Like a model little old lady, I have a fear of bad eggs, which leads me to be careful when buying eggs. I cannot buy a dozen in the supermarket without opening the carton and nudging each spheroid to see if it will move. If it is stuck to the cardboard, it is perhaps cracked; egg white is a strong glue. But until I left America, I was a child when it came to buying eggs.

American eggs are so thoroughly inspected and graded that it is rare to get a bad egg in a fresh carton in a major supermarket. They may be roughly handled, and so cracked, but not usually otherwise rotten. And the price is fixed, and shown on the shelf, and about the same everywhere, and pretty cheap, and there is no fun in it at all.

In China, eggs may be bought at Western-style supermarkets, but the quality is not guaranteed. I found better eggs, at better prices, in the innumerable outdoor farmer's markets, tucked away in every third or fourth alley. Neither quality nor price is guaranteed there, though.

Some Chinese buy eggs by looking through them against a strong light -- sunlight when outdoors. The supermarket has an "egg box" near the stock. The box contains an incandescent bulb, with a small hole against which the egg may be held. I have no idea what the shoppers see. Some Chinese shake and listen.

Older Chinese ladies shop for eggs the way you buy a car, if you are a mean, untrusting blue-collar worker trying to stretch a Ford budget into a Lincoln. They stalk the market, disbursing dirty looks at the wares offerred, snapping short questions at the vendors without stopping to hear the answers. They alight on bowl after bowl of nice-looking eggs, check out one and move on with a sneer, glare, grunt, or sideways spit. Once an old Chinese woman finds two or three farmers with acceptable eggs, she will march back and forth, confronting each with the other's asking price -- demanding, badgering, and casting rank aspersions until she is satisfied. Then she goes to work, selecting each egg carefully, sorting through 30 eggs to buy 5. Eggs are sold by weight, not by count, and the buyer eyes the operation with prejudice, alert for the many ways in which the scales can be manipulated for short weight. While the shopkeeper bags the eggs, the buyer stares hard, looking to see none are cracked in the process.

I cannot do this. I have tried, and what I took home was so bad I could not feed it to the giant cockroaches. I also overpaid about 200%.

My new strategy is to approach the second-busiest vendor in the market, but never the one nearest the entrance, and ask politely, with a very large smile, in my best pidgin Chinese, "One pound eggs, please, good eggs, thank you." Since switching, I have paid no more than my hard-nosed Chinese fiancee, and have never gotten a bad egg.

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