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Show me your mucus!

sunny 86 °F

It's days like today when I really miss driving.  Not that I think Shanghai would be an easy city to drive around, but when you have an old slipped disc injury flaring up, the last thing you want to have to do is walk around from place to place on a hot summer's day.

Shanghai experiences the same extremes of temperature as my hometown, but doesn't experience them at the same time.  When I've checked the weather online, I can see that summer comes to my hometown earlier than it does here; the same holds true for winter.  Even though it's already early July, summer has only just arrived here. And I've noticed in the past few years that when the weather starts heating up in Shanghai, tempers start flaring up as well.  For example, the other day I went to use the bathroom at work and noticed about 4 people shouting at each other one floor down in the mall (my school is on the 8th floor of a mall). Even while I was in the stall doing my business, I could still hear them shouting!

Well, today it was my turn. Despite having trouble standing up straight, much less walking, I needed to go to the police station closest to my apartment and get some paperwork before taking it to my company's home office and submitting it to them so that they can get started on renewing my visa.  I took my passport, copies of my passport picture and current visa, my rental contract and spare passport pictures in as small a pocketbook as I could get by with (pretty small - much smaller than the bag I normally carry), then ended up hailing a taxi to drive me the mere 1.1 kilometers that I couldn't manage to walk.

When I got to the police station, I didn't need to wait too long before someone came to the window to help me. I communicated what I needed and showed her all the paperwork I'd brought with me. She told me that I needed the original rental contract instead of a copy, so I told her I didn't have the original, I'd been in the same apartment for 4 years, I had a slipped disc and she should just do it now. Of course, she has her rules and regulations, but I was in pain and didn't want to have to come back again (plus, the deadline for this stuff for work was today), so I let my temper get the better of me, slapped my palm on the counter, shouted "slipped disc, slipped disc!" and "I'm in pain!" to no avail. All I succeeded in doing was looking stupid and losing face, especially since I'm going to have to go back there tomorrow and probably see the same people who may or may not be as angry with me as I was with them.  It's been at least 9 hours since then and I honestly don't know why I got so upset. Well, I do know - I was in a lot of pain at the time, but I realize that my reaction was way out of proportion to the situation. She was trying to follow the rules while doing her job and I'm the unreasonable foreigner.

Actually, another reason I acted so shamefully was the language barrier. I studied Chinese for about 8 months and things were finally starting to make sense to me right when my course ended. That was 4 years ago and I've been teaching English since then, so I've forgotten more Chinese than I currently remember. I can still write Chinese (pretty beautifully for a foreigner!) and I have standard pronunciation (which Chinese people compliment me on all the time) but my grammar is terrible and my vocabulary is very limited. Therefore, it doesn't take long for me to get frustrated trying to express myself - I run out of words long before I've successfully communicated my ideas. And when I get frustrated, I get snippy.  I guess the handwriting was on the wall today - I shouldn't be surprised the excursion was a failure.

By the way, I should explain the subheading to this blog. If you're a fan of "The Big Bang Theory" like I am, then you may recall the episode where Sheldon tries to learn Chinese. First of all, Chinese is not an easy language to learn, but it's made even harder because it's a tonal language. This means, if you say even one word or syllable incorrectly, you can change the entire meaning of what you're trying to say. Since "The Big Bang Theory" is a sitcom, Sheldon comically butchers the language in the final clip of the episode. Instead of saying "show me your citrus peels" as he's practiced, the subtitles show him saying "show me your mucus." I think I do the same thing. As I said, I already have a limited vocabulary but it becomes even smaller when I get mad or frustrated. That's why all I could say to the police officer who wouldn't help me was "slipped disc, slipped disc!" At least I hope that's what I was saying - Maybe one day this will be humorous to me.

Happily, the entire day was not a failure. When I left the police station, I very slowly walked (0.9 km) to a foreign grocery store near my apartment to see if there were any postings for a maid. There were 3 or 4 of them, but in my zeal to carry a light pocketbook, I hadn't included either paper or pen. I remembered that my phone had a camera, so I took pictures of the ads there and called one of them when I got home.

I told her that I'd hurt my back and couldn't really cook or clean right now (I don't have an excuse for the times I'm well, except that I'm too tired from work and also lazy) and wanted to know if she could work for me starting from this week. She said she could come over tomorrow, so then I mentioned that I also have cats, was it okay? She said she likes cats, so it's okay (I made sure to tell her since many Chinese aren't used to having pets. In fact, one of my students saw a picture of a kitten on her classmate's phone last week and shuddered, saying she couldn't stand this picture - I thought she'd seen a snake or something, based on her reaction!). She told me she'd come over tonight to meet me and see the place, so I did what any sane person would do before a prospective maid comes by - I started cleaning.  Not too much - I had warned her that the apartment was messy and really,  I could only do so much with my back today, but at the same time I couldn't let her see how I really live.

She came over shortly after 6 and didn't run away screaming, so that was good. She asked if I only wanted someone while I'm sick, but I told her I've been meaning to find someone for awhile, so I really want someone for the foreseeable future (by the way, this conversation was all in Chinese so I'm paraphrasing now - I have no idea how to say "foreseeable" in Chinese).

We agreed on a price per hour and a schedule - 3 mornings a week. We also established that tomorrow she'll clean only, but that she'll cook and clean on Wednesday and Friday. It's going to be a sizable chunk out of my monthly salary to pay her, but with the cooking she'll also be doing, I should be breaking about even since I'll pay less for my meals (fewer meals will be ordered in, which means no money paid for foreign food or for delivery).

I'm also meeting with my landlord tomorrow afternoon to get the original rental contract so cross your fingers things will go better at the police station - maybe everyone who witnessed my meltdown today will take a late lunch together tomorrow.

Posted by feiheli 10:41 Archived in China

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