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July 9, 2020

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Celebrating diversity in our food supply

DURING the past year I became chief buyer of groceries for my family, even though I do not cook myself.

It all started last July, on a street near my home, when I was persuaded to download an app for Dingdong Maicai, an online fresh food vendor, in exchange for a box of eggs.

I thought that after I took the eggs home, I would delete the app. But I was stopped from doing so by some coupons they sent me. They were as good as cash.

Dingdong claims to embrace the philosophy of “Never sell inferior vegetables to customers,” and “Eat better. Eat happier.” So far so good.

I found it happier placing orders. There is something hugely satisfying about having everything you order delivered to your doorstep within 30 minutes. We live in a neighborhood where walking to the gate takes 20 minutes. Thus, during lockdown, when mobility was discouraged, Dingdong became our chief source of food.

Compared with precursor FreshHippo, Dingdong was a latecomer, but has experienced explosive growth during this special period. I came to that conclusion by seeing how busy their deliverymen were scurrying to and fro in the neighborhood.

The app is good for increasing consumption, but discipline is needed to draw the line between what you need and what you want. Otherwise you would need a larger refrigerator to keep up.

Although I am still speculating how Dingdong is going to turn a good profit, there is no denying that technology is revolutionizing our shopping habits. I think it would be more about coexistence of different shopping forms.

Many pensioners will continue to derive their pleasure in the brick-and-mortar markets, as they go from one stand to the next, chatting, pricing and haggling over a trifle.

As a matter of fact we live not very far from Sanlin Farm Produce Wholesale Market on Puxing Highway and Honglin Road, likely one of the cheapest markets in the city.

I first visited it at about 11am, and it was nearly empty. I later realized that most vendors were packing up to leave at that time, for the best time to be there is before 6am, when a steady stream of residents would walk briskly to the market in all directions, but chiefly from across Puxing Highway, along Yihang Road, which leads to a number of residential highrises built for residents relocated for the sake of World Expo 2010 Shanghai.

The second time I was there I had to gingerly pick my way across a floor covered with a thick layer of slushy mud after heavy rain.

I have not been to the market during the early morning busy hours, but judging from all accounts it can be very noisy.

A Xinmin Evening News report in 2016 told of nearby residents’ complaints about traffic noise, honking and all from 4am when too many trucks were on the move and unloading vegetables and fruits at the market.

I have no idea how these complaints were addressed, but given the city’s reputation for refined urban management and its exemplary response to residents’ reasonable demands, these complaints would likely not go unheeded.

On September 18 last year, the same paper reported completion of the final phase of the construction of the Luheng Road Transit Hub complex (which first went into operation in July 2016) complete with Metro, buses (eight lines in all so far, with two lines heading direct to downtown destinations), an underground P+R (the largest in the city with a capacity for 500 vehicles), taxis and an extended commercial space (covering 16,000 square meters).

Residents’ demands

Dubbed “5 in 1,” the complex is the largest in the country and testifies to the lengths the municipality will go to satisfy the demands of residents, particularly those relocated to support major urban construction projects. The commercial space includes a spick-and-span, well-lit and well-ventilated vegetable market that is free from the haggling that some residents might feel uncomfortable with. Its easy access to restaurants, entertainment facilities for kids and educational workshops would be an added attraction, but currently most of the businesses are either not functioning or operating at a fraction of full capacity.

Some would prefer the neat and clean ambiance, but for some price would remain the overriding factor, and would probably refuse to succumb to an app (probably good for them). They would continue to find fulfilment from a long walk and a good bargain.

The municipal government is certainly adept at gauging residents’ demands.

I have long noticed a construction ground on Yihang Road, just opposite the aforesaid wholesale market across Puxing Road. Xinmin Evening News reported on June 30 that this construction, when completed, would be another extensive commercial complex. This would be a very down-to-earth addition right next to a palatial building for pearls and precious stones. But I also believe the government has done sufficient study about its potential impact on existing trade and the vibrancy of street shops. It is always a feat to be able to match supply with demand, and there is always beauty in diversity regarding our food chain.


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