Jan 11: An interesting day. One of things on my "ten worst" list is lack of mental flexibility / imagination on part of some Chinese. For instance. I go into a shop sellling prepaid phone services and also SIM cards. Recharge cards are sold in increments of 50 RMB, 100 RMB, and 300 RMB. I tell the people (in Chinese) that my phone has no minutes and I want to purchase phone minutes. I point to my phone and tell them that it only has 1 RMB on it. They do not "understand" what I mean. They never can figure it out, they try to sell me a SIM card.
I go outside and tell the driver that the people in the store don’t understand my Chinese. He tells me (in Chinese) me that the proper way to tell them what I want is to say I want a "recharge card" and he teaches me the correct pronunciation to say "recharge card" in Chinese. But he then goes in to the store himself and buys exactly what I need. Okay. I feel so frustrated! True, I wasn’t saying "recharge card." Big deal! I wonder, if someone came to me and wasn’t using exactly the right words, would I be able to understand what they needed if they conveyed the concept? Could these people be that stupid, so completely indoctrinated in rote learning — so unable to be creative that they totally lack mental ability to connect the dots, to think "outside the box" even in the matter of figuring out that someone who needs to purchase "minutes" for their cell phone needs, in fact, a "recharge card?" It does occur to me that maybe they were making fun of me and deliberately giving me the "run around," but that hasn’t happened very often.
Well, on my list of "ten best" things about living in Guangzhou is Mandarin Oranges. They are really in season. So fresh that the peels are so moist that they crumble off instead of coming off in one piece. No seeds, easy to peel, sweet as candy. YUM! I can eat a whole "ban jin" (half kilo) every day by myself! This in itself is a good reason to live in Southern China!
Today the first thing I did this moring was go to a GWIC meeting for morning coffee (Guangzhou Women’s International Organization, http://www.gwic.org ). I sat at the registration table with my friend Ruth, who is from Canada. I was dressed in a spring / fall dress but I got hot by lunchtime. It’s about 75 degrees F outside. Sunny and warm (exept that pollution clouds the sky). After the end of the GWIC meeting, I plan to go shopping for birthday party favors at Haizu. One of my other friends thinks I look too mch like a tourist to go to Haizu, which can have pickpockets. I look too rich and fru fru, an easy target for a pickpocket. Crime has been bad, she says. Someone could cut off my fanny pack and I have no pockets to keep a stash of cash any other place. Just the other week on ER Sha Island, she said, a mother and daughter were walking together and got held up. So, at lunch, I came home and dressed down into a sleeveless shirt and jeans (with pockets for my spare money).
Once I was on the bus, I decided that instead of going to Haizu, I would go on a bigger adventure . . . to the French version of Wal Mart, called Carrefour. A 45 min bus ride to the old part of town, a place I’ve never been on the bus but surely I could find the bus stop home. So off I went, alone and only a bit worried about finding my way around.
When I got on the bus, the woman sitting beside me was shocked by my sleeveless attire. "Was I not cold?" she asked. I explained to her that I had dressed warmly in the morning but I had gotten hot, gone home, and changed clothes. Everyone heard this conversation, noted my strange dress, and looked at me as if I were quite odd. Of course, they said things about me smiling that I didn’t understand, talking among themselves. Look at this strange looking foreigner who doesn’t know how to dress when it is cold! At least, it was friendly condescension or befuddlement over my strange ways. That’s one thing I like about the Yue people (the Cantonese) — they are friendly and open, with easy smiles for the most part. After the concerned woman gets off, a man takes her place in the seat beside me who never takes his eyes off the video game in his Nokia phone. One more way of how to spend time on the bus.
In contrast to myself, I noticed everyone else on the bus has on long sleeves, long pants, and jackets. Double layers everyone. Well, I was quite comfortable in my sleeveless top. The Chinese tell us that we westerners are just "strong." In fact, I think the weather always feels just a bit odd due to the humidity. One minute you can feel cold, but exercise just a bit and it’s hard to cool off. It’s just hard to get rid of excess heat in this humidity (summer and winter). Guangzhou people don’t use carpets or rugs on the floor because they catch humidity and cause mold. They also have theories about how to keep your body regulated between hot and cold, but it has nothing to do with temperature. Rather, it’s more like spiritual qualities of food. For instance, dog is a hot food and eaten when one needs to heat up inside. The heat from dog also will cure asthma. But if someone has acne, it means they are too hot inside (fire is erupting from inside) and so they need to eat more cold foods. Anyway . . .
