Saturday, November 27, 2010

Report #8

Adjusting to Beijing is similar to going grocery shopping in a new store. You know it has all the stuff you need, you’re just not sure where to find everything, and aimlessly circle around the same loops. My existence here is limited to several key locations. I imagine myself a ground squirrel darting to and fro points of safety, those being: my apartment, the office, Carrefore (the grocery store), and occasionally IKEA. This would be my routine if a spy satellite studied me for several weeks, the operators of which completely bored out of their mind. And like the ground squirrel, I’m just looking for necessities on these journeys. In the spirit of the newly kicked off holiday season, below are three new products to consider:

BLACK Q-TIPS (cost: $2.00): After lamenting that Carrefore does not seem to carry Q-tips to the rest of the office, the office manager Ying, returned from an errand to 7-elleven with a small canister that appeared to be filled with charcoal. “Here, I got these for you” she said. “See if they’re okay, otherwise I’ll keep them for myself.”
“But they’re black…” I said. “Why are they black?” The label on the package had a cartoon character marveling at the glowing-yellow end of a completely black Q-tip, stick and all. I wasn’t sure if the black cotton was supposed to amplify the yellow glow or reduce it. “Come on, try one” Mengyi said. “No way, I’ve been out of Q-tips for two weeks.” The thought of having half the office watch me as I attended to my neglected ears with Q-tips that might be designed to enhance the glow of earwax was horrifying. I kept the Q-tips, and after several trials in the privacy of my own bathroom here is what I have to report:

BLACK Q-TIPS do function the same as their white counterpart, however they do not reveal earwax. This must be the intended result, but troubling nonetheless. There are some hygienic functions that everyone does, and we code these with polite numbers, one and two. Ladies, maybe you have three? Regardless, the importance of ‘white’ to these functions is critical. Feedback is key. BLACK Q-TIPSS are not the best invention, which is no surprise because if it were there would be black toilet paper, tissues, etc. on the market, and there aren’t.

GRANNY CART (cost $5.00): As a ground squirrel, speed and precision is critical between safety points. On my return trips from Carrefore, my awkward IKEA sack is filled to an almost unmanageable weight. It makes it nearly impossible to ride my bike, and dangerous too as the taxi drivers and buses are the closest thing to predators I can think of for someone on two wheels in Beijing. So, last week the granny cart that I ordered from (like Chinese ebay) arrived at the office. Ying was skeptical to order this for me at first, “But it’s for girls, I think…” she giggled. “It’s okay I’m comfortable with those sorts of things. Just try to get the red and white one, K-14”, which was the least feminine looking one of them all. Other options include colorful strips, flowers, etc. The GRANNY CART is a small pull behind cart with a metal frame and backpack-like sack to keep your groceries in. It’s has wheels that look like they were stolen from a set of rollerblades, three on each side which are held together by a bracket, which spins 360 degrees. The wheel system is strange, four wheels are on the ground at any given time, and when you hit a curb the whole bracket spins. I guess it’s like an all-terrain wheel system, ready to roll up anything. The cart has an umbrella holder, and a zipper pouch on the underside of the top flap to keep money or coupons in. Some of my co-workers compared the look of the granny cart to a bicycle messenger bag or a Freitag bag. “It looks hip.” Ben told me. And in fact it does. It’s tempting to import these because if I paid only $5 dollars they could easily sell for four or five times as much in the states. The GRANNY CART is very simple to put together, only becoming complex with the lack of instructions (my only complaint).

WATER DISPENSER (cost: free with the purchase of 30 bottles: $100) I don’t trust the dispenser because it is brand new and cost me nothing. The first glass of water I drank tasted like it came out of a new water dispenser. The heating spigot excited me with the thought of boiling hot water for tea any time I wanted, even though I don’t really drink tea. I kept it plugged in until I realized that I was wasting electricity on hot water I’ll never use. I’m hoping the new-dispenser taste will go away soon, so for now I just cook with the water. The delivery service for the large water bottles is very reliable. The guy lugs one up 5 stories to my apartment for nothing within a couple hours of calling. He shows up out of breath and wears these strange knee-pad shin guards things, making it clear that he rides an electric three-wheeler. These knee/shin pads are more closely related to cross-country skiing gators than a real knee-pad or shin-guard. They’re soft looking like the sleeve of a puffy winter jacket, lined on the inside with fake fur, and partially wrap the leg like a pair of chaps. That’s really what they are, Chinese chaps. And that’s really what this new product report is about; the water dispenser delivery guy’s Chinese motorcycle chaps. I’m going to get a pair….but where?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Report #5

