I don't even know where to start. (And I apologize in advance for the "stream of consciousness" that I'm sure this post will be but ...) So, instead I'll just say: I'm developing multiple personalities here. There is, of course, TheB*tch ... but also StarryEyed ... and WanderingFool ... OMGReally?!?!? ... and WhyNotZen. And probably a few more, but these are the main characters right now.
TheB*tch comes out daily, actually -- because I'm sooo not used to being incompetent. And I am pretty incompetent here. Which is very frustrating. I can't distinguish between dish soap and dishwasher detergent ... I can't figure out how to correctly copy directions in Mandarin to give to the taxi driver ... I can't figure out how to work the washer or the dryer (though I've made a little progress with the dryer - only took five hours to dry three towels...) Three steps forward, two back .. and all that. Wanting the adventure but wanting it the way I want it is rather fundamentally inconsistent. I'm working on that!
StarryEyed also comes out daily -- because something surprisingly magical happens every day -- like watching a man on the street next to me carefully repair an old shoe so that, the next day, he can sell it, or finding that this dish that J ordered, which is delicious, is edible tree fungus, or looking out my window morning, noon, and night and seeing such an incredible view.
WanderingFool comes out every day I go out. Because nothing makes sense so I spend a lot of time wandering around trying to find a logic to ... where and how things are. Like last week. It took me four days, three stores, and a total of six hours to get the “supplies” to make coffee. Supplies needed to make coffee J-style: (a) coffee maker; (b) coffee grinder; (c) coffee filters; and (c) coffee beans. On Day 1, I found a coffee grinder. On Day 2, I found a coffee maker and coffee beans (Starbucks is really only option). On Day 3 I looked for coffee filters without luck. On Day 4, I spent 2.5 hours going aisle by aisle and shelf by shelf … and asking every employee I could find (I had a picture of a filter) – without luck, until finally, one employee recognized the picture of filters and knew where they were. They were in the imported products section – on the bottom shelf, just below imported Nutella and jelly products. Now – why didn’t I think of that?? So – VICTORY – I finally had coffee filters!!!! (For the low low price of $6/40 filters. If only I had thought to bring our gold/reusable filter with us. That's definitely on the list for first trip back - it's already in my Amazon.com shopping cart.)
And today. I went to four different stores looking for nail polish remover and isopropyl alcohol. I found nail polish remover (though I fear not the right kind). I still haven't found alcohol. That's my goal for tomorrow. If I can find one thing, or figure out one mystery a day, I'm a happy camper.
OMGReally?!?! also shows her face every day -- whether I go out or not -- because I'm still discovering things that just ... shock me. Even though, with many such things, I read about them before I got here. Reading about something and seeing it for real are two very different things. Like cars (or mopeds with small children standing on the foot space) going down the wrong side of the road. Or men - and women - hawking up big loogies and spitting them both on the street and even (once, for real) in the aisle at IKEA. Or realizing that it really does take 8 people to change a light bulb here. Seriously. True story: On Friday, it took 8 people to change the light bulb above the stove. EVERYTHING takes at least 4 people -- who show up unannounced throughout the day, always in groups of at least two, each with cell phones into which they talk a lot, presumably about the issue at hand. This morning, it took 8 (different) people -- over a span of 4 hours -- to change a broken hinge on the closet door. I could have done it myself in about 15 minutes. But, no - it's part of the building, so ... they must do it. And the landlord's agent(s) must arrange it.
And in several stores I've visited, getting out the door with something takes at least 3-4 people. Today, in my fourth attempt to find nail polish remover, I ventured into a Watsons that I happened upon. The greeter (#1) offered to assist me. As I don't speak Mandarin, I pantomimed what I needed. She spoke rapidly (instead of speaking loud and slow the way we might do, I find that folks speak faster and faster to me when they realize I don't understand...) and nodded her head yes, then took me to a counter where a beauty consultant (#2) showed me the display version of the product. I decided to get it, so #2 wrote me a ticket. #1 then took me to the counter where #3 read the ticket and took my money. #3 then gave the ticket to #4 who went back in the storage room (?) to find the real version of the product. Then #1 pulled it out of the box to show me that it was sealed, and to show me that the expiration date was in 2015. Upon my approval (but I'd already paid so...?), I was released. But then, on my way out of the store (which was smaller than the typical 7-11), #2 asked to see my receipt from #3, to confirm that I'd paid for the product that I could have only gotten from #4 after #3 gave him my paid receipt. #1 came running while I was digging for my receipt and yelled at her, then gestured that I was free to leave. I tried not to giggle -- just smiled and said xièxie.
(You probably think I'm exaggerating just a little. I am not exaggerating.)
Oh - an aside. We're not really on the 49th floor. In China, the number 4 is like the number 13 in the US ... only worse. So, there is no 4th, 14th, 24th, 34th, or 44th floor -- and at least in this building, there also is no 13th floor in an apparent nod to all the expats living here (probably 25% of the total population in this complex). So we're really not that high after all.
In light of all of the above, WhyNotZen is, well, inevitable. I really have no choice other than to give in and enjoy the ride (or go stark raving mad). I mean, why not just chill out!! Really, it'll all be ok. It IS all ok. It's just a different kind of "ok." But -- I know that I'm with the love-of-my-life, and my Gracie & Majerle are here exploring our new digs and making me smile all the time. I can walk outside and get all the fresh fruit I could want for pennies. I can look out my window and see this grand city. And I can walk out my door and see this crazy, amazing, mystifying (to me) city.
It's all good. Or at least the parts that aren't really my definition of "good" yet are ... interesting. I laugh at myself a lot (usually right after TheB*tch has thrown an internal temper tantrum and I realize how silly it is to get all worked up).
And I can't not giggle at the crazy-to-me things I am seeing and experiencing. There's nothing like ...watching several dozen adults do a choreographed slow dance to Chinese classical music each evening down at the corner intersection just south of our place. Or hearing a Chinese karoke version of "We Are the World" playing while you shop. Or hearing a live girl band doing a karoke cover of Maroon 5. Or watching a car come right down your lane right at you in the opposite direction like in a game of chicken. Or hearing your door bell ring announcing the arrival of yet another person here to help the 5-6 people already here deal with ... something - whether or not you asked for that "something" to be addressed. Or walking through the meat section of the grocery store and seeing people pick through a high pile of frozen chicken legs or stacks of unfrozen raw beef the way "we" in the US pick through apples or cucumbers in the produce section. Or getting a one hour shampoo, massage, and blow dry, complete with ear cleaning for $10 just down the street. Or having the taxi driver insist that he can fit in all your "stuff" from IKEA ... in his trunk ... then using a roll of packing tape to hold the trunk down. Or seeing the little kids with their split pants squatting in the grass - or right on the sidewalk.
All I can say (to myself ... repeatedly ...) is "hang on, 'cause this is gonna be a ride."