I’m Not in the Mood for Beijing ... Today

July 08, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Living in Beijing brings great joys and frustrations, but when I was asked about my trip home to the U.S., I responded, “It was easy.” Brigitte, a Canadian expat, laughed knowingly. I offer an anecdote. This past week I needed to buy a couple of things: a blender and a bottle of nail polish. Nothing special or out of the ordinary.  At home, the purchase of either item would require one click on Amazon, or no more than a 10-minute trip to two stores.  Not so here.

The search for nail polish started with an inquiry of the front desk staff in my apartment building, and stops in two malls and four stores.  While the front desk staff had no nearby suggestions, they did advise that two of the four online Mandarin translations for “nail polish” were not colloquial enough to be easily recognized by most shouhouyuan (shop assistants). Armed with the correct vocabulary, I thought no problem. And off I go.

I knew from a previous inquiry that the supermarket I frequent does not carry it, but I thought perhaps the nail salon would.  The nail salon hostess understood what I wanted but tried to convey she could not sell me the gallon jug of it. Nor did she have a suggestion for where I could find a small bottle. Next stop a Sephora-like store.  I figured that since they sell nail polish they might sell nail polish remover.  Nope. Finally, I decided to try a larger version of the drugstore chain I’d visited.  The clerk did not recognize either of the two supposedly colloquial terms for nail polish, but once I showed her the screen shot of translation for nail polish she recognized one of the other words.  Success!

Emboldened by one success in one day, I was going for a second.  Let the search for the blender begin. Neither of the two malls I visited in search of nail polish had small household appliances, so I figured perhaps one of the two Western-catering grocery stores I use might have it. No luck, so that purchase would require an online search and another excursion.  I headed home.

We are fortunate to have front desk who are very helpful (even if overly curious by American standards), so I asked where I might be able to buy a blender. They offered the most obvious suggestions, and places I’d already tried. The other suggestion, was to TaoBao - Not Easy to UseTaoBao - Not Easy to Use buy the blender online.  I explained that using TaoBao (Chinese Amazon equivalent) is nearly impossible (register and read reviews) if you’re not character-fluent. Victoria, one of the front desk staff, offered to buy the blender for me from Taobao. I paid her and fielded several persistent questions about what I planned to make with the blender when it arrived. Acknowledging that assistance comes with a price, I said a cake.  Explaining that I planned to make body moisturizer would have taken too much effort.

I provide the above to elucidate what the accomplishment of average tasks demands, and to explain why I have a one errand/activity/adventure per day rule, because as anyone who lives here and is not Chinese will tell you even the accomplishment of mundane tasks is rarely easy or quick.

So, earlier today as I mapped out an activity for the day, I considered heading to a park to take some photos. Then, I thought about braving the subway with the enhanced security because of the One Belt and One Road conference, and decided no. Then I considered alternate modes of transport, and rejected the idea of taking a taxi as aggravatingly slow because of the same conference. The park, although a bit distant, was definitely walkable. I decided to walk, then, I thought about deflecting the front desk staff’s inquiries about where I was going, and decided no.

No, I wasn’t having a bad day, I just wasn’t in the mood for Beijing today. 


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