The last couple of days have been quite productive. Still within the haze of jet lag and general lack of sleep (Isabel woke up at 3 am for the day), we have been able to find an apartment and a school for the kids (thanks, Gloria, for all of the help with the house-hunting process and to Megan for the school recommendation!). We will write a post on those two choices in the next few days, but let me focus today on two very distinctive experiences I had going to two different markets to shop for the new place. The apartment comes furnished with a sofa, table and chairs, a bed for us, a Japanese tatami style bed for the kids (I have no idea of the source of that design decision), but we still need to buy the bedding, things for the kitchen, cleaning products, etc. (basically, we need to buy most of the things you need to be able to live in an apartment).
Since Chinese New Year, or, as they call it here, New Year (or Spring Festival), is approaching, most business will be closing for a few days, so I decided to venture to a local market to buy some of the basic stuff we will need to move in ASAP. Following the suggestion of our realtor, I went to the Jin Wuxing Baihuo Pifa Cheng (金五星百货批发城), a local market, where “you will be able to buy anything you need at very good prices,” as she put it. That was easier said than done. For starters, I was alone, since Pam stayed with the kids so I could do the shopping more effectively, even if that meant that I would have to carry everything back by myself. This is a traditional market with many stands (hundreds of them), where you have to bargain for everything you buy. I usually love bargaining, but here I am, having recently arrived in China, getting barely a few hours of sleep each night, buying things that I have no idea how much they should cost (a pillow cover, anyone?), and with my Chinese more than rusty at this point… it was exhausting! Just so you get the picture of how I felt during this process, there was a moment where I was carrying all of these things (4 pillows, a bed cover!) and I was trying to bargain for blankets for the kids. I was so tired that I was bargaining up instead of down (which is not the point when you are trying to get something cheaper!), something that the shopkeeper gently pointed out at me, to my embarrassment and incredible frustration. At that point I decided that I better retreat, so I struggled to get a taxi (not always easy here) to make it back to the new apartment, and to think of an easier, more effective way to get our basic house shopping done.
Now let’s move to the story of the second market. In the afternoon we decided that our best choice to get the shopping done in an effective and relatively painless way was to go to a market that would have everything we need, in one place, at a fixed price…so here it comes…Wal-Mart! As you may already know, Wal-Mart has a strong presence in China, and, unlike in the U.S., here it is a place for the rising middle class. It looks nice, clean, and it has plenty of friendly and helpful staff (to make clear that you are in an American owned store, the greeters wear cowboy hats). As a side point, Wal-Mart workers here are even unionized, unlike their colleagues in the States. Anyway, boy, what a different experience! Here we were, with two shopping carts, buying everything we needed at pretty reasonable prices. After a couple of hours and two full shopping carts we decided we would call it a day, even if we will have to go back tomorrow to buy a few more of the essential items we need for the new place. We were even able to pay with our credit card, which will help us preserve our cash for more mundane, daily necessities, like paying for meals, taxis, etc. As ashamed as I am for the following statement (as we say in Spain “es de buen nacido ser agradecidos) here we go…thanks Wal-mart for making my life easier in the midst of this initial chaos!
Tonight will be our last one at the hotel, and tomorrow we will move into our new apartment, where we will be living for the next six months. We’ll keep you posted.
P.S. By the way, since this is China, not too far from the Wal-Mart we went to, there is a copycat version called Wumart! You can read an interesting article here from the Economist comparing the two.
P.S.S. I also want to share the best single thing I bought at the first market: split pants for Isabel! Here, many kids do not wear diapers and, instead, wear split pants, so they can “go” without soiling their pants. I think Pam wants to write about this later on so I will just show you our little girl with her new pair of pants…