Oriental food markets are time machines. I walked into one yesterday for sushi supplies and I was eight years old, following my dad around and holding a plastic basket as we went up and down the aisles of a tiny store somewhere in Miami.
It starts, this memory, like the Wizard of Oz in black and white. The exquisitely scary funk smell of things not found at the local grocer. The sight and sounds of live crabs scrabbling in barrels, mixed with the Chinese the shop ladies sing out to each other, punctuated by the sudden English as they see me: "You finding everything?" I nod, mute, staring at the crabs.
It's when I remember the canned foods that the scene changes to color. Row after row of cylinders painted with brightly colored pictures of smiling Oriental women or chickens or fish, with perhaps one happy English word, the rest in exotic glyphs that look like the alien language I imagine in my Ray Bradbury novels.
My dad doesn't speak Chinese (aside from his attempts to thank the ladies, which always gets amused looks), but he knows which cans he wants, and puts them in my basket along with the rice, egg roll skins, and whatever frightening fish he'll pick from the seafood section at the back of the store.
We pay at the register and ride home in the car, the smell clinging to my clothes a bit.
Much like the perfume yesterday. I checked out and the woman at the register smiled and said "You find everything?" I told her I did indeed.