Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claire Kane, but she was unable to post it. Why? Our site is definitely blocked in China. Here’s what she had to say in her brief email to me: “well i wish i could be a more active member of the blog! but anywhere here’s a bunch of pics and post.. there are lots of stories behind all these pics.”

When I first arrived in Xiamen the milk scandal had yet to break into the press. Every morning before my class of mandarin drills I would stroll down to the campus pit stop and grab a yogurt and some green tea for breakfast. On a diet of noodles, rice and dumplings I don’t get much dairy and sometimes have a craving for calcium. A popular aloe vera yogurt drink I discovered really hits the spot.

One morning last week I followed my routine: I was up at seven, pulled on some shorts and a tank top for the predictably hot Xiamen weather, reviewed new characters for the daily quiz and walked through campus to the local store. Still in a morning daze I headed to the dairy refrigerators and bread shelves at the back of the shop. I tried to open the yogurt fridge twice before noticing the masking tape that had been wrapped many times around the whole unit and the notice in Chinese across the glass door. Like many beginner Chinese students, I am still largely illiterate and couldn’t make out the meaning of the unfamiliar words posted on the glass. Still, I gathered my wits and noticed that all the milk fridges were taped closed and bore the same note.  Although I was a little annoyed that I would be heading to class with out my aloe vera yoghurt, I didn’t think too hard about the bigger implications of the taped-up milk aisle. Instead I opted for a red bean bun and hurried off to cram a few more characters.

The next day I was talking to my dad at home in Canada and he told me about the milk scandal that had just hit the news. I read up on the latest details on BBC news and was astonished that I hadn’t heard anything earlier. Although dairy traditionally isn’t a staple in the Chinese diet, milk teas, yogurt and other processed foods are increasingly popular – why didn’t we hear about this contamination earlier?

A few days later I returned to the local store and found that there had been some post-dairy contamination redecorating: now the milk fridges were not only taped up, but the bread shelves had been pushed in front of them. When the bread racks are full of fresh goods, the fridges are somewhat concealed. But as the day wears on and the shelves sit empty the commercial camouflage fades. I wonder if I were the shop owner, how would I have handled the milk news?

The owner of the larger local grocery store has more money to lose by plummeting dairy sales. Last night I meandered through the grocery store. On my way over to the MSG, Sugar and Salt aisle I was offered milk samples by two different uniformed saleswomen. Instead of stowing the dairy as the other shop owner had done, this supermarket was trying to remind customers of the sweet taste of m-i-l-k.

As the weeks go by will customers forget the milk powder scandal or continue to be wary of all things dairy? I’ll let you know.

It’s easy to make friends in China. All of the university students I meet are excited about having someone to practice English with, curious about the United States and incredibly hospitable. A few Chinese students who live in Fujian province invited me to their hometowns over the fall break. We went to Quanzhou which was one of the biggest cities in the world back in 1200 AD and then to Anching which is the capital of tea production for the province.

Advertisements

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Claire Kane, but she was unable to post it. Why? She believes our site is blocked in China. I’ll inquire in a few days if this indeed is the case or if perhaps we’re just blocked by one service provider or in one internet cafe.

Landed in Xiamen! I’ll be spending a semester here studying Mandarin at Xiamen University. With a population of three million – over a million of whom are migrant workers and not considered permanent residents – the place is not considered big by China’s standards.

The speed of construction here is like nothing I have ever seen. The first day I arrived there was a construction zone outside the gate of the university campus. Within a few days the dust had settled and a deluxe McDonald’s was over half-way completed. A few mornings later, the McD’s ice cream shop was open for business. Last night I strolled by again and noticed that a new concert venue is a few days into construction – in other words, almost done.

Today in Chinese class we learned a phrase: Xiamen university is not Xiamen, and Xiamen is not China. Is this the China that 1.3 billion people know? Is this the air that most Chinese breathe? No. But for some  – and for me, at least for now – it is.

PS. If you want to find Xiamen on a map, locate Taiwan and then scan the mainland coast directly parallel to it.