Moving has been exhausting. From the hassle of taking countless trips to IKEA (which nonetheless bring the joy of 1 kuai ice cream) to not realizing that I would need even the basic of necessities in my unfurnished apartment (sure, having a closet is cool, but you know what else is cool? Having hangers in that closet), I’ve spent more nights just saying “fuck it” and deciding to meet friends for a bottle of red wine at the shop three doors down instead of picking up things like, say, a shower curtain. As a result, 19 days in, and I’ve just set up my internet last Friday, wide-eyed, as a China Telecom guy hung precariously out of my third floor window.
So how have I been surviving without internet? Painfully. Have I been having raucous late-night adventures? Well, maybe not. Have I been cocooned in my room with the heater cranked up high, reading techno-thrillers under a blanket? More likely. These weeks, I’m discovering that the Shanghai winter is cold. It’s not quite Moscow-cold, but with the paper-thin walls of most apartment buildings and a complete lack of insulation (who needs insulation when the apartments are only meant to last 30 years?), it sometimes feels like it. Nonetheless, Winter has to be my favorite season. Like your average girl, I love any occasion to wear sweaters and sweatpants, but I also love stews and that slightly-burnt smell that an apartment gets when I start baking every night.
On the other hand, Winter makes me sedentary. I’m much less likely to go out. In the short hours of daylight, I shuffle back into my apartment by seven pm, and drink cup after cup of hot jasmine tea, shivering in front of my space heater, and pulling my grandmother quilt closer over my legs, sleeping in my living room, because my bedroom heater still doesn’t quite yet work.
Setting up the internet has been more of a mental block than anything else, really. My struggle with China Telecom seems to be pretty indicative of my struggle with China. After living in an expat cocoon for nearly four months, I’ve moved out to the ‘real’ China (whatever that means), cringing as I struggle to explain myself to people who look at me like I’m an idiot, which to be fair, when speaking Mandarin, I kind of am. This Wednesday, slightly hungover and over-caffeinated, I fought the urge not to throw up after washing down four vitamins with an espresso on an empty stomach on my way to the closest China Telecom building, only to be denied by the closed doors of an office that is supposed to be open 9am-530pm every day. A trip to Hengshan and 45 minutes later (and a lot of kuai poorer because I had to pay for a year’s worth of internet in advance!), I finally set up a connection. And you know what? I’m staying in my apartment until the weather is finally warm enough to wear short shorts. With setting up internet, as with everything else in China, at every turn, I am faced with people shaking their head and saying no, but, as is always the case in China, when you prod them long enough, while waving your arms and saying “really??” in stilted Chinese, things magically work out.
It’s frustrating not fluently speaking the language of the country I live in, especially during those moments when I’m faced with the fleeting ‘I live alone’ panics (which usually happen when I look down and realize it’s 4PM and I’m still not wearing pants). The key to my apartment has been occasionally sticking inside the lock and last Wedenesday, as my ayi called me to let her in (I’ve been too forgetful to get her a spare key, so in a way, this is kind of my fault), I found myself trapped in my apartment. No matter what I did, my key wouldn’t turn inside the inner lock.
I took a few deep breaths, looked back at my fridge to re-evaluate how long I could survive with the food I had in there (6-7 days depending on how long I would be okay subsisting entirely on gluten-free granola), and braced myself to text my boss to say that I would probably be late to work (like my elevator adventure, my reaction to this dire situation was.. inappropriate, at best). My neighbors, hearing the frantic scratching of the keys inside my door, ran to help me, as the youngest son sprinted down three floors to catch the spare key I threw out of the window, opening my door from the outside.
Naturally, once I was set free of the apartment, his mother proceeded to tell me off (at least I think so) and make fun of me (to my face) in front oft the ayi, who just giggled and put on a pair of slippers.
I feel like the hour I spend with my ayi every week is teaching me more Chinese than my Chinese lessons, though I don’t know quite how practical it is. This week, these phrases included (in 中文, naturally):
- “Sorry about my shower curtain falling on you last Wednesday, I called my landlord and he’s fixing it this weekend”
- “No, all that medicine on my counter is just vitamins, I swear, really” (Iron pills, because I’m anemic, and multiple kinds of Vitamin B because the women at my previous yoga studio told me it would help with bruising so easily)
- “Yes, I know, this apartment is too tall for you. It’s too tall for me too” (Everything in my new place is about 4 inches too high, I am seriously considering the possibility of dedicated house heels)
So where does this leave me? I may still not have a working shower curtain, but at least I finally have an internet connection!