Thursday, July 12, 2007

You mean there's life outside the hotel on a weekday!?

Note: This blog entry has been posted with pictures here.

Getting laundry done at the hotel is really expensive. I'm not kidding. It's insane. Here's an idea of how much it costs in US dollars:

Shirt/Blouse: $5 each
Pair of Pants: $6 each
Pair of socks: $2 each

Consider the fact that Darlana, Dad and I had 60 items between the three of us in the last 2 weeks (I had about 20 of those items), and you have yourself a buttload of money that you have to spend on laundry. EDS may pay for Dad and Darlana's laundry, but they don't pay for mine. Heck if I'm going to spend US$100 of my hard-earned "could-be-spending-this-on-pearls-or-shoes-or-cheap-Gucci-purses" money on laundry.

As a result, we found a laundry place near the hotel (much like a dry cleaner; laundromats don't exist here, mostly because washing machines are cheap enough here [everything is made here] that everyone has one in their home, apparently) that only charges about $1 per item (a little more or less depending on what it is, but that was the average).

It was decided that I would be the clothes-taker, and because of this, I got to go for a ride in the car this morning with Darlana and Dad to EDS so that I could ride back to the laundry place to drop the clothes off. But before that, since I had the driver, they said he would take me to shopping too. I was more excited than Tia on her way to Sonic to get a corn dog.

When we got to EDS, I moved to the front seat a lot like Maggie does when she knows she's going for a long exciting ride to College Station, while Dad, Darlana, and our driver got out of the car and went inside. I wasn't really sure what the driver was doing, so I just stayed in the van, pressing my nose up against the window and wagging my tail.

After several minutes, the driver came back out with a young woman. She got in the van and introduced herself in English as Emily, an EDSer who was willing to blow off work today to go shopping with me and translate. Woohoo! I had a dog-walker.

Will you need a forklift, Madam?

He took us to a shopping mall that Emily called "the fashionable place to shop," and after about 45 minutes of walking around the mall and window shopping (we hadn't bought anything because we didn't need anything), Emily's cell phone rang.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and hung up the phone.

"That was the driver," she told me, laughing. "He was calling to ask if we needed help with all of our bags, because he figured we would have bought too much to carry by now."

Later, when we got in the car after having shopped for about 3 hours and showed him the only thing I bought - some jeweled hair pins for me to wear at my wedding - he laughed and laughed and laughed and couldn't believe that we had spent the entire morning shopping and that was all we bought.

Ice cream amateur

As we were walking between stores outside the shopping mall, we saw a walk-up version of a drive-through McDonald's, and I noticed some pictures of the flavored ice cream cones that we used to have in the U.S., but don't anymore. Anybody remember those? There was chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, lemon...etc, that were on the edges of the ice cream swirls.

Anyway, I got all excited and pointed at the picture and told Emily that we used to have those in the U.S., but they went away and I hadn't seen them in a long time. She asked me if I'd like to stop and get one, and, deciding that 9 in the morning was a fantastic time for ice cream, I said yes.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and the McDonald's lady handed us two ice cream cones.

In case you were wondering, yes, raspberry-flavored vanilla soft-serve is as good in China as it used to be in America.

"I've never had this kind of ice cream before," she tells me, and I try to decide if she means she hasn't had McDonald's soft-serve before or McDonald's soft-serve flavored with chocolate syrup before. Later, I decide it's probably the former.

As we walk around outside in the cool 90F heat (yes, that's quite cool here - it was a relief to have this kind of a cold front come through), happily enjoying the sweet creamy goodness that is McDonald's ice cream, I notice that mine is beginning to melt, and, like a good Texan with lots of experience with soft-serve ice cream cones in the summer heat, I lick from the sides rather than the top.

As we continue to walk, I glance over at Emily, whose hand is covered in a chocolatey vanilla mess. She has a panicked look on her face as she watches some chocolate drip in slow-motion from her cone down onto her crisp, white skirt.

We both stop as she digs in her purse with a magic third hand for her tissues and then wipes at the chocolate stain fruitlessly. She finishes her ice cream awkwardly and I realize what the problem is: she is eating the ice cream top to bottom, without licking from the sides. Rookie mistake.

After the ice cream fiasco, we found a bathroom in the mall and "washed our hands of the whole thing."

You stay here by yourself? Hell, no!

When we decided to go back to the van (Emily was wearing ridiculously cute shoes, which meant that they were excruciatingly painful to walk in, as all ridiculously cute shoes are), we sat down at a KFC (the have KFCs everywhere here!) and called the driver.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and hung up the phone.

"He'll call us in 10 minutes when he's outside this part of the mall," she tells me.

Then she explains that her phone battery is dead as brings out another one to replace it with. She turns the phone back on. Low battery.

"Did I switch them out or just put the same one back in the phone?" she asks, hoping she just put the wrong battery back in. I tell her she put the new one in. Both batteries are dead.

