About a year ago, on a trip to Hong Kong, I saw a single bottle of Sierra Nevada beer that somehow had made it to a grocery store shelf. After I bought it I wrapped it up in a scarf, then later tucked it inside a shoe in my suitcase and brought it all the way back to our apartment in Beijing to save for a special moment. That was my policy on the few times I improbably saw a Sam Adams or Rogue Dead Guy beer in a mainland Chinese store. All of this was defense against the bleakness of the local offerings.
Last week, at a grocery store in the SF Bay area, this is what I saw (click for larger and more lovingly detailed, from this Nexus One camera phone shot). It's disorienting.
We may be headed down, but it's a cushioned descent. More on the Rogue Dead Guy saga in China shortly; also, on the Nexus One's camera and other features. And yes, yes, I realize that a Chinese aficionado of, say, wild mushrooms or Sichuan spices might have the converse reaction if going back to a Chinese traditional market from the bleakness of sanitized American stores.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.