More China Hijinks!

It has been brought to my attention that on this blog I often complain about Shanghai.  What?!  Me?  Complain?  Certainly that is not the case!  There is nothing to complain about over here.  The weather, for once, is reasonable.  Sunny, even!  Although I have been told the air quality is horrendous and we should not be outside breathing the toxic air.  I ignore these warnings!  I step outside and breathe with reckless abandon.  The construction noise from across the street has started to sound as soothing as birdsong.  Who can complain about the rhythmic hum of a jackhammer?  I am surrounded by an army of helpful folks who have absolutely no understanding of what I want or why I am even talking to them in the first place, but I am not complaining!

The management office is currently staffed with many of these helpful people.  They are very eager to answer the phone and then proceed to explain to me why something that should take five minutes is about to ruin my entire day.  Take for example, my current light bulb situation.  I have no problem changing light bulbs.  This is something I do all the time.  Never before have I paid someone to change light bulbs for me.  But China is different, and after spending far too much time searching for the light bulbs I needed and then being unable to change them without electrocuting myself, I had the management office send someone over.  I paid him 5rmb per bulb!  After I supplied the bulbs, naturally.  He was also kind enough to show me that in many cases the problem wasn’t my ineptitude, but our house’s faulty wiring.  He repeatedly pulled singed wads of wires out of the ceiling to demonstrate just how “bad” certain parts of the house happened to be.  He fixed these, and contorted himself and his ladder into various spaces until he had managed to replace seventeen bulbs.  Seventeen!  But the lights were working again so I am not complaining!

The bulbs in the living room require a special ladder.  When they put the drapes up, they actually built scaffolding inside the house to reach the top of the windows.  When the management office mentioned an extra charge for the “tall ladder” I was pretty sure that was what they were talking about.  I am willing to pay a fee for this, of course.  No complaining here!  But I need to provide the light bulbs and I have no idea which ones to buy.  They are up in the ceiling, you see, and they require a special ladder!  Can anyone from the management office tell me which bulbs to buy?  No.  Can they sell the bulbs to me?  No.  After multiple phone calls they find a solution.  What they can do is have the guy come, take down the bulb, hand it to me, and wait while I go and frantically try to find the bulb.  At some mystery store, apparently, because nothing thus far in my hours of searching resembles these crazy bulbs I see in my living room ceiling.  Then, when I return from my shopping excursion, he can climb the ladder again and put the new bulb in.  Very simple.

Well, I hate to complain, but this is not so simple.  This is ridiculous.  This made me yell at a nice little Chinese woman who was baffled that I could not understand why no one had saved the packaging from these light bulbs.  I cannot possibly be the first person ever to need these bulbs to be changed, can I?  Every townhouse in the compound has these light bulbs!  So now I am waiting.  I have arranged for the special ladder to come today and will pay for one of the workmen to go and buy the light bulb for me.  I will also pay the ladder fee and maybe overtime while we all wait for him to return with the coveted bulb.  I will then wrestle him to the ground to ensure I have the packaging that might help me when another one of these bulbs decides to stop working.  I can almost guarantee that another one will need replacing tomorrow.  Not that I am complaining or anything.

The Annoying Trip to Bali!!!!!!!!!

We finally got out of the house.  I never thought we’d get out.  We were heading to Bali, a wonderful place.  Except the ride was a little bit obnoxious.  Why don’t I tell you about it?  It started one morning, we were getting in the taxis to go to the Maglev.  For those of you who don’t know, the Maglev is this big floating train that goes as fast as you will ever go on land.    We went up to 400 miles an hour.  It made my head dizzy it was so fast!  Finally we stopped.  We got off at the airport.  Little did I know there was a big problem ahead of me.  We got on our first flight.  I took out my IPad, my headphones, and I took out one small polka dotted piece of pink fabric.  I put it behind my pillow. The fabric is my lovey, my blanket, my beloved Pinky!  I have had her all my life.  They discontinued this blanket the year I was born.

We got off the plane and I got off without a small piece of pink polka dotted fabric.  We sat in the airport for what felt like a long time.  We finally got on the next plane.  I went to reach out for Pinky but I realized when I put my hand in my suitcase… SHE WAS GONE!!!!!  I cried for the first three hours of the flight.  In case you were wondering, the flight is more than six hours.  I finally got over that I might not get Pinky back and so my crying calmed down.  And then my stomach didn’t feel so good.  So I got up and went to the bathroom about five times and then I said, “Mom, I think I might need a throw up bag soon.  Like NOW!”  I threw up six times on the plane then finally we got off in Bali.  My mom went back into the airport to see if they had found Pinky.  Meanwhile, we waited.  After what felt like a couple of hours, I threw up again.  Mom had the supply of throw up bags so I threw up on the ground in the middle of the waiting zone.  Finally, my mom came back.  She didn’t know that I had thrown up on the ground and she was shocked that me and my dad were across the street in the grass in case I threw up again.

