Even if you don’t know your garlic press from your pasta maker, you can probably recognize this brand as a leader in knife sales. But you may be surprised to know that Henckels does not always sell knives, at least not in Beijing.
Let me draw up a time line for you, and we can see understand this problem with more clarity.
August 8, the Beijing Olympics begin
August 9, an American tourist is stabbed in Beijing, incurring increased security measures
August 16, I move into my new apartment
August 24, Beijing Olympic games close
September 17, Beijing Paralympic games close
Like most people, I began shopping for needed household items as soon as I moved into my apartment. One of the most important things to me was to get my kitchen up and running, so I began buying all my pots, pans and the like. Unlike grocery stores in the U.S., most stores in China are more like Costco — they sell virtually everything you need for your house. So, I began what would become a long and tiresome search for a knife at Wu Mart, the giant chain grocery store near my house that sells everything from lingerie to kitchen stoves to fresh-cut fish. I cruised down the silverware and kitchen utensils aisle, looking desperately for a kitchen knife, to no avail. Thinking it was a fluke, I asked an employee, only to get a terse “no knives” answer. So a few days later, I went to Bonjour, a competing large supermarket. Again, “no knives.”
Figuring I must just not know where Chinese people buy knives, I started asking around. Most people seemed bewildered that I couldn’t find one. So, I visited several malls and went to their home wares sections, only to continually get the “no knives” response. Weeks passed, Jeff and I went traveling, and I arrived back with the Olympics over and a renewed hope in my heart that I would be able to find a knife. The shelves at Wu Mart remained empty, and the local malls had nothing for me.
This is where Henckels comes in. While out with Jeff and my parents in mid to late September, we went to the most upscale mall district in Beijing. Jeff marched me into a Henckels store, almost demanding that knives be sold. We went to the salesgirl, and I asked her whether they had any knives for sale. Her embarrassed reply was “not right now.”
I’m sorry, “not right now?” What does that mean?! Also, this is Henckels. They shouldn’t sell anything but knives! But the store shelves were devoid of anything sharp. I asked the other stores there, and got basically the same answer. Finally, I started a new strategy: “When will you be selling knives?”
Now, often when something inconvenient or sort of stupid happens in Beijing, it is blamed on the Olympics. This time, it really was the Olympics’ fault. As it turns out, stores across the city were banned from selling knives. Most people never noticed, because you only need to buy kitchen knives a few years at the most. I, however, spent over a month unable to really cook anything or eat fruit that required chopping, all because the government is crazy paranoid. Let the record also show that to get into the games and all subway stations, you have to go through screening, so a knife wouldn’t get anywhere anyway. But let’s not get fooled by logic.
On September 20, I tried again to get a knife, only to get the same responses from salespeople — no knives. Annoyed, I put forward the claim that it was September 20, and I knew knives were allowed. But, the salespeople said they hadn’t gotten the official OK yet.
So, finally on Sept. 28 or so, I finally found a knife at an upscale store. It was more expensive than any knife I’ve ever owned — over 200 kuai, or about $40 USD — but I decided to just get the dang thing.
A few days ago — as in early October — Wu Mart started selling knife sets with cutting boards and honers for 35 kuai. I was rather upset considering that the cheap knives were put back on the market way later than the expensive ones, but bought the set anyway since it was useful, and I had this nagging compulsion to stock up on knives.
Beijing bureacracy really does something to your psyche sometimes.
I guess the lesson is: the government can stop you from cutting up veggies for dinner, but it won’t go out of it’s way to prevent you getting kidney stones at breakfast. What a safe Olympics!