Not surprisingly, my mother’s favorite place in Beijing happens to be Wal-Mart or “War-Mah.” Located in the southern part of town, one sees it’s familiar and unsettling blue sign from far, far away. The first floor features bins of socks and underwear, with ladies handing out instant coffee samples and hundreds of newly-weds maneuvering their way through cramped aisles. Small crowds of onlookers dot the store, entertained by fruit juicer demonstrations and models doling out skincare advice. Prices are low— shockingly low— and the promise of “everything one might need under one roof” proves to be too overwhelming for some. These tired masses take turns resting on artificial park benches scattered throughout the store, blotting their foreheads and dipping into sleep.
The second floor houses the Wal-Mart food store, a yet-to-be-realized entity at its American predecessor, my mother informs me. Entire roast ducks for 10 yuan ($1.25) might go well with jugs of sorghum wine and spirals of pork sausage. A murky aquarium presents schools of fresh fish while an expert in the accompanying reptile section attracts an impenetrable swath of people. After elbowing my way to the front in a fit of unbridled curiosity, I witness what might be called a for-locals-only event. The man in the chef hat is demonstrating a turtle dissection with said turtle becoming the centerpiece for his featured soup. I back away slowly, my space instantly overtaken by an energetic young couple.
Bemused by my shock, my mother reminds me that turtles in China are revered for their healing properties and that it’s no different than having chicken soup in the states.
“They don’t have chicken torturing demos at Wal-Mart,” I retort. She nods in an extremely rare moment of agreement and I stumble away to the red meat department where the fare is of a presumably less graphic nature.