“Do you eat chicken?” an old man addressed me with that odd question as I went about my duties as a meat clerk in the top-selling supermarket in southern Winnipeg.
“What?” (with that quizzical look on my face like saying, “Are you talking to me?), I responded by reflex. “Why, yes, of course, sir. Why do you ask?”
The gentleman said, “Don’t! You shouldn’t eat chicken. It’s not good.”
“Really? What should I eat then?”
“Duck. Look at me, I’m 92 years old because I don’t eat chicken,” he said with pride.
“Wow! You are amazing!!!” I couldn’t help bursting out.
Winnipeg (the southern part of the city, at least, where my family and I have been living for 14 months now) is full of pleasantly surprising different people of all ages and races.
I found the old man amazing not because he doesn’t eat chicken, but because he does his marketing by himself. At his age he is still independent, relatively strong, alert and ebullient. He made my day when I met him.
He was so friendly and open that I felt it was okay to touch him. Kidding him, I said (while rubbing his arm like I was rubbing salt and pepper on a chicken drumstick), “Can I rub off some of that luck and good vibes from you?”
He chuckled, “Don’t you. I’m already perfect.”
At this point, you have probably realized that I am not about to explain why ducks are better than chickens as food. There are fewer varieties of these poultry meats in the supermarket than there are more diversity among people whom I meet in the melting pot that is the cold city of Winnipeg.
Yesterday on my way out of the supermarket with my husband, I abruptly stopped him from crossing towards the parking lot when I saw an oncoming car that’s not going to give us the required pedestrian courtesy. The driver was a very old lady. “She’s not stopping for us.” Nor did she give us a look. Old folks can be very interesting here.
One thing about them is that neither advancing age nor winter would stop these folks from living life independently. They drive or walk, if need be, or ride the motorized shopping cart to do their own marketing. Nothing can stop them from living their life proudly like they do.
Kids are another story. Racial attributes notwithstanding, there’s something magically universal about kids. They are as naturally cute and candid as you find them anywhere. They’ll say their hellos and goodbyes with their widest grins anytime. They ask witty questions in a flash. Like one Arabic girl (deducing from her companions’ looks) who asked why I wore that thing (a hairnet) on my head. To keep your food clean, I told her, from stray hair.
Another girl, this time Canadian, asked me why the cart that I was pushing was round and turning like a merry-go-round. She’s seeing the cart as a carousel! A kiddie ride! Oh, because they love the shopping cart ride all the time. Perhaps, too, in a child’s mind, all carts are squarish or rectangular in shape, never round. “This is an orbit cart, that’s why. Makes it easier for me to load and unload the meat stuffs,” I explained.
“That’s so cool,” she said with eyes that lit up with some important discovery.
I don’t get small talks like these from Asian toddlers, though. Older Chinese schoolchildren, however, do the talking for their parents because of the English language deficiency problem.
“Ni hao!” is all that I usually get from the Sino-Canadian shoppers. It turned out that they’d mistaken me for a Chinese, too, as they rattled off with what sounded like questions. They surprise me, though, as the most extravagant of buyers enviably. Food stuffs that I’d only buy for special occasions (after a long, thoughtful analysis and self-debate), such as live lobsters or crabs, they’d buy on any regular day when the craving dictates. They’d not cringe at spending CAD$30 for an uncooked meal. It’s putting their money where their mouth is – for nourishment and gratification, no less.
The other side of the fence is populated with some people who don’t actually make your day. They’re the ones who seem so aloof or too indifferent that they just exude that snobbish or I-don’t-care attitude. Since most of the folks here are too nice and polite, I’d rather write about something more positive and bright. Besides, I don’t really have any beef with anyone here, even if some of them are probably just too obnoxious that their very presence within my sphere emits a certain energy that rubs off on me in a contemptible way.
Well, such is the world we live in anywhere, I guess.