One of the best things about being a freelance writer in the Middle Kingdom (or anywhere for that matter) is the freedom to ditch work on a sunny day and go out and have adventures. The difference, though, is that China is the kind of place where you don’t need to work hard at all to have crazy stuff just happen right before your eyes. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you shrug your shoulders. We’re grateful for the good experiences and see anything less than good as material. Win-win, as they say. Every day is an adventure, and I’m grateful for every day, especially when the air quality is good.
Yesterday’s adventure was an attempt by me and Nora to get me a facial and some facial threading (for those of you unfamiliar with female beauty procedures, it’s a form of hair removal). In a way that is both typical of China and inexplicable to anyone who values common sense, this salon was located on the second floor of a dingy office building, a building in which one had to know the code to enter. I mean, why should you make it easy for customers?
We eventually entered, and Nora tried to indicate that I wanted a facial like the one she had, but I also wanted some threading. We were not getting through. I pulled out my translation app and tried to look up the word “thread,” but all I came up with was “luosikou,” thread of a screw (what’s that? No idea); “luowen,” another thread of a screw, and more rather unhelpful definitions. Nora tried looking up the procedure on her iPhone, coming up with a collage of teeny-tiny images. You could see someone was doing something to someone’s face, but that’s about all you could make out in these little photos about an inch wide.
Finally, they seemed to understand. Nora wished me luck and headed out, and I was led into a back room. One woman indicated I should remove my sweater and bra. Odd, I thought. I guess the facial might be a little messy. Before I knew it I was face-down on a massage table looking through an opening in the table at a metal bowl that held water, some coins, and one rather bored goldfish. I was given a very energetic 20-minute back and neck massage, the kind that feels good when it stops but that made me grunt in the direction of the fish for most of the massage.
Next was the facial. It was a lovely facial, with many lotions and masks and a long head massage while I waited for the mask to harden. And when it was all over, they said thank you, and I paid up (twice what Nora paid, but she didn’t get a massage), and was offered a bowl of boiled sweet mushrooms, the same kind my ayi gave me when I had a cold, and some tea. I ate some of the food, even though I’m coming to despise this dish, a traditional Chinese medicine thing that seems to be a cure-all. Anyway, I chalked it up to experience. Or inexperience.
Today was yet another adventure. Rachel and I decided to wander around the neighborhood, visiting a charity bazaar run by a French school (where I managed to have conversations that mixed French, English, and Chinese in a way that I’m sure no one understood. Esperanto, where are you when I need you?), and then went to the markets under the Wu Mart in search of a Chinglish tee shirt for my brother and other fun gifts, if possible.
Spoiler alert: If your name happens to be Tom Bruno, stop reading now. I got a tee shirt that has these words on the front, along with a picture of a red VW Beetle:
JOURNEY OF LIFE
Trek through the most rugged mountains
After so long you have been by my side
We will eventually reach that dream of the future.
All of this sounded pretty good. Then, the words got a little more mystical:
Is this the life
If time could go back
How do I life trio
Do not just wait for you
life is like that journey
who knows after
the turn of the scenery
see the sun after
the rain only sunny tears
And then finally, in capital letters at the bottom of the shirt:
JOURNEY DULIU END OF THE
I think these caption writers might just fall off a cliff or something. Or maybe they run out of letters.
Anyway, that triumph would have been enough but then I spotted another item I simply had to have. Claudia Bruno, if you’re reading this, stop reading now.
It was gray sweat pants with a panda head peeking out of the pocket, sewn on so that it looks as though a stuffed animal was tucked in.
Doushao qian? I asked. How much?
85 kuai, the shopkeeper answered.
No, I wanted to pay less. I got her down to 50 RMB.
As I was digging through my purse for my wallet, all hell broke loose. Another Chinese girl, who had been looking through items on the rack, turned to me and started saying something to me about 40 RMB. It sounded to me like she was saying that I shouldn’t pay that much because SHE was only paying 40 RMB for her sweat pants.
Ah, I see. She didn’t want the meiguoren to be ripped off.
“Si shi kuai,” I said to the shopkeeper. I was going to pay 40, and that was it.
Instantly the woman I thought was the shopkeeper and the other woman started screaming at each other. The second woman turned to me and said, in Chinese, these are my clothes! She tried to take the 40 RMB out of my hands and shove a different pair of sweatpants at me, ones that had no cute panda in the pocket. (Rachel, meanwhile, is helpfully standing off to the side and laughing.) Other people are starting to gather in the aisles, and it’s about 85 degrees in there and I suddenly have this feeling this could turn against us.
I start to think that maybe I should just walk away, when suddenly shopkeeper number one takes my 40 RMB, shoves the panda pants at me, and I skedaddle out of there, as dozens of the other shopkeepers in other stalls watch in puzzlement.
We still don’t know what happened. I do know that for $6.47, I inadvertently caused a scene that will stay with me for a long time. I guess the motto of the day is “how do I life trio.”