Friday, July 10, 2009

China Days

I think that Murphy's Law was conceived in China. "If anything can go wrong it will." The original law actually stated, "If anything can go wrong in a frustratingly illogical way, it will." And from this law was birthed a common occurrence known as "A China Day."

My first China day happened back in the summer of '98 when I was helping with a group of students on a summer language study program. I was in charge of changing some money, and I had to do it that day (I was supposed to give someone the money that morning) and I had to go to SEVEN places to change money. Every place it was a different story - they didn't have enough money to exchange, they weren't open yet, they wouldn't change with me because I didn't stay in their hotel, the name on my passport was my maiden name and they couldn't understand the amendment in the back with my married name, they were closed for nap time . . . . and on it went. By the end of a China day, it's best to go home and watch some Jim Gaffigan talk about ketchup or something equally American. Actually, it's probably better to pray but you make the call.

So far here this time I haven't had any major China days. Just China moments where your phone runs out of money suddenly without the usual, "Your balance have little money, please recharge in time" message, or you get lost at the mercy of a taxi driver who smells like cigarette smoke and tea, or you drag 20 pounds worth of cardboard 600 meters for 5 kuai. But yesterday, I had a China day.

Thankfully, I had a China day with Erik. Usually he can keep my spirits high on days like those, but he'd been fasting for several days so we did a role reversal. I told him if he would like me to be consistently positive and joyful like that all the time, maybe he should be more consistently grumpy. It's like there's only enough joy in this family for one person at a time on a bad day. We're working on that. :)

It began when we decided to leave the kids with friends and maid support, and get our driver's licenses. We had been told differing things about the best process for this. Some said "do it yourself, it's easy" and others said, "Pay this company to help you - it saves tons of time!" We are all about valuing time over money, but it did seem like all we had to do was get our eyes checked at a local hospital and take the forms to the driver's license bureau. From there we would have to sign up to take the test at a later date. But we forgot - there is no easy in China.

Well, our first problem came in not being able to find the hospital on the congested street. When we finally found it, they kept sending Erik back out to the car for more pictures and documents while they tried to have me fill out their forms in Chinese characters. We both then managed to fail the eye test - Erik because of his lazy eye and me because all my contacts are in the shipment and my glasses broke. We told them these facts but they were undeterred. So we walked to another hospital 2 blocks down and found the office we needed to visit was closed. (as we walked we planned how to cheat on the next test by giving each other signals. Look what China does to us!) That was enough for us to say, "Ok, we're paying someone to do this!"

That required a drive across town. That's right, a drive. This is the second time, in the second country, that we have driven to our driver's test. I hate to say it, but China has made me comfortable with some level of illegality. There, we couldn't find the office. The guard in one building said, "It's in building B, go there." In building B they said, "That's not here, try building A." Repeat step 1, back to building B. The problem many places in China is that workers are only given enough information for their small circle of influence. Beyond that, they don't know, but they don't want to tell you they don't know. So they tell you whatever you want doesn't exist.

We finally located the office on level 7, gave them all our paperwork, and were informed that the receipt from our local police for Erik had the wrong birth date on it. We had to go back to the police, get a new receipt, and bring it back. It didn't matter that his driver's license and pasport gave the correct date. I just shook my head and said, "Erik, do you think this is the flat tire on our airplane?" He said, "I doubt it."

Sure enough, on our way home we decided to placate ourselves for having had such a runaround and also not having the opportunity to go furniture shopping as planned by going to Jenny Lou's, a western grocery store here, to pick up some fun snacks for Erik's birthday on Sunday. We missed the turn. Determined, we went to the next one, a few kilometers down, and turned back. Those were hard earned tortilla chips with lime and butter rum Nips.

Erik's China day didn't end there because he still had to go back to the police station, the bank, and the hard ware store, all on no energy. A lesser man would have cracked under such pressure.

But the good thing about China days is that later you can look back and laugh. And hope for better days.


Nonna said...

I know it wasn't funny at the time, but it certainly was amusing to read! What a fiasco!

Starlene said...

Yikes! I don't think I would have made it through that day without throwing a fit. Seriously, yikes!