This year our New Year’s Eve was destined to be low key. I had wonderful visions of ringing in the new year in our new house, champagne in hand, but that was not to be. First of all, our lease didn’t actually start until the first. The landlord was nice enough to give us access to the place a few days early so that our sea shipment could be delivered, but the house was unfurnished and remedying that would take countless trips to IKEA. So the evening of the 31st found us still in the hotel and all still jet lagged and exhausted. The hotel was great, but it is always hard to settle in when you are between places. The kids loved the super extravagant breakfast in the morning (Multiple stations! Miso soup! Unlimited fruit! Chinese people fawning all over them!). Ava spent more time than is healthy using the giant bathtub and multiple showerheads. She loves the chance to have a “spa day” and used the hairdryer and mini lotions and padded around in the complimentary guest slippers. We were supposed to spend New Year’s Eve sleeping in our own new beds, but nothing is ever easy when moving and China adds a whole new element.
We had planned to make one big trip to purchase the furniture since initially the landlord (lady, actually) had requested final say on EVERY piece of furniture. She was going to travel 4 hours on the train to have a shopping day with me. While I had been dreading the possibility of this shopping trip, it might have been a dream come true compared with how things actually happened. We were set for smooth sailing once we found out how IKEA works here. Our IKEA here has a delivery service set up and they can assemble the furniture for you as well. The fee was so small that I almost felt bad accepting the offer. 90rmb for delivery! Seriously, divide that by 6 and you can see why I was shocked. Fifteen dollars! Highway robbery! There is, of course, a catch. Since it is IKEA, many of our things were still self service and I still needed to get them on my own. Mark and the boys had left to head back to the hotel. Henry was so jet lagged that he was falling asleep on the display furniture, so after we decided on the beds and mattresses, Mark took them back to crash. Only Ava stayed with me to help- I think she thought it was going to be a fun night of shopping. How wrong!! We powered through to what I thought was the end only to realize that I now had to get all the self service items myself. We had multiple carts and only one adult to steer them. We neared the finish line and then I realized that we had never gotten a bar code for the sofa we wanted. I knew that even with the item number I would most likely be unable to get the cashier to ring it up if I needed to say anything in Mandarin. Ava was pretty tired by now so I left her near the check out sitting with the carts while I ran back to see if anyone could print out the barcode for me.
Of course, this is China, so I dealt with varying degrees of English with multiple employees as I tried to explain what I needed. My Mandarin is at absolutely zero at this point so I am totally reliant on the kindness of strangers and the professionalism of their past English instructors. Never before have I felt the power of my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate in the way I have these past few weeks. While people were helpful, it became apparent that the problem wasn’t language, but the fact that employees are specific to certain departments. They didn’t know enough about sofas to pull anything up on the computers so they kept sending me back further into the store. Further and further back until I was back in the sofa section at the absolute beginning of this massive IKEA. Finally someone could help with the specific item I needed! With the final piece of paper in hand I demanded a shortcut through the store. There was one, of course, but by using it I ended up out in the parking lot instead of anywhere near Ava and the check out lanes. And Ava had been waiting all this time while my 5 minute errand turned into half an hour. When I finally made my way back to the massive pile of boxes that would eventually be every stick of furniture in our house, she confessed that she had fallen asleep. Apparently she woke up, her head perched atop a pile of cardboard, with an entire Chinese family gawking at her. Once they were done discussing her in Mandarin they moved on to pay for their items but not before freaking Ava out a bit. You see, here it isn’t impolite to stare, or point, or discuss someone’s weight right in front of them and, as we have since learned, even in Shanghai little blonde children get stared at, pointed at, and discussed quite a bit. On our next IKEA adventure some girls would take photos of Ava with their cell phones. But this time was a first in the attention getting department and we were tired enough to find it hilarious.
After paying with Mark’s Chinese credit card, we hauled everything to the customer service desk to arrange delivery and assembly. The process was painless and quick but, as usual, didn’t work out as planned. There was no way to get the furniture in the next day or so, and assembly would mean waiting even longer. Without a working cell phone there was no way to discuss it with Mark so I opted to have the furniture delivered on the earliest date and just put it all together ourselves. How hard could that really be anyway? I was just getting the basics—4 beds, a sofa and chairs for the living room, some shelves, a dining table. We needed to be in the house ASAP, right? It is this kind of decision making that sees us all later sleeping on mattresses on the floor. But we were finished! We treated ourselves to frozen yogurt cones for the ride home (1rmb per person!) and ate them in the cab pretending not to know that we really weren’t allowed to do that. The driver said nothing as we munched away all the way back to the hotel.
Fast forward a day to New Year’s Eve. We had to stay an extra night in the hotel since we wouldn’t have beds until the 1st. Everyone was still suffering from the time change and the kids were beginning to miss home with their old beds and friends and none of this inconvenience. We stayed at the house too long and then needed to make the trip back to the hotel. It is 15 minutes from our house to the hotel even walking with Henry so it shouldn’t be much of a hardship, but Lucas had reached his limit and couldn’t keep it in. He had a legendary freak out and by the time we made it back no one was in the mood for celebrating. We ate at an American restaurant and Henry fell asleep in my lap after eating one bite of his hamburger. Mark and I pounded our drinks (happy hour 2 for 1 that was the exact opposite of happy) and then hauled the kids up to bed. We were all tucked in by 9:30—no countdown, no toasts, no kisses.
In the morning we regrouped. Henry and Lucas were up at 4 am to finish Henry’s doggie bag from dinner and I started packing us up to move everything to the house. Needless to say, the hotel was a mess now with our two rooms full of our partially unloaded suitcases. I had stuffed them all impossibly full with no system whatsoever once I learned we each had 2 bags, not 3, and that meant no one could find clean underwear or matching socks. I had planned to call my parents to check in and went to get my phone so that I could dial their number on Mark’s phone. But I couldn’t find my phone. Because I couldn’t find my bag. Because I had left it in the restaurant the night before. I had lost my bag with my iphone, ipod, and most importantly, all of our passports on the 3rd night in Shanghai. Welcome to China!