Mornings for me are always the worst. I will confess that I am not a morning person. Surprise! Getting the kids up and out the door doesn’t usually help my morning brighten up much. Lucas is a morning person and loves to be up before the sun has even considered rising. Ava and Henry, well, they have been known to huddle under the covers for as long as possible on school days. This morning was no exception as we organized ourselves to make the mighty lurch out the door. I deliberately “forgot” to remind the kids that this was technically Super Bowl Sunday in the United States. No need to upset the little Ravens fans any more than usual on a Monday. Henry was dragging and then spit toothpaste down the front of his only clean PE sweatshirt. As usual the uniform doesn’t really help us when we need to decide between two equally dirty options. We settled on the toothpaste. It was less offensive than the lunch remnants clinging to Henry’s next cleanest shirt. Luckily, for Henry cleanliness isn’t something he worries about so he was out the door and into the school building with little fuss.
Next on the agenda: a brisk walk up the street to City Shop—one of my disappointing and overpriced expat grocery stores. We are dangerously close to running out of all sorts of things as I scramble to finish my dissertation. I had planned on giving the ayi the day off so that I could work in peace and avoid doing any shopping. Alas, getting in touch with her proved impossible and then there was nothing left to do but head to the store. I could have gone to our trusty Carrefour or Metro, but I am still somewhat wedded to the American brands for our cleaning supplies. Sometimes I strike out if I don’t go to the expat grocery. Our ayi has enough experience that she is beyond using only water to clean everything (something other expats warned me about with looks of grave danger on their faces), but the Chinese stuff has proven to be mostly water anyway. One bottle of bleach smelled suspiciously like rainwater and not in a pleasant way. Other things have worked fine but lack the scents that my American brain has come to recognize as clean. So rather than deal with melon and aloe scented toilets, I am still paying a million dollars to have my bathroom smell like lemons. Please try to keep your snickering to a minimum.
Today walking to the store involved more face to face encounters with Shanghai. Every few steps here can bring a new assault on your senses. Yes, it is dirty. There was more stuff on the sidewalk today that needed to be avoided both with my eyes and with my feet. There is plenty to see. Everyone has laundry out or meat hanging from window sills to cure. Today though it was more about smells. Sometimes Shanghai smells wonderful. For a whole block you can sometimes get a whiff of what your neighbor is making for dinner or you might pass by some particularly fragrant plant. Other times, just a few steps away, you get hit full in the face with the smell of Shanghai sewer. Sometimes Shanghai stinks. Combine that with the throat burning pollution and it can make for one exciting stroll.
And while I was concentrating on the smells I happened to overhear something from my past. As I was walking along I could hear one of the dialogues from a textbook I used to teach getting louder and louder. Ah, Headway Intermediate. The British version, not the American. The dialogue with the man and the woman discussing what they like to do “at the weekend.” And I remembered every line of that ridiculous dialogue although it took me a minute to discover where the sound was coming from. Finally, a tiny Chinese woman passed me, listening to her phone. She wasn’t wearing headphones and had the volume cranked up so that she could hear the conversation as she held the phone under her chin. We didn’t make eye contact, but I am sure I looked ridiculous as a giant grin spread across my face. And I wore that secret smile all the way down the street.