伤心菜市场之歌 – A sad song to the food market

2007年3月我刚到北京,租的房子附近有一个很大的批发菜市场,从家里慢吞吞走过去得二十分钟,沿途经过小区后面破败的商业街,一叠叠大饼堆在橱窗里,窗子因为太久没有擦过,灰尘自动排列出各种任由想象的图案,我总是把右边边缘处比较小的一块想成圆滚滚的熊猫,我无端端觉得它愿意抱住圆滚滚大饼一口口吃下去。再往前走是一段依然在使用的铁轨,很远就能听到火车哐当哐当接近的声音,让人无端端紧张,即使跨过窄窄的铁轨只需要五秒,铁轨边有个铁皮亭,里面按理说应该坐着一个人,但我却从来没有真的见过,生活可以把最渺小的细节同样塑造成悬疑剧,而且终生都没有获得谜底。那个时候北京还没有灰霾,冬天冷得分外真切,我有时候会痛下决心花三块钱坐三轮车过去,但大部分三轮车总是四处透风,所以我总是全身僵硬走进批发市场,肉味扑面而来,让人疑心自己也应该从中剖开,被挂在永不生锈的铁钩上。
市场太大了,牛羊肉一个厅,水产品和鸡鸭一个厅,猪肉交易厅和猪肉批发厅分开,蔬菜批发和零售隔着老远的距离,穿着高跟鞋好像永远都走不到头。我不过是一个人,租的房子里没有燃气灶,只能用电磁炉,爆炒的时候总是觉得有气无力,做一次回锅肉要吃两顿,最后剩下一点蒜苗作料还能再煮碗面。去那里不过是为了省一点点的钱,我其实讨厌那个批发市场,走了老远路,最后只拎着一块小小的五花肉回家,要是一时赌气多买了一只开膛破肚的土鸡,我就得喝整整一周的鸡汤,喝到最后一个人坐在空荡荡的房间里恶心,终于把沉底的那点渣滓倒了,混着鸡肉鸡皮,以及几块完全炖烂了的老姜。
后来我不那么缺钱,就开始去超市买菜,结婚前在一个硕大的家乐福,结婚后在一个小小的京客隆。家乐福每天早上会有一些特价排骨,有两次我痛下决心要去买到,八点五十到门口发现已经排着长长的队,老头老太太们拎着环保袋以备战状态等着开门,我觉得自己全无胜算,就在一楼的麦当劳高高兴兴吃了早餐。京客隆里只能买到最基本的猪牛羊肉,偶尔有几条鱼,还通通冻成掷地有声的样子,他们生意总是不好,却奇迹般一直没有倒闭,我喜欢他们家有切成薄片的五花肉,用来做梅菜扣肉或者粉蒸肉正好合适,还有一盒盒大小正好合适做成炸酱的肉丁,所以夏天的时候我们老在中午吃炸酱面,一海碗炸酱能吃一周,洋葱炖化了,显得酱里满是肉丁,特别直接地给人沉甸甸的富足感,即使我只是富足到吃炸酱面的时候想有多少肉就有多少肉。有时候面条吃腻了,我们会去买一块大饼蘸炸酱吃,现在住的小区里同样有一排破败的商业街,一叠叠大饼同样堆在落满灰尘的橱窗里,厨师戴着污脏的高帽子站在大饼前抽烟,然后拿出一把看起来很钝的大刀擦擦把饼切成八块,一直到回家,饼还是滚烫的,每次都是回家我才恍然想到刚才忘记留意橱窗上的灰尘,但是没有关系,北京到处都是任由想象的灰尘,你可以连续剧一般地想下去。
从美国回来后有一段时间我愤世嫉俗地讨厌中国超市,或者说牵肠挂肚想念纽约的华人超市,我开始在淘宝上买菜,前一天晚上下单,第二天下午也就到了,鱼头血肉模糊地裹在塑料袋里,小白菜嫩绿嫩绿的泛着水光,晚上我们就吃剁椒鱼头,以及小白菜汤。那家淘宝店主每次都送我一包蕨根粉,所有现在我的橱柜里有好多包没有开封的蕨根粉,我疑心我永远不会打开它,生命里的赠品总是这样,并非全无价值,只是全无用处。
现在我重新回到了批发市场,又是一个冬天,市场还是那样无边无尽的大,还是走进去一股混沌的肉味,卖水产品的棚里泥泞满地,偶尔会有一两只皮皮虾奋不顾身跳到地上,却又无处可去,最后就被拣起来半价卖掉,我总觉得它们的挣扎毫无用处,却又知道应该挣扎,否则就是认定了那五十一斤的命运。我在牛羊肉厅买到一只两斤大满是筋的牛腱子,满心喜悦地走向猪肉交易厅,打算买块滴血的猪肝回去做菠菜猪肝汤,细细的鞋跟几次嵌进水泥地的裂缝里,周围吵得要死又什么都没法听清,我知道它们再没有合奏一首伤心菜市场之歌。

