Just a second ago a nice guy left my house after cleaning and replacing the water filters under the sink in the kitchen and behind the refrigerator. (The fridges here, like in the US, also have a tap for cold water and ice, so you need a water filter there too).
In general, water in China should not be had straight from the tap. My Chinese teachers in Washington already warned me about that, and it was also mentioned in the basic information packages about China. Supposedly though, the water here in the Beijing Riviera (our mini-neighborhood) is drinkable. But since we prefer to know for sure, we are still relying on our own filtered water.
This reminds that I should talk about the new dilemma in buying groceries here. In a way, we would just like to buy what the locals buy, for local prices. But in reality, we often end up at specialized stores for foreigners, with imported products for higher prices. You can get Cheerio's (an American cerial), but it will cost you about $8 a box.
Although one of the reasons for shopping in the store with imported products is that you can actually read the name of the product (in English, German, or where-ever it is from), but you also have a little bit more of a sense of where it is from and what the quality might be. One particular problem is that the quality of products here in China is just less reliable. This may sometimes just be a perceived problem, but the truth is that you don't know the brands, and because quality standards are either less or not inforced, you don't really know what you are buying. That means you really have no way of knowing how many pesticides are on your veggies or if your milk has some good old melamine added to it.
A lot of what I know now is just from what other people are saying, but we have started to shop a bit more carefully. I think it will be a while until we figure out a routine of where we shop for what, but it seems wise at least to pay attention to the (lack of) information on product safety.
For example, earlier this week I e-mailed the Wondermilk farm, http://www.wondermilk.cn/ENGLISH.html, who will now start delivering fresh milk to our house. Compared to the big gallon-sized containers we got in the U.S., these will be tiny 500ml packages, but considering the milk has no preservatives, that's not a bad thing. So a few packages of this milk, yoghurt, and sweetened yoghurt-- all without additives, hormones and antibiotics-- will be delivered to our house twice a week. The farm is just outside Beijing and (supposedly) their milk is guaranteed to be good because they do everything -- milking the cows and packaging the milk -- in house, which means the milk cannot get possibly contaminated by milk from other farms that do not have the same standards.
I am also considering signing up for an organic food package, sort of for the same reasons. A friend told me that "organic" (in Dutch: biologisch) here takes on a whole new meaning, different from the U.S. or Europe. First of all, there seems to be no official certification --someone could just produce a bunch of stickers and stick them on their apples to sell them for a higher price. But if a farm states their products are organic and you have reasons to believe them, you at least know a little bit about their production methods and the likelihood (hopefully none) of massive amounts of (illegal? unsafe?) pesticides on your food.
I haven't always been the best consumer of organic products in Holland or the U.S., but at least I have always known that if you do buy products in a store or market, there is some sort of system in places (in Holland the Keuringsdienst van Waren and in de U.S. de Food and Drugs Administration) to check on food quality. It feels kind of like the Wild West to shop for food without that kind of security.
I'll keep learning and trying some new things. In the mean time, there is of course no harm in supporting a local dairy farm that tries to do good work. And -- if I am lucky -- there is also no harm in drinking this glass of water from my very own new water filter...