Allow me to set the scene. 4 years ago, in a small farmacia (that’s pharmacy) in Sitges, Spain, 3 kids and a husband hid behind a display of sunscreen while one confident, bold woman acted out the need for “Imodium AD” to the pharmacist.
I credit my acting skills to Ms. Trustee, my drama teacher from Mt. View Junior High, and more recently, the improv class offered by On Your Feet of Portland. Skills that have served me well as I make my way through international travels.
It’s not always pretty, well, truth be told, it’s never pretty and can be embarrassing to The Saints when a pharmacist just watches my performance, turns away, goes into a back room and comes out with the spanish version of Imodium AD. Who knew he spoke inglés? His loss. He missed my next act, “swimmers ear” preformed to the female pharmacist on duty later in the week.
My acting skills have come in handy again this week as I set up house in Shanghai. I made my way around the small store located near my temporary apartment just fine. I only had a few items to purchase and did so without needing any assistance.
My list included, a small box of cheerios, non-fat milk, a jar of Adam’s Natural Peanut Butter, a loaf of bread (it’s really a half loaf as it’s made fresh, with no preservatives, so you’ll need to eat it fast) and some laundry detergent. And okay, fine, I also purchased some delicious chocolate, imported from Switzerland. Hey, I’m in transition so back off. The total came to 603.10 Renminbi or RMB, the official currency for Mainland China. Because the money looks like play money to me and not yet real, I pulled it out of my wallet and willfully handed over the colorful bills. It wasn’t until I walked out that I pulled up my currency calculator app to see that I had just paid $99 for my small bag of groceries. I realized, I had just shopped at the equivalent 7-11 of Shanghai.
I came home to find two housekeepers cleaning the apartment. Perfect. I needed some help in figuring out how to work the washer. I motioned one over to the machine and pulled out the laundry detergent from the bag and starting in on my acting skills. I opened the drawer to where you would pour the detergent and pointed to the three options or small wells. I’m thinking, one for detergent, one for bleach and one for softener. She was very nice, smiling and nodding, not understanding anything I was saying but watching as I acted out the pouring of the detergent. She called over her co-worker who then called, using a walkie-talkie, their supervisor. He arrived and four of us stood around staring at the three options. Finally, after they seemed to be ignoring my fine acting skills, the supervisor, turned the machine on, watched where the water came in and pointed to well #1 as the place to pour the detergent.
After they left, I stood staring at the front of the machine. I had my clothes loaded and the detergent poured in well #1. I then just stared at the front of the machine. Nothing in english. No pictures, really. Just Chinese symbols and some numbers.
So what’s the harm in trying. I hit a few buttons and ta-da, water starts flowing in and the machine starts going. Great right? Well, that went on for about an hour when I heard the beep, signaling it was done. I went to check and the clothes were pretty wet, so I hit what I thought was the button for “spin cycle” and the wash started over again, locking the door. This went on for three tries – all the while, my clothes held hostage for 5 total hours. They are all very clean and hanging all over the apartment, taking days to dry. I’ll act out “spin cycle” again today when housekeeping returns.
I wandered the city this week in hopes of finding a more cost effective and reliable place to shop. I like the idea of the store front shops on the back streets. They seem completely authentic. But for someone who has germ issues of the most basic sense, this just seems like too much, too soon.
And then I found it. Just a block away from where our permanent apartment will be is the newly opened Ole Market. It’s the New Seasons not quite Whole Foods I was looking for. It’s new. The aisles are wide and clean. They carry food, wine, cheese, candy, imported meats and fish. They have a coffee bar and host wine tastings and cooking classes. The prices are comparable to what I would pay in Portland. It’s perfect.
I’ve been back several times if not to purchase anything but for us to get to know each other. I’m sure they’ll remember me in both the cosmetics section where I acted out “make-up mirror” and at the coffee bar where my performance of “french press” was award winning.