"Wait, what's the Chinese for 'spinach'?"
"I think that's what this sign says, but this really doesn't look like spinach."
So went our grocery trip. I looked up the Chinese translations, and Manfriend asked a store employee for help. There was no rhyme or reason to this — or any — Chinese supermarket. Organized chaos would be putting it kindly, with folks jockeying for the tomato bin. Locals weren't scared of shoving this timid foreigner aside while she tried to read the signs. Vegetables didn't even look how we'd expect. "Was that really a cucumber?"
Grumbling, we wondered: Did we really need all this?
But with Ramadan starting Wednesday, the answer was "yes." So the hunt continued.
It seems like just a few weeks ago, I wrote about my first experience with this annual tradition ( coloradodaily.com/columnists/ci_31095368/china-monologues-fast-and-curious). It had been a tough month. I'd never fasted before, especially not during a hot and smoggy Beijing summer. It wasn't the lack of food, really, but the lack of water that got to me. I taught all day, walking everywhere I needed to go. Dried out, I'd cut my class short when it came time to break fast.
"Why are you doing this again?" my coworkers asked.
"I have my reasons," I'd garble in reply, mouth full of fresh melon and water.
I hope you'll look up answers to your Ramadan-related questions. There are ample resources that can shed light into this incredible and important religious tradition. Despite the struggle, most Muslims eagerly await this time of year and are sad when it ends. For me, not religious but curious, it was a brilliant experience that taught me what I was capable of.
But it had been difficult, and I believed Manfriend and I could do better this year. Sharing a home, we could make meals properly. So I hit the Google machine hard, VPN allowing, and sought answers. What were the best foods and in what portions? How could we work in fitness?
Armed with recommendations, we headed to the market. I knew it would be a ballache, but it would be well worth it at 3 a.m., as we guzzled smoothies before fasting began again.
Staring at yogurts, a fellow shopper overheard us. In excellent English, she pointed out the "halal" Chinese characters, explaining how we could look for that logo in the future. We asked her if she knew where fresh dates may be. (They're a powerhouse food to eat during Ramadan.) Unfortunately, they're out of season, but she told us the many Muslim shops could cater to other useful needs.
We hadn't thought of that.
Many thanks exchanged later and ladened with groceries, I was excited. Just like last year, we'd already found generosity. It was, after all, a community tradition. We just had to find our own, all the way out here in China.