Thursday, September 04, 2008

Shanghaied by Shopping

Writing really has got to be the best job on the planet! I returned to my novel this week, which first entailed setting up a workspace. Candle, computer, journal, pen, and pencil. What else do I need? (Well, I need to put away my phone so that I keep my writing time sacred.)

This does prove that you can write virtually anywhere. Even on the ground when you have no furniture, but a story you must tell.

And then there are the distractions. Which are really just adventures disguised. One of my new Shanghai friends, Mr. Bachelor Guy Evan, sent me a great article from the New Yorker about my new hometown. In it was this highly intriguing paragraph...

"The tailor whipped up a snappy little dress to Mai’s specifications and
delivered it to my hotel three days later. I wore it to an appointment with
Francine Martin, an American who leads shopping tours of Shanghai, to sites
recondite and renowned ( “Thirty-three dollars?”
she said. “Very nice, but one should never pay more than twenty dollars for
a simple custom-made dress.” (Stall 237 also makes men’s shirts of Egyptian
cotton for $15, but Martin probably knows where they can be had for $10.)"

How could I resist this? How does one make a living from shopping?! So guess who booked an interview with Francine next week as part of my Shanghai Cool project? (I plan to interview at least one cool person every week, and my list now includes Francine.) YAY!

Speaking of shopping, while waiting for my friend Shelli this morning in a Starbucks, I heard English. It was bliss to hear words that I understand. Without a problem. Even if it was eavesdropping. Now I know why my parents were so delighted to hear Taiwanese, their mother tongue, on the first weekend walk after they moved to Seattle.

As providence would have it, this English-speaking woman was short a few RMB, and I spotted her the difference. She said she'd pay that random act of kindness forward...and I said, "No, you'll pay it back to me! Just call me! Please!" How pathetic is it that I am not above paying for new friends? Ha! (Angela did have the coolest bag and a very hip vibe...and we exchanged numbers. And she did, in fact, text me.)

So after my daughter declared our house SAD, my friend Shelli has staged a shopping intervention and took me (the world's most impatient shopper) to her favorite rug maker, an hour's drive from where we live. An hour. Did I mention an hour away? However, an hour with Shelli is paradise. We could be in a garbage dump and still be able to chat happily.

There is nothing easy about shopping in Shanghai. Even in the grocery stores, you don't just pick your produce, pop it into a bag, and finish the rest of your marketing. No. There is someone who weighs and stickers your bag for you BEFORE you get to the cashier. I learned this the hard way.

The key to shopping in Shanghai is to know precisely what you want and what you're willing to pay BEFORE you enter a store. Clarification: these aren't just stores--they are warehouses filled with stalls of merchants. No price is a set price. Everything is negotiable. And there is a bewildering array of goods. Here is one tiny section of the mega-rug / curtain / bedding shopping complex.

Meanings are lost in translation. I know that. They're lost even when we speak the same language. So whether I get the 9' by 12' rug that I ordered--or a 9cm by 12cm rug--that is the question that will be resolved in three days when the rug is ready.

Everyday is an adventure. Every day.


Amber said...

Wow - looks like you're having so much fun! I'm jealous! I love shopping, and shopping in Shanghai sounds incredible. Definitely something that I must do in this lifetime.

Mitali Perkins said...

I LOVE your writing space. So feng-shui and clean. At first I thought, "She needs an orchid on the table," but maybe that would add clutter. Adding clutter -- that's what I seem to do best!

I am loving your blog and am still thinking about all that my brain and heart absorbed after reading the best YA novel of 2009 -- NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL.

Justina said...

Shopping is definitely a sport and hobby for people in Shanghai. These people can SHOP!

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