Over the summer, a family friend asked about my daily routine. How had I been filling my time in Shanghai, particularly since all three kids were in school most of the day? I know most people expect an exotic answer. I should have been doing things that one can only do here in China, right? I should have spent my time doing things that make my old American life seem boring. Sorry folks, my answer sounded surprisingly mundane. My days last spring could have passed for those of your typical American housewife. I got the kids up and hustled them off to the bus stop. I went to the gym. I thought about what to make for dinner. It sounds boring. Believe me, I know. All these things might have been the same even if we had never decided to move to China. But being in China adds an element that is difficult to really convey when I explain my life to people who don’t live here. Even the most mundane tasks become special challenges. And these challenges have begun to make crazy things seem totally reasonable.
I know some of you have seen the American tv show “Hoarders.” Of course you have! You can go ahead and admit it. Everyone loves to see all the ridiculous or disgusting things the people on that show have packed into their houses. They always have reasonable explanations for how things got so out of control, how “collecting” became something bigger or saving for a rainy day turned into being unable to open your front door. They all had perfectly good reasons to start accumulating cats or to begin carpeting their floors with dirty laundry. So how did they all end up with a house full of crazy? And how does this apply to Team Erickson? Well, apparently Shanghai has turned me into a hoarder.
Currently I am hoarding cheese. Yes, cheese. Specifically, I am hoarding that orange colored cheddar cheese. I no longer care if it is mild or sharp. It just has to be orange. I know that cheddar cheese should not really be orange. I know that white cheddar cheese tastes just as good, maybe better. This means nothing to me. What matters to me now is one simple fact: Blocks of orange cheddar cheese used to be available everywhere here. Now, they are impossible to find. Predictably, we now cannot possibly live without this cheese. We need, need, need this cheese so when I find a store selling a few blocks, I buy them all. Every. Single. Package. I am not exaggerating for effect here. I clear the entire shelf. I leave a gaping hole where the cheese used to be. I have no remorse. I don’t think of the other expat moms also on the hunt for this cheese. I don’t feel sorry that I have most likely ruined their attempts at taco night. Sometimes I cackle as I haul my groceries home. Cheese! Orange cheese!
There have been other things I have had to hoard: sour cream, Progresso minestrone soup, our favorite kind of granola. I made Mark clear the shelves of Pimm’s in anticipation of summer. Other Shanghai moms have expressed their frustration when something we have all come to expect will always be around suddenly—inexplicably—disappears. Multiple ladies are currently searching Shanghai stores for the orange cheddar cheese. We share recent sightings, gloat over our prize catches. Not everyone leaves a bare shelf, but most come very, very close. During the sour cream shortage of 2012, one friend filled her freezer with the containers she found. She created such an impressive stockpile that her husband became alarmed when he realized there was no room for any other food. They had a freezer full of sour cream. She needed the sour cream, but was quick to explain herself to me. “You’re from the South! You understand. How am I supposed to cook without sour cream?” Oh, I understood. I have filled Henry’s closet with cans of soup, organic long life milk and imported peanut butter. I am in no position to judge.