I had just arrived in Beijing in March 2007. Located a twenty-minute stroll away from my rented house was a very large wholesale food market. Along the way I passed a dilapidated commercial street behind the neighbourhood. A shopwindow displayed stacks of large round flatbread. As it had not been wiped for too long, the dust on it had arranged itself into every imaginable pattern. I would always imagine a relatively small patch of dust on the right fringe to be a chubby panda. For no particular reason, I would imagine that it wanted to hold on to the flatbread and eat it up one mouthful at a time. Walking ahead brought me to a still functioning railway track. From a distance, the sound of the approaching trains clattering down the track would somehow make people tense, even though it took a mere five seconds to step across the narrow track. Beside the track was a metal-roofed shelter with could seat one person, but I had never really seen anyone in it. Life can similarly mould the most insignificant details into a suspenseful drama, and it may also not be able to resolve the mystery of this drama. Beijing was not hazy from dust back then. When the cold of winter was particularly acute, I would sometimes make the painful decision to spend three dollars for a trishaw ride; but because most trishaws expose their passengers to the wind, I was stiff from the cold when I entered the food market. The smell of meat assaulted the senses so much that I wondered if I should also have been cut open, and hung from the rust-free iron hooks.

The wholesale food market was simply too big. Beef and mutton were in one hall, seafood and poultry in another, pork retail and wholesale sections were separate from each other, and vegetable wholesale and retail stalls were some distance apart; it seemed as if I could never walk to the end of the marketplace in my high-heeled shoes. I lived alone, and without a gas stove in my rented house, I had to use an electric hotplate which I always felt was too weak for stir-frying. I could finish one portion of double-cooked pork only over two meals. The last bit of leftover garlic sprout could still be cooked with a bowl of noodles. I would go to the wholesale food market for the sake of saving some money, even though I actually disliked that place. After walking all that distance, I would end up carrying home only a very small piece of streaky pork. When I impulsively bought a ready-cut, whole free-range chicken, I had to drink chicken soup for exactly one week. After finally finishing all the soup, I would sit alone, feeling nauseous in an empty, desolate room. Finally, I would pour away the dregs containing a mixture of chicken meat and skin and the pulp of a few slices of old ginger .

When I was better off, I started buying food from supermarkets. I patronised a huge Carrefour supermarket before I was married, and a very small JKL supermarket after I was married. Carrefour had pork spare ribs at specially discounted prices every morning. On two occasions, I set my mind on buying some. I arrived at about 8.50, only to find that long queues had already formed. Elderly men and women held environmentally-friendly shopping bags, appearing poised for battle while waiting for the doors to open. Without a winning strategy, I happily ate breakfast at MacDonald’s on the first floor instead. JKL Supermarket sold only the most basic cuts of pork and mutton. Occasionally there were a few fishes that appeared frozen hard. JKL Supermarket’s business was always poor, but miraculously it did not close down. I liked the thinly sliced streaky pork which was such a matching complement when steamed with preserved mustard greens or ground glutinous rice. There were also large and small boxes of handy, ready-cooked fried bean sauce with diced meat. That was why in summer we always had noodles cooked with fried bean sauce for lunch. A very big bowl of fried bean sauce could last one week. After the stewed onion had disintegrated, the sauce seemed to be chock-full of diced pork. In a special way, this directly gave one a deep feeling of abundance, even though my feeling came from being able to have however much pork as I wanted in my noodles. Sometimes, when we were tired of eating noodles, we would buy a piece of flatbread to dip in the fried bean sauce. Now, as before, there is a dilapidated commercial row in my neighbourhood. Layers of flatbread are piled behind the very dusty display window. Cooks wearing dirty tall hats stand and smoke in front of the flatbread. Afterwards they take out big, very blunt knives to cut up the bread into eight portions. The flatbread stays piping hot when we reach home. It dawns on me each time when we reach home that I forgot to look out for the dust on the display window. It does not matter though because every imaginable form of dust pervades Beijing. You can, as you would for a serialised drama, stretch your imagination.

After returning from America, I went through a cynical phase when I detested China’s supermarkets. I kept thinking about and missed New York’s Chinese supermarkets. I began to buy food online from Taobao. Orders placed the previous night were delivered the following afternoon. The badly mangled fish head was wrapped in a plastic bag, and the soft green leaves of the small Chinese cabbage were covered with sparkling water droplets. We had spicy fish head and small Chinese cabbage soup for dinner that night. The Taobao branch proprietor gave us a free pack of fern root powder with every delivery. That is why my kitchen cabinet has many packs of unopened fern root powder now. I doubt I will ever open them. Such are life’s gifts: not totally worthless, just totally useless.

Now I have returned to the wholesale food market. It is winter again. The market is still as infinitely massive as before. I still walk into a chaotic blend of odours of meat. Mud is all over the floor in the seafood shed. Sometimes, one or two brave, undaunted mantis shrimps will leap onto the floor, with nowhere else to go. Eventually they will be picked up and sold off at half-price. I always feel that their struggle is completely futile, but then again I realise that without this struggle they would be doomed to the certain fate of the fifty-one-kati lot. I buy two katis of sinewy beef shank from the beef and mutton hall. Then I walk on to the pork hall very happily, planning to buy a piece of liver dripping with blood home to cook a spinach and liver soup. My slender shoe heels get stuck in the crevices of the cement floor several times. All around me is a cacophony of annoyingly loud noises, yet each one is indistinct. I realise that never again will these form an ensemble playing a sad song to the food market.

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adminreply
August 3, 2018 at 5:07 am

Original translation by Piecemeals

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