Tuesday, December 14, 2010


By: Anne Gribble
December 2010

I recall a kind and gentle man saying to me in his driveway after telling him about going to move and teach abroad in China for a few years, “Anne, I didn’t realize you were so hardy.” I snickered first of all because I have not heard that word used very often, “hardy”, especially when referring to people. A plant could be hardy, a cow in the winter could be hardy, but me? I remember responding, “Well, I’m not sure how hardy I am, but I guess I’ll find out.”

Turns out, I am hardier than I knew. I AM learning to be hardier, but I don’t have to be too hardy here in Shanghai. I have many comforts for my family, and myself but I am living among many who do not have any comforts. I am learning that I do like some comforts from home. I like MY face soap, MY perfume, MY razor blades, and MY shampoo. If given the choice, I’d pick them.

I am running out of all things American that we brought from home. We come over with 10 suitcases – clothes for four seasons that could last a year. All shoes for all sports as we were told it would be hard to find shoes to fit our big feet (not mine), but everyone else’s. We brought double pairs of running shoes to give ourselves a pair at Christmas. (Turns out we can get shoes here easily – even big sizes.) As I squeeze out the last drop of face soap, shampoo, toothpaste- I dread the realization that it’s time to start buying Chinese brand toiletries. Let me tell you, they are very different. Face soaps have whiteners in them to bleach your skin as pale as you can. It shows that you are an aristocrat and are not working in the rice patties. I’d prefer a little tint of tan in mine, thank you. The face soaps I’ve tried (five different brands) are all just awful. They foam up ok, but then when you wash them off – they just stick to your face. You can’t wash it off. You have this film on your face that is squeaky sticky. It is so gross; it just puts me in a bad mood. You want to wash your face again, but you can’t – they all do the same thing. I long for my Oil of Olay Foaming Face Wash for Sensitive Skin from Walgreens. I am bringing a years worth next summer.

I have become intentional with decisions about building my life here. We do not have many worldly items and live a very simple life. I like it. So far, I am not missing much. I do say I would love a bath or a hot tub. A teacher friend bought a 12-person hot tub with a TV screen and put it on his patio (he’s on the first floor)- I really am trying hard to get myself invited over. I even offered to babysit their cute little girl, but she’s going through a rough “patch” of the “terrific twos” so I’m not sure it would be worth it. Maybe Joey or Hailey could babysit and I could go over after the kid’s in bed. Ahh…now there’s a plan.

Doug and I were cruising around looking in shops last Saturday morning and we ran across a home décor shop specializing in modern Chinese items. Hot pink Buddhas, hot green fake bamboo coat trees, funky bright blue Chinesey vases…I did have my eye on the bright green fake bamboo vase (it would match nicely in our apartment), but I don’t want to haul it around the world with me. It was nice, but not THAT nice. I had bought some pussy willow branches the weekend before for $1 (you can get them dyed in any color you want) and I thought they would look cool in the bright green fake bamboo vase as our décor is more modern these days. (Side note: I bought the pussy willows because they reminded me of my Grandma Larson. She always had pussy willows in her house and I loved how they felt between my fingers. Bummer news…I can no longer feel their softness with my fingertips – too much computer keyboarding or playing with unifix cubes, I guess. I can feel them on the top of my hands or on my face though.)

Our ayi found a really cool place to put the soft and fluffy friends. She has complete control of our home. She arranges the furniture, dishes, and our clothes any way she sees fit. I have given over control of our home and I love it. I’ve never really been into that stuff anyway so I’m OK with it. I love that it’s clean all the time and I notice how smart she is with the way she organizes things. It just makes sense! She moved the refrigerator over so the cupboard doors can open better, moved a shoe cupboard that was out in the hall into the entry and filled it with our summer sandals, put up a hook in the kitchen for the dishtowels and her cleaning gloves, unclogged the kid’s shower, fixed the leaky sink, moved the dishes to a new cupboard, organized the Tupperware (OH MY!! China has the BEST Tupperware in the world! I will bring some home for sure as gifts.)

You can buy things very inexpensively over here. You can buy very expensive things too. Anything American or European or imported is expensive – more than the US. All other items are cheap. IKEA is cheap. Got desks for the kids’ rooms for $20 dollars. $3 to deliver and assemble! Love it! Chinese food is cheap and NOT like US Chinese food at all…lots of fish oil and they eat ALL parts of ALL animals – brains, balls, and butts. I’m sure my beef noodle soup has more surprises in it than I would like to know. I eat the noodles and sip some broth and usually leave the mystery meat. I’ve gotten pretty good at using chopsticks, as I’ve had to. No forks. I almost brought this “spork” (spoon/fork combo) from REI with me to keep in my purse, just in case, but I’ve survived without it. I’ve learned that you can just put your scraps on the table and it’s OK to bring your mouth really close to the bowl and it’s very acceptable to slurp and burp and pass wind at your leisure. Sure, hauk (sp?) a loogie at the same time, light up a cig, and then go pee on the sidewalk – it’s third world after all. Oh, and you can smoke pot or any other substance in a restaurant or hair salon if you’d like. No one seems to mind. If you call putting up with that, “hardy” – then I guess I’m hardy.

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