Other than a thick layer of heavy smog that makes the buildings all seem hazy and hard to see, (I noticed it was a bright, sunny day but the sun was not visible in the sky), the weather was perfect. But then, back in the bus on the way home, I began to feel a bit chill. I looked around, and noticed it was the air conditioner on the bus. All the people had on coats and scarves in roughly 70 degree weather, children were bundled up in woolens, and the AC on the bus was running full blast.
Today was Sarah’s birthday. I began my day at 7:30, could barely drag out of bed because the household was up so late last night. David calls in to his work usually from about 9 PM our time and often going until 1 AM our time. And the big girls have homework. And Julianna needs stories etc. Actually, last night it was our small houseguest Abigail (4 years old) who couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to take a bath until she was settled, which happened about 11:30 PM. Anyway, that meant I got a slow start this morning, but then I hit the ground running.
By 8:30 David and I were in the van. I had Afu drop me off at the Ke Cun subway stop. I went from there on a 30 min ride up to China Hotel, where I had ordered a bakery order of Hot Dog buns for our "All-American" weenie roast birthday party. I had only ordered 30 buns for perhaps 20 teenagers, and I was getting a bit worried that might not be enough. But when I saw them, they were plenty big, about twice the size of a normal hot dog bun. Then 30 mins back on the subway. Then I put my bread in a locker and shopped my grocery list at Trust Mart, a Chinese based chain grocery.
Wow! At Trust Mart I found plain potato chips in a Chinese brand! What a find! I had to wade through the beef and cucumber flavored chips. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay quadruple the price for Ruffles potato chips at the foreign grocery! But there was still a long list of items not to be found in the store. Canned tomatoes, graham crackers, marshmallows, sour cream, chocolate bars. I’m making a veggie tray with dip — using the French onion soup mix I carried with me in my suitcase, as a splurge for Sarah’s birthday. And smores, to emphasize our American theme. I’m pretty sure many of the kids will never have seen how we fix a hot dog or eaten a smore! And I still need the veggies to chop up for the veggie tray.
Anyway, the Trust Mart produce doesn’t look so good today, and I want to keep the weight minimal that I am carrying with my hands. I brought my shopping cart, but left it in the car! So I buy a minimal amount, then I put my Trust Mart stuff in a second locker, hopped on a different subway line to the Japanese store Jusco which has more foreign selection.
This new subway line was just opened on December 24. The train car has electronic lights to tell you which stop you are at, and it smells like "new car" smell. It is already full of people. China is full of people! It is not a place for the claustrophobic. I realize also, it is not a place for anyone who is overly concerned about germs. People here are much more careful about sneezing in public, though. And they wear masks when they have a cold. I wish Americans would be so considerate about keeping their germs to themselves!
Arriving at Jusco, I purchase mayonaise, chocolate, canned tomatoes, and "digestive crackers" which are somewhat like graham crackers. The store is quite crowded and it takes a long time to maneuver end to end, but it’s nothing like Saturday when it is truly "bumper to bumper!" But Jusco doesn’t have marshmallows or sour cream, the really foreign food! Back to retreive my stuff from the lockers at the Ke Cun subway stop (pronounced kuhh- tcheuuwen) and get Afu to pick me up. Conveniently, this subway stop is one of the closest ones to the factory. He picked me up about 12:40 PM. I then have to go to my fourth stop, a "foreign" grocery inside the Oakwood compound. They have marshmallows but no sour cream. I guess there will be no dip. I decide that just plain potato chips will do to go with the hot dogs.
