15 August 2010

Anecdotes from Asia

I thought some of you might enjoy reading a post, roughly verbatim from my personal journal. Coming from my journal, it doesn't necessarily reflect my proudest moments, but rather is an effort to most accurately record my emotions and experiences from these few periods of time.

__ August 2010. Ok. I’ve had a couple weak moments the past two days (I’m keenly aware that I’ve probably had many more, but these are the ones which come readily to mind).

. Last night (__ August) I went to order two dressers that [my wife] and I had looked at earlier in the day. First of all, I had to get a taxi. I had taken a picture of the store, which is really a landmark in the area in order to direct a taxi back there later. Apparently this wasn’t as foolproof as I thought. The first guy didn’t seem to have a clue, so he wouldn’t let me get in his taxi. So the next taxi, I didn’t say where I was going, I just got in (this trick I recently learned from [a local friend]), and then told him a place which I knew was past the furniture store. Once on our way, I showed him a picture of the store, and he knew right where it was.

So I get into the store. Buying stuff is not nearly as simple as looking for stuff when it involves ordering, delivery, etc. I began a game of charades and the sales lady joined me, albeit with some hesitation (at one point she held her finger up as if she would return in a moment, then left, only to return in fact a moment later, but with a note that read, “Have C____ friend? My English not good.” Eventually, however, we got through it, and the furniture is set to be delivered on Friday.

Once I had the receipt with all the necessary amounts, and times, and dates, and phone numbers on it (receipts here can be quite complicated), I headed to the store right next door to order another piece of furniture. Here, the lady spoke pretty good English—I was thinking, “I could have really used you next door about five minutes ago.” This transaction went much more smoothly, or so I thought. I even left with the box of the later-to-be-assembled bookshelf, not needing (or wanting) to wait until Friday for delivery.

Upon leaving the place with box under my arm (or as much under my arm as I could muster), I had to exit through the “lobby” of the building which serves as a showroom for a fancier furniture store. This guy with a white shirt and tie comes running after me, calling for me to do something. I eventually stop once I understand he wants my attention, right at the door to the outside, cool summer breeze—I mean . . . sticky stagnant warmth—awaiting me. Then this security guard/ manager starts questioning me. I show my receipt, thinking that was all he wanted. No, he keeps going after me.

In the meantime, a guy outside with a camouflage uniform on (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t army, just a different security guy) comes up and gives me a grin and a nod to the other guy. I’m still not sure whether he was nodding as if to say, “Just be patient, this guy is like this, and he’ll get off his high horse in a minute,” or as if to say, “You better watch it. We mean business and you’ve just made a big mistake.” But anyway, after the grin and the nod, he really just stands there (He might have muttered something to the other guy—I can’t remember).

The guy in the white shirt keeps going. He put his walkie talkie up to his mouth and shouts to someone else—something I never hear about later. Then I show him my receipt again, pointing to the amount that I paid for the box under my arm. He looks at it while he’s talking into his walkie talkie, then looks at me [as if to say, "There you go, you fool. Why didn't you point that out to me earlier?"] and shoves the receipt back at me . . . I left with a very sarcastic, “Xie Xie (thank you).”

8 AM, TODAY. This morning, I was set to leave to get some shopping done early so I could beat the hottest part of the day, only to remember that nothing opens that early, so, alas, I’ll have to wait until it is scorching outside yet again in order to try to get anything done. I was quite upset and mentioned something to [my wife] about how it’s completely ridiculous. Then I remembered that not too long ago, Kohl’s didn’t open until 9 AM . . . Those were the days . . .

10.45 AM, TODAY. Well, either, my proud/sarcastic-American-ness is more ingrained than I realized or I’m getting all of my culture shock in at once. I have to admit—it’s probably the former. So today at the store, I have my list written in my notebook. First mistake. From now on, shopping lists will be on their own piece of paper. Note to self: don’t carry . . . [personal notes . . .] around in public. All ended up fine, but . . .

I was trying to get two sales ladies (who had just “helped” me select a pillow) to tell me where the wall clocks were. Either they don’t have wall clocks here (which isn’t true, because I saw one as a display in a furniture store), or I’m worse at communicating/ charades than I thought. I even pulled up the word for clock on my new handy phone dictionary, and they thought they knew what I was wanting. Second mistake. From now on, I need to make more careful use of my dictionary [Case in point: see blog entry "Picking 'Preserved' Pickled Peppers" below]. Note to self: Don’t assume that a simple “word for word” translation will get you the understanding you hope for.

So I checked off “pillow” on my list (remember, written on a page in my [personal] notebook), then went to the end of the store in the direction they pointed and nothing resembling a wall clock was nearby or anywhere along the way. There were bathroom scales. Perhaps my BMI is worse than I thought, too. A little too much pork on the American “little middle” (I think I want that to be my Chinese name—zhong shao/shao zhong, “little middle.” Sidenote: This whole trip, I have my 5 yr. old son Benjamin and 1 yr. old Lauren in tow. So the whole time I’m looking for clocks (and now that I think about it, perhaps a good reason I never found them), I was distracted by Lauren climbing out of her stroller. Repeatedly. Third mistake. From now on, shopping journeys will be much better planned out--theoretically. Note to self: keep the shopping list short when taking more than one kid along.

Anyway, then I realized I didn’t have my notebook. Still not sure how that happened, but as quickly as possible, I head back to the pillows. Ok, now I’m trying to explain that I lost my notebook. The “pillow ladies” think I want to buy a notebook. I try the same procedure with my phone dictionary as before, but now I’m trying to explain that I have a notebook and it’s lost. Finally, they get a manager who has some English. At first, she thinks the same thing (that I want to buy a notebook), but finally understands that I already own an orange (you mean there’s other colors?) notebook, and that I’ve lost it in the store.

Right about then, one of the “pillow ladies” comes running down the aisle with—you guessed it—my orange notebook. I say, “Xie xie,” (completely devoid of any sarcasm). I’m truly grateful, and a bit apologetic about the whole ordeal, but of course, completely unable to communicate such, so I simply repeat, “Xie xie. Xie xie,” with a sheepish grin. Then I head upstairs to go grocery shopping . . .

__ August 2010. So today, yet again, I’m out shopping. This time I get out and realize I’ve forgotten the bundle of cash that I’ve come to realize I need when buying the appliances and furniture I’ve been buying since we’ve been setting up our home. So I’m too far to go back home and make any use of the day, so I try to run by the ATM. The ATM had no money today. I had run into this once before. It takes them until mid morning the next business day to fill it back up, so I’m out shopping now with less than $50 dollars (and no one takes Visa). I had wanted to get a wireless router for the computer, but with so little money, I just went and priced some so I knew what to expect later. Then I head to the grocery store. I get some plastic cups we’ve been wanting for the kids for everyday use (the ones we had bought had a design that wore off and made the cup real sticky—these were solid and stackable, and came inside a large measuring cup, which will also come in handy. Anyway, I got those, some cookies, a knife I’ve been looking for, a plastic cutting board (which is really hard to find here at a decent price), some tongs, Sprite, Coke, a big ole thing o’ soy sauce (It came in a nice plastic container as opposed to the glass you see normally for soy sauce—plastic is always better when four kids are in the house), and a large laundry basket that we will now use as our kitchen trash can (it’s the only way we’ve found to get a trash can that can hold more than a single gallon of trash)—can you guess what color it is? Yep, the only orange one they had (they only had four period, but the rest were green).

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