The smell of red thai chili peppers, mysterious fruits, butchered fish and herbal teas waft their way to the front of the store. A room full of dark corners in every direction you turn, exists among the bustling streets of downtown Denver. A tiled ceiling, the kind with millions of little holes poked into the boards, looms over a freshly mopped but perpetually dingy floor. Baskets of oddly shaped fresh foods such as lychee and lemongrass sit beneath beating fluorescent lights.
Small ladies with dark hair bustle through the store, restocking coolers or icecream in flavors that might make a Western tongue recoil. Large sacks of rice, which might be mistaken for charcoal sit as final thoughts near the exit of the market.
A tiny speck of cultures from afar, the local Asian store represents an enigmatic lifestyle that I’ve only seen in my dreams.
Sarah and I make our way, aisle by aisle, through the store. We stop and stare at the strange illustrations on the brightly colored packages. A woman with two normal eyes and two tiny black ones on her forehead smiles up at me from a plastic ramen wrapper.
We try and guess the best we can at what many of the items are. Muscat? Isn’t that a german word? Gummies with pictures of snakes on the front? It’s a thrill not knowing what you might find when you open up the unfamiliar packages.
“Red bean icecream!” Sarah squeals under her breath. It’s her favorite. I force her to be my hand model for my photos and she picks at her chipping nail polish.
We guess at each other’s favorite candies. Mine are the mushroom ones in the green box. Little cookie sticks with chocolate mushrooms on top. Asian chocolate tastes so different, we’ve both noticed it.
It’s easy to pretend you’re someone else when you drift through the store. You could be a girl from the other side of the world, riding her back after school to pick up her single noodle soup dinner. I inspect the label of some cold chrysanthemum tea and imagine drinking this instead of diet coke my whole life.
I try and visualize the streets of large Asian cities, see the interior of my tiny apartment. I imagine sitting down in my home watching an American movie and wondering if such a strange world really exists. Do they wear blue jean shorts and drink diet cokes their whole lives?
Someday I am going to visit Asia. Until then, I have my favorite Asian market, Pacific Mercantile. Try going to an Asian market near you and getting lost sometime soon.