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Shanghai Story 5: Sammy Feeds the Masses

Sammy Feeds the Masses

Sammy moved to Shanghai, like so many others have over the last decade, for a better life. Born after the end of the civil war and becoming a man in Mao’s China hadn’t been an easy life to say the least. Now things were good though. In a suburban area of the city, he had successfully opened a 24 hour corner store where he, his wife, his son, and his daughter in law all lived, worked, and took care of his son’s new baby girl.

The shop was not big, just a little over 10 square meters in floor space for displaying the goods he sold with a counter along one wall for ringing up purchases and displaying the fresh kebabs, boazi and steamy crock pots of broth that were filled with other popular local snacks. To the right of the shop door there was a small room where Sammy or his son would prepare the meat and materials used to make the shop’s snacks which were very popular amongst his customers. Upstairs there were two rooms, one about the same size as the shop floor where he and his family lived and slept when they were not minding the till, a small store room used to house non perishable goods with a small low table in the center for doing the business’s accounting.

By many people’s standards, Sammy had a good life and a good business and he, like his family, was happy with the lot life had cast for them. Many weren’t so lucky and in Sammy’s youth, almost none were. Being born during the Great Leap had been no picnic for anyone in his village or anywhere else in China for that matter. Food was scarce and many of his neighbors and family member hadn’t survived Mao’s experiment.

In his family, his father’s parents had been the first to go so the rest could survive. After their deaths, they had had enough to eat for a few months, but hunger eventually forced them out to wander with the millions of other Chinese desperate to feed themselves and their children in any way possible. He could still remember the taste of tree bark and the screams of babies left behind in shallow pits along the road side by other hungry migrants. He and his family had been lucky to find whatever the roads provided and had made it through this first difficult period. But that was all behind him now, although it had changed him and many others for the rest of their lives.

Sammy stood behind his counter relieving his son as the first shades of gray became visible outside the shop window. Busy morning commuters from the surrounding developments would soon start pouring in to grab a bit of milk, or tea and buy some of the snacks he had just freshly laid out on the counter. As he listened to his son climb the stairs at the back of the shop, the first customer of the day appeared.

“Good morning” he called cheerily to the weary looking customer shuffling into his shop. “What can I get for you today?”

“One of these and two of those”, mumbled the factory worker in a sleepy daze. Sammy Grabbed two meat skewers and a boazi bun plopping them into cheap plastic bags and handed them over to his customer grinning.

“Red Double Happiness?”, Sammy enquired as he knew most of his male customers by the brand of cigarette they smoked and this worker seldom bought anything without also picking up a pack on his way through.

“Sure. Give me two packs” the customer replied.

Sammy rang up the total, took the cash hastily dropped on the table, and watched as his customer started knawing on the kebab as he waited for his change. Happy to see the customer enjoying his treat, Sammy bid him farewell and went back to organizing his goods and thinking about the past. Not until the Cultural Revolution was he and his new family forced to head out on the road again. His father had settled down in a nearby province after the first famine had ended and returned to their peaceful farming lives. Although this time had been rough, it had been when his son had been born and he looked back on it fondly. It had also provided the chance to return the open road which in the end had satisfied Sammy’s Great Leap inspired identity of being a survivor. Today was no different, he was still surviving in Shanghai’s urban jungle and because of this, his smile rarely left his face.

Sammy could hear his wife and grandchild coming down the stairs to hang out in front of his little shop. His granddaughter was the light of his life and spending the day minding the shop with her running about at his heels was a joy unlike any other which filled him with a sense of belonging and purpose nothing else ever could. Customers came and went as the day progressed. Business was good and his snack counter was turning a hefty profit. Snacks, drinks, and cigarettes were what made his business a success and in that order.

As the steady stream of customers depleted the counter next to the till, he’d go into the side room to prepare more. It housed a counter used as a cutting board, a few spices and other ingredients, and a freezer usually filled to the brim with fresh meat. Midway through the morning, he went inside this little room to prepare more items for the snack counter and noticed the freezer was getting low.

“Did he call yet about the next delivery?” Sammy yelled to his wife sitting on the front step.

“No. Not yet” his wife called back.

“”This will never be enough for the evening rush”, he thought as he rounded the counter and picked up the phone to dial his supplier the smile temporarily receding from his face. “We’ll need enough for ourselves too” he thought worriedly.

The man on the other end picked up and Sammy urgently demanded to know when the next supply would arrive. He had been dealing with this same supplier since he’d arrived in Shanghai 15 years ago and had started the first family business selling barbeque meat on the street. It was his only source and a good percentage of his business depended on it. His family also depended on the supply for their own diets and he, as he always was, was thinking about his dear granddaughter who yearned for the healthy diet as much a he and the rest of his family did.

He put down the phone just as his wife and the little one entered the shop. “Is everything OK?” his wife enquired with a little too much concern in her eyes.

The smile returned to Sammy’s face, “There’s no problem. Remember that Laowai who lives across the street and always smokes Gold Double Happiness?”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?” she returned.

“Well, he jumped in front of the train today got killed under the wheels”. Sammy’s smile grew so much as he spoke that it threatened to consume his face entirely. “He was brought in in pieces and the supplier thinks the other hospital staff won’t miss a few. We can keep them just for us!”

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