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.

Having A China Day

Around here when things aren’t going your way and it all gets to be too much, we say we are “Having a China Day”.  In casual conversation with a neighbor or expat friend if I say I am “having a China day” they know immediately what I am talking about.  Maybe there was a problem with your refrigerator and you couldn’t manage to get someone to fix it.  Maybe you spent all day trying to grocery shop and ended up with nothing to show for it.  Maybe you just couldn’t get over your irritation with, well, everything.  That is a China day.

I am having one today.  There is no real reason.  Just generally being annoyed with all the extra effort things take and my lack of progress in getting things done.  It is like swimming in molasses to accomplish small tasks and small tasks are all that get accomplished around here.  Yes, I went to the grocery store and the gym.  But we have nothing for dinner because I only went to one store.  And, frankly, going to the gym and the grocery store should not be major life milestones now.  I tried to get some dissertation work done, but was stymied by the ayi’s need to vacuum and then mop directly underneath my feet while slamming into the furniture.  Yes, she was cleaning the house while I sat there, but this only added to my frustration.  How ridiculous is it to be angry at someone as they do your work for you?  It is pretty ridiculous.  You don’t need to tell me.  Still, having someone in the house all the time adds fuel to a China day.  Basically I am never alone, which for me makes for a high level of frustration.  Shanghai is crowded—not exactly the easiest place to find a quiet spot—and I sometimes would like to have my house be a place of solitude and silence.  This is hard to accomplish with three children and a Chinese lady hanging around all the time.  Add a friend or two and I can be positively crazy acting.

But luckily, these days always pass.  Things don’t suddenly get rosy, but they usually look better after I sleep on it.  Or have a stiff drink.  Or both.  Check back tomorrow and the story might be different.