At about 1 PM I drop all my "loot" off at the house, sip some water, and go back out in the car. Koya (Sarah’s boyfriend) meets me, because he is going to help me shop for party favors. Song Ying (our housekeeper) is also riding in the car to help out. But first, I must go to the bank to get cash to pay for David’s airline ticket next week, on a business trip. Then we go order a birthday cake. Last year I had a fiasco when I ordered a cake ahead of time. They fixed it the same day I ordered it and insisted that I had to buy it then. I ended up buying two cakes. Fortunately, I actually ran across someone with a birthday that same day who had not yet purchased a cake — and they wanted my extra cake! Amazing, eh?!! So, this year I deliberately waited until somewhat "last minute" so as to avoid any confusion about delivery time. Sarah’s cake would be ready at five. Since Song Ying is with me, she does all the talking and negotiating, only asking me what kind of cake I prefer.
Song Ying also directs me to a warehouse where I can purchase several cases of drinks from a wholesaler. It’s closer to my house than the one in the GWIC directory. Song Ying corrects me. No, it’s not pi-fa (wholesale), she says, but it is cheaper and more convenient than the grocery store. I think, though, that it may be wholesale since I got six cases of drinks for about 320 RMB, about $40 US. Song Ying leaves the car now and strikes off without me. She is taking a taxi in another direction to the produce market to purchase the veggies for our veggie tray tonight. Koya and I are going to Haizu gift market to purchase party favors. As Afu drops me off at that market, he tells me he will deliver the cases of drinks to our house, then return to the factory where he eventually picks up David at 4:00 PM. (David normally leaves about six, but is leaving early tonight for the party.)
Koya and I will take a bus home from Haizu. It costs us 2 RMB apiece, but it is standing room only for about 2 miles. Fortunately, it’s not completely packed as the buses can get at rush hour. We have room to maneuver out the middle door to exit without having to shoulder our way through. (It has happened that I’ve been on a bus and wondered how I would make it to the exit door, although I always seem to manage.)
Well, I forgot ice and paper products. I didn’t forget wood for our cookout, nobody has any idea where to get any! Fires are illegal in Guangzhou. Our compound has a deep pit where we can barbeque. David ends up getting ice, paper products, and a big bag of charcoal on his way home from work. We both converge at the house about 5:00 PM. Song Ying thought we were making a salad, because either she has never seen a veggie tray or I failed to communicate. She has purchased and washed about three heads of Romaine lettuce.
My main worry right now is that these kids have been promised a cookout, and we have no wood! David and I have asked all around, and no one knows anywhere we can get wood for a campfire. The 20 gifts for a party game have not been wrapped, I haven’t yet made chili, and I am stressed! David is making slaw. He gets the kitchen chores under control while I wrap presents. Tommy arrives early from basketball practice and helps with chores. Koya helps too. Sarah arrives home hot and tired after trying on her (secret) prom dress. She needs a quick bath. David starts the grill and carries food to the barbeque pit while I make vegan chili. It turns out, hot dogs really are simple.
Things fall into place. The kids are late arriving, and that’s a blessing for us. The hot dogs are great. Kids trickle in, beginning about half an hour after the party was to begin. Tomorrow is prom night, and they have all been out with preparations for that. The kids love the chili and slaw. They individually heat their hot dogs, they enjoy making smores. We learn that a huge bag of charcoal can make a semblance of a campfire. One kid in particular seems to be a budding pyromaniac with his marshmallows flaming like torches. He seems to relishing every moment of this diversion, and he becomes the designated "smores maker." Conversation is great, about 20 kids have converged at our compound’s barbeque pit. The party game with small gifts seems to work well. We "roast" Sarah by telling funny stories about her. A prize is given to Sundari for the best / worst / most stories! Sarah blows out the birthday candles on the HUGE cake she can’t eat (because it has milk and eggs). When we cut the cake, it falls apart because it is filled with chunks of fruit inside, but the fruit all on top and on the inside is great, the cake is moist, and it has chocolate syrup covering its whipped cream filling.
It seems that a good time was had by all. While the kids vist, we begin clearing away the mess. We throw away all the paper products. We give the remaining half the cake to the security guards. The food gets put away. My feet are sore and tired! Now, as I’m writing in my blog, I remember that I forgot all about the "beanie weenies" I had so painstakingly searched all over town for ingredients to make. I guess they weren’t so important after all. Now it’s time for bed — good night!