables downstairs as well. I bet the hotel staff could give you recommendations for good authentic local places. 

I would like to plug the department store restaurant options in Wuhan. At the JieDaoKou station (three stops away on line 2 on the Metro) there is a great food court. Almost everything is set out either in pictures or pre-made dishes showing what’s available, which makes it very easy to point and say please. You have to put money on a card to buy the food, but whatever you don't use you can get back after you’re done. There is also a large Starbucks at this stop with excellent air conditioning and the usual sandwiches and Starbucks Wuhan cups. (Though there is a closer S’bucks to the Poly if you’d rather walk.)
The department store food court made our girl SO
happy on her second day with us!

In general, from my short time in China I can recommend looking for shopping areas and then following your instincts to find the always-nearby restaurants. Wuhan in particular is pretty friendly that way, as a huge urban city with a totally workable Metro.

The rest of my Wuhan travel series:

From Hong Kong to Wuhan

The Wuhan Poly Hotel and Getting to Carrefour

Food and Shopping Near Hongshan Square

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