Cabbage

Last weekend I spent some time exploring the old neighborhoods of Beijing. These neighborhoods are called “hutong” neighborhoods. Hutong is a Mongolian that is leftover from the time when the Mongols ruled China.

Today it has come to refer to the alleys and lanes that make up the old city of Beijing. I like taking pictures in the neighborhoods because they are being leveled on the mad rush to modernization. Only 25 neighborhoods have been designated for preservation. All the others will be destroyed.

As I was walking through one neighborhood the other day I was startled to see this woman selling cabbage. Not just cabbage, but a mountain of cabbage. The source of my amazement was not in the fact that I haven’t seen such a huge mound of cabbage before, but that I hadn’t seen such a thing in a long time. It used to be a common sight in November. As late as ten years ago trucks loaded down with cabbage would descend on the city for a few weeks, depositing their
cabbage onto every available inch of real estate. There were mountains of cabbage everywhere.
People would buy in November all the cabbage that they would need to see them through the winter. They’d take it home, tuck it away into giant earthen containers, and set them in stairwells and balconies. My first winter in China(’84-85), the cooks at the school where I taught just buried it in the ground behind the kitchen. And yes, we pretty much ate only cabbage for the whole winter!

But things have changed now, at least in the cities. There’s no longer any need to stock up on
cabbage (or potatoes) for the winter. It’s too easy to just pop across the street to the Hyper-mart or the Merry-mart or the Wal-mart and get what you need—fresh!

Seeing that mound of cabbage, though, sure brought back some memories!