There’s a little market called The Mayflower in Chicago’s Chinatown where I frequent about once a week to pick up Chinese cooking supplies and snacks which I can’t find at the big Jewel-Osco mega-grocery store near my house. Chinatown has several of these markets and so far I have found that there are few food products (with the exception of seasonal fruits) which I could buy in Fuzhou, but cannot find here in Chinatown.
The Mayflower, like most shops in Chinatown, jams an exorbitant amount of product into a comparatively undersized storefront. This results in crowded aisles, long check-out lines, and a somewhat stressful shopping experience. I frequently find myself inadvertently bumped into by other customers, as I’m sure I do to others as well, and scooting side to side to let other shoppers squeeze by.
Yesterday I went to The Mayflower to pick up some fresh bamboo and a few cooking supplies, and to my surprise, the store was almost entirely empty. I carelessly strolled through the wide-open aisles without dodging other customers, found my items, and made it to the check-out counter in about half the time it would usually require. Something seemed odd…that is until I glanced down at my cell phone to check the time—it was 12:20 PM.
|Sites like this, a Beijing delivery driver taking a nap in the bed of his bicycle, are not uncommon around noontime in the Middle Kingdom.|
The idea of an afternoon siesta, or 休息 (xiu1 xi1) is deeply entrenched into the Chinese lifestyle. While the exact times vary based on region and season, business in China typically shuts down around 11:00 or 11:30 and picks back up at about 1:30 or 2. The interim is used both as a lunch break and a nap time. During the mid-afternoon in China, it is not uncommon to see taxi drivers asleep in their cabs, shopkeepers dozing behind the counter, and construction workers playing cards or taking naps on bamboo mats. School children often return home to get fed and take a rest before returning to class, and office workers often do the same. As a general rule, it is also somewhat rude to call or visit someone at this time, as it is likely they are sleeping.
During my first year in China when I was living in Fuqing I found myself sinking into these same Chinese sleeping patterns. All of the teachers and students at my university would take a nap from 12:00 to 1:30, and there was nothing for me to do but take a nap as well. However, before long I found an even better use for my xiu xi time—going shopping and running errands!
Because much of China is asleep at this hour, it the ideal time slot to buy groceries, make a transaction at the bank, go shopping, or do anything other activity which would normally subject oneself to the ubiquitous masses of people which crowd the Middle Kingdom. Before long, I found myself consolidating all of my shopping to the time between 12 and 2 and found both the time and aggravation I was saving myself to be well worth it.
Here in Chicago’s Chinatown, Chinese and American cultures mix, and often result in a hybrid form of Sino-Americanization. While many American customs are adopted by the Chinese in the Windy City, there is also much which remains culturally Chinese, and the xiu xi is one of them. For me, at least I now know that early afternoon is the time to do my Chinese grocery shopping in Chicago too.