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Here’s an incident (or series of incidents, depending on your point of view) that happened today that are a pretty good example of an “oh yeah, I’m in China” kind of day:

I went to B&Q (this is like Home Depot, for my US readers) today because I was going to another store nearby, in an area of town I don’t often happen to be in, and G wanted a small tub of spackle or joint compound to fill in a bit of a hole he made drilling a hole to hang one of our big framed prints. Now first of all I went in knowing that I would have to hope that I could find some labeled in English. Usually this is not too difficult; many products do have both English and Chinese.

So I go and I’m looking for the area where they have drywalling stuff, because this is where G says I would find the joint compound. (Because what do I know about this kinda thing.) Can’t find anything of the sort. I walk around the entire store. Seriously, how do you hide drywall? But I can’t find it. OK

So I call G and ask him, “Are you sitting near any Chinese people in the office right now, who I can maybe stick on the phone with one of the shop workers to ask if they can tell me where this stuff is? Cuz I cannot find it.”

He says, “OK, Jane is here, let me ask her.”

As it turns out, Jane has no idea what on earth G means by this strange phrase ‘joint compound’ and appears even more bewildered by the word ‘spackle’. She in turn consults someone else, whilst G pantomimes the act of applying joint compound. The rest of the office decides to join in this game of charades and pretty soon everyone is working on solving the mystery.

This carries on for what feels like about a year(I was still on the phone) whilst the group attempts to reach some consensus as to what exactly it is that G wants to buy, and how one might go about saying it in Chinese. Honestly G and I were willing to give up and say ‘you know, it’s just not that important’ but by now so many people had invested so much time and energy in the project, it seemed unkind to tell them to just forget it.

Eventually there is some indication that an agreement has been reached and G hands over his phone to Jane, and I pass mine to a fellow working on the shop floor. He and Jane speak for what seems like quite a long time. He hands the phone back to me, signals for me to wait, and then calls over three other guys. They converse for a short time. He asks to speak to Jane again. They confer. He hands the phone back. He and the three other guys discuss it a bit further. I wait.

Then we all walk together to the furthest back corner of the shop. Turns out they have none. Well that’s not quite true, they have giant 25 kilo bags of powdered joint compound that needs to be mixed with water in some special mixing machine. Which I do not have, nor do I want to have. So, mei you.

So there’s like an hour of my life that I’ll never get back again.

3 Responses to “Typical”

  • Kelly says:

    Oh dear! Sounds about like how it would go here in Peru, too! There’s so many things we take for granted in the US, that simply aren’t available here – and when you try to explain a tool to someone, they act like ‘well, who would ever need that?’ I DO!!!

  • Sue Bichler says:

    would you like me to ship you a small jar & a putty knife??

  • kellie says:

    Once we went out to eat this big fancy meal with a bunch of my husband’s Chinese colleagues, one of these big affairs with a hundred different dishes. I am game to try lots of stuff, but if I particularly liked something, I would ask one of the colleagues what the dish was, in case I might see it elsewhere and want to order it again. However most of the time, it would go something like this:

    me: This is really good, what is this?

    person 1: Um… wait… (confers in chinese with person 2)

    person 2: (confers in chinese with person 3)

    person 3: (confers in chinese with person 1)

    person 1: It’s meat.

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