Then we got in the car.  I threw up again and luckily my mom had one more throw up bag. The bad news was that this was our last one– the last one of them all!  We got to the hotel finally, the hotel where we were going to stay one night.  We got in our room after what felt like a hundred and sixty miles of walking.  Mommy had to stay with me and she was the one who had to put up with me throwing up the entire flight.  But luckily, I didn’t throw up again.  The next morning I woke up the latest of anyone even though my mom is usually the lazy bird.  Me and my mom went down to breakfast.  The boys had already had breakfast and were now swimming in the pool like little fishies.  My dad called to see if anybody had found Pinky.  Unfortunately, no one had.  My mom was looking at the Korean Air website at pictures of lost things.  She looked through pages and pages and pages, but Pinky (my beloved!) wasn’t there.

When we got to our villa, we first started picking out our rooms.  Then we looked again to see if anyone had found Pinky.  Still, unfortunately, no P-I-N-K-Y!!!!!!  We looked for three days and still nothing.  Finally, my mom did something smart.  She looked on ebay!  She looked at one hundred pages of pink baby blankets.  She found three identical Pinkies!  I was saved!  All that time crying on the plane– it wasn’t worth it.  We ordered two of them and my grandmom is sending me one of them.

We went to another villa where we spent one night and then we went back to the airport.  We got to Seoul, Korea, our first stop.  Our wait there was four hours and that is the same city where I lost Pinky.  My mom and I went to the information desk to see if we could find the lost and found.  They sent us on a wild goose chase.  They told us to go upstairs.  We went up and we asked.  They asked for our flight information and stuff like that.  It was pretty annoying but I had to deal with it.  We went back downstairs.  My mom was generous enough to let me stay at the gate with my dad and she went on the rest of the wild goose chase to see if they had found Pinky.  Of course, they hadn’t.  We got on our next flight empty handed with no special piece of pink polka dotted fabric.

We finally got back to China and I am waiting for my replacement Pinky.

P.S.  Don’t read this when you are eating.

Dictated to Gwen by Ava

Wet Market!

Have I mentioned the wet market?  Have I mentioned my fear of dying due to some ailment that I might catch there?  Surely I have!   Since moving to Shanghai, I have been given many, many lectures about food safety in relation to the wet market and anything one might decide to buy there.  Henry’s school even gives a tour of the place that I have been told mainly consists of scaring people to death.  Of course, I have been making judgments based on what I have been told because I have never actually ventured out to the wet market myself.  Ahem.  Up until now, I have confined myself to the supermarket and the occasional fruit truck parked on my street in order to feed Team Erickson.  I must admit that the things I buy from the fruit truck are far superior to the things from the supermarket.  The cute little lady at the fruit truck helps me pick the best watermelon and gives me free stuff because I am a good customer.  The supermarket could never compete with that!  To top it off everything I buy at the supermarket is more expensive than the fruit truck.   And it frequently tastes like sawdust.

When we returned from our Bali trip, there was absolutely nothing edible in the house, not even of the sawdust variety.  Faced with the prospect of spending the day going to multiple supermarkets only to arrive home with nothing I decided to put off the inevitable by staying in bed as long as possible.  This only made the natives restless and more dangerous.  By the time I drug myself out of bed they were all “starving”.  A neighbor friend called to see if Lucas wanted to come over.  They had just arrived home as well and the mom invited me to come with her to do some food shopping.  Her driver was working (yeah!) so we could hit a few places and have it be relatively pain free.  She knew I hadn’t yet made it to the wet market.  She apparently goes twice a week and, in her words, “hasn’t died yet” so we decided that would be our first stop.

You know what?  It was awesome.  And not in the sarcastic way, it was really genuinely awesome.

In Baltimore, I love the farmers market.  Thirty minutes after Henry was born I was calling a friend, not to announce the happy news, but to tell him to make sure he went to the market to pick up our CSA share since I was going to be busy for the rest of the day.  I famously risked public scorn by packing up my two week old and heading to the Waverly farmers market.  My mother insisted on coming and sitting with him in the car, but the next Saturday I was there with him in the stroller so great is my love of the fresh veggies and fruit.  My children have been known, particularly in the summer, to turn up their noses at something “from the supermarket” when they suspect there is the possibility of really fresh stuff from the farmers market or our garden.

So why, oh why, did I not check out the wet market?  I have spent the past few years loving a farmers market that takes place under an overpass, but I was sure there was nothing for me at some urban veggie market in Shanghai?  For shame.  The wet market was actually very similar to the Baltimore market downtown only with fewer homeless people.  No one was selling designer dog treats, but there was pretty much everything else.    There was a slight smell as we walked in, but it wasn’t anything worse than Carrefour, and, let’s be honest, the underpass farmers market has its own odor at times, if you get my drift.  Would I buy meat there?  No.  But I never bought meat at the Baltimore farmers market, either.

I was surprised that the produce was really gorgeous and so cheap!  I bought bags and bags of stuff for what I would normally have paid for a few apples in the supermarket.  They had great tomatoes and all sorts of mystery items that I had never seen before.  I was able to walk around thinking about what looked the freshest and then decide what I could make rather than glumly considering whatever was available at the supermarket.  My friend showed me the places she normally frequents and I wandered around the aisles a bit.  Was it organic?  I have no clue because shopping there required using Mandarin and sometimes I had no idea what people were saying to me.  But all in all, it was a positive experience.  Can I make it there in a taxi once a week?  Not sure.  But I will have to find a way to make a trip or two to the wet market happen because so far, even in my tiny kitchen, cooking with nice vegetables is really making a difference.   Score one point for Shanghai, finally.