Dear My body,

I’m sorry. I know this transition must be hard for you. Isn’t it funny how when we told people about our move to Beijing they thought I might let you get too thin as they pegged all Chinese people to be skinny or something? Ha! Looks like we’ve proved them wrong, which is the concern of this letter. You’ve probably noticed by now how I keep you sitting in a chair for about 12 hours a day. What? Yes, I know the 5 minute bike ride to work could have been longer, but I questioned your ability to withstand the coldest part of Beijing’s winter on a longer commute. So, now we live a few blocks away from work. You’ll thank me later.

As for the all the weird food I’ve fed you, this is just customary in china –all the grease, all the oil, and all the sauce that can only be categorized as ‘sauce’ because I have no idea what products it owes its existence too. Yeah, I know the sweet and sour tofu sauce is strangely neon red in color, which is why I go for the chunks with the least amount. Don’t worry, pretty soon I’ll start cooking for you again, just like in Michigan.

As for exercise, you may have noticed that our jogging routine has ceased. The reason for this lull in activity is multiple. Do you remember when I kept you up most of the night for about four days straight? Well you caught a cold after that sleep-deprived spell and I figured you needed a little recuperation time. You still haven’t quite kicked it yet, which is why I’ve been letting you sleep a bit longer. The other reason why we haven’t been out again is that when I queried my dad about the health risks of jogging in Beijing he equated exercising in polluted air to smoking a pack a day. I know, that scared you and me both even though he said your risk of lung cancer would zero out after a year of being home. Now, I’m looking for a gym that we can go to, maybe one that has pool too. This exercise thing is a must!

I’m worried about your legs, which just seem sprawl lifelessly under the desk at work all day. I have thoughts about atrophy, and soft things becoming tight and gnarled. Hey, this thing takes two, just because I’m staring at a computer doesn’t mean you have to shrivel away, bounce a leg nervously or something, I don’t care, anything. You just seem so lethargic when I go to the water cooler to fill up our glass. I’m trying to keep you hydrated because according to the tint of yellow I see in the toilet, you can get pretty dehydrated by doing nothing all day. The first few steps out of the chair can be painful, like you’re a paraplegic at physical therapy. What? That IS what you feel like? Don’t you remember that 560 mile walk we did a few months ago? I can show you that photo someone took of you flexing your leg muscles at the end. That looked crazy!

Okay, we’re losing focus now. Oh, yes, the coffee. I’m sorry I’ve put you back on caffeine. I remember how annoying that three-day headache was when I had you quit cold turkey, but come on this espresso machine at work is pretty nice, right? It’s also making us money…sort of. I mean, we could pay five dollars for a latte downstairs, but we’re drinking for free up here. It’s like getting a ten-percent raise….

I’m also concerned about your belly. You’ve been skinny most of your life, except for those early years as a toddler, which from what I gather in the mirror you seem to be reverting back to. Don’t you remember how we always gawked in disgust at those men at Stadium Hardware with the big pregnant-bellies? Well it’s clear where you’re putting any extra fat, and shockingly specific I might add. It would be nice if you could spread it out a bit more instead of stockpiling it in the mid-section. Don’t you remember when your stomach was tight like a drum? I didn’t take you to the gym or anything and yet you still had a default four-pack. Now when you flex your abdomen its like looking for potatoes buried in the mud.

Actually, don’t worry about this I’ll take care of it. It’s a simple equation really, you just need to burn more calories than I put in you. Done! But it’s not easy when you start craving sweet things after every meal. The other employees have already noticed how much sugar I put in our coffee, and when you nag me to go downstairs to the “Wow-New” market and buy an ice cream after lunch they seem to be even more confused. This all has to stop. Crave an apple or an orange because we get those for free from the fruit bowl.

I know this move has been hard for you, but I promise we’ll find our routine and go back to our old self. These things just take a little time and planning. In closing, I have a few more requests, please do not let your hands soften and fingernails grow long like a nerdy gamer-type. You can start grabbing rough surfaces if they strike you enough to warrant a touch. Try to sit more upright with your shoulders back -I fear you’re getting too comfortable with a turtle-like posture. Look proud in front of that computer dammit! That’s all for now, but we should communicate like this more often. Thanks for being there for me.

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