We decide that we had better go outside to see if we can find the driver, who cannot contact us after all. After walking around outside for a while where he said he would be and not finding him, Emily gets worried.

"Maybe I could find a Nokia store and they could let me turn my phone on long enough to get his phone number out of my phone," she says. "I think there was a mobile phone store near here."

"That's a good idea," I observe. "Why don't you go do that, and I'll stay here in case he comes back."

She looks at me like I had just told her I wanted to buy a camel to feed to my pet turtle.

"You cannot stay here by yourself," she insists, matter-of-factly.

Fortunately, we see the very worried driver driving up the road towards us as we start walking around the building shortly after.

Later, she tells the driver that I had wanted to stand outside the mall and wait for him by myself. He raises his eyebrows, points at me, laughs, and says "Blah blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!!!" which apparently translates "You don't know a word of Chinese, and you really stand out here. You couldn't possibly have stayed there by yourself."

When I told them I'm a black belt (and bigger than everyone else here), they weren't really all that impressed.

Not a freak show after all? Naaah.

While we were standing around scratching our heads when we couldn't find our driver, I had that now-familiar sense that everyone was looking at me (which is becoming quite a fun game, especially when you can surprise someone by meeting their eyes, which they avert quickly.)

I point out this observation (that everyone stares at me because I'm a freak show) to Emily, and she says "they're not staring because you're different, they're staring because you're so beautiful."

I laugh. "Well, thank you," I say.

"No, I mean it!" she insists.

Awww. I'm not buying it, but that's nice.

Second time's a charm

When Emily told me that the driver wanted pizza for lunch, I was quite surprised. You see, last time, he didn't like it at all. He made a face and everything. (See "Pizza Hut is gross" in the previous entry)

So I'm not sure if he requested it because we had taken him to dinner the night before at a traditional Chinese restaurant (which totally kicked, by the way, except that I looked like a monkey trying to use the chopsticks), and he knew I liked the western food, so he wanted to make sure I got to go somewhere I liked, or if he actually wanted pizza. Either way, I wasn't going to turn him down. Plus, it was near our hotel, the laundry place, Wal-Mart, and another mall.

When we got to Pizza Hut this time, he was a little more at ease but still tried to get me to order what I wanted without offering any input. For this reason, I left the decision up to Emily, who would no doubt choose something that was closer to something he would like.

We went with a seafood supreme pan pizza this time, and he was much happier with it.

A side note about another thing I learned - in the corner of each receipt, there is a little "scratch off" bar. If you scratch it off, it says something like "Blah blah blah blah blah blah" in Chinese characters. We had wondered what the heck that was for every time we got a receipt.

Today I learned that the government has a little scratch off lottery going on these receipts, and people can actually win money by scratching them off. Emily told me that the government does this so that people will ask for receipts, and the restaurants will then have to pay taxes. Pretty smart.

Tide that you can put in your soap dish

Emily and I went to Wal-Mart after lunch to get some laundry detergent so that I could wash my socks and underwear in the tub (I didn't particularly want to drop off my underwear at the cleaner's - who knows who will put something on their head and dance around).

When we walked down the aisle that said "laundry soap," I noticed a bunch of little packages of Tide, and I picked one up.

"Is this bar soap for laundry?" I asked Emily.

"Yes, you clean your clothes with this," she answered, confused as to why this confused me.

After I laughed and laughed and told her the packaging looked like it was cheese (which she then laughed at), I decided this was probably a pretty good idea. This way, you can actually scrub your clothes with something other than your hand and liquid detergent, plus Darlana and I wouldn't have to pass a bottle of detergent around since their were 4 bars in the package.

Stupid question of the day from Mandy: "Can you use this in your washing machine?" -The answer is no. You use liquid detergent in your washing machine. This is for hand-washing only.

Laundry VIP

After Wal-Mart, we were on to the laundry place. When we brought Darlana's suitcase and our two laundry bags inside, they cleared a counter. They dumped my clothes out. That's a lot of clothes. Then we got Dad's clothes out. There's quite a pile there. Then, I open Darlana's suitcase and start dumping her clothes.

Here's what I learned about Darlana today: she has a freaking LOT of clothes. I start piling them on the counter and all 4 of the other people's eyes get huge. I keep piling them, and they begin to overflow, like lava from a volcano. A few more, and they're flowing out the door, then surging down the street in front of the building, women grabbing their children and running for cover, screaming. A business man can't quite run fast enough and gets swept under a torrent of slacks.

Anyway, after we got all the wreckage cleaned up, we had 60 pieces of clothing between us. Keep in mind that Darlana has been here only two weeks and Dad and I have been here for one and a half.

After they saw how many clothes we had to launder, they told us they're going to give us a "Laundry VIP" card. I'm not sure if we'll be able to fight crime or just get a discount, but that's pretty exciting.