Expat Magazine

China – Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Backwards.

By Mint Mocha Musings @nicoledwebb

Guardian Angel

We all have those days don’t we, where everything we attempt to do is just plain difficult!

The Gods are not smiling on us…..we usually just put it down to one of those days….and hopefully, move on.

Tomorrow is after all, another day!

At the moment as we try to settle into a new country, namely big bad China - those days, typically tend to be more frequent than not. (Don’t mention the power cuts!!)

 The hotelier, Miss A and I have at times felt like we are living out a scene from the Griswolds… (If you don’t know the term….the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation is aptly a comedy series about the misadventures of the Griswold family, whose, quote: “attempts to enjoy vacations and holidays are plagued with continual disasters and strangely ridiculous predicaments.“) Say no more!

Griswolds Movie | Mint Mocha Musings

The Griswolds!

In a nutshell, everything we attempted required an almighty dollop of patience with a splash of humour on top!

“I’ll have a Sprite thanks. Actually make that two lemonades for us.” Waitress returns ten minutes later, “So do you want one Sprite and one lemonade?” “Isn’t that the same thing?” “No it’s not.”

And breathe…..

Clearly our confronting and extremely inconvenient lack of Chinese is mostly to blame for the shenanigans that ensue, but there’s also a cultural divide that means ways of doing things aren’t necessarily aligned amongst all parties. (Note how I say that in the politest way possible!)

To top it off, Internet is intermittent at the best of times. VPN’s drop in and out….phone service is patchy…with plans seemingly chewing through data at a rate of knots.

Banking can be a painstaking affair in any country, but here in China, we managed to find ourselves both credit card-less and cashless for a (thankfully) brief period of time. Our Hong Kong credit cards it seems are not geared to work online (something about ‘activation’ is eventually revealed) and banks back in our home countries have gone into lockdown mode, blocking our cards after suspected suspicious activity in a foreign land. While I appreciate their quick action – attempting to book a flight online for the 15th time (what? of course I’m not trying to escape!) with dodgy internet and cards that are stalled at every turn, can turn even the most patient man I know into a frazzled, bug eyed cot case!!

Crazy China |Mint Mocha Musings

For a few days our eft-pos cards refuse to work in the ATM’s and it’s difficult to decipher the problem laid out before us in Chinese… and well… getting a Chinese bank account, of course, is no simple task for a foreigner.

Obviously the lap top the hotelier uses for his day job is not happy with so much frenzied activity because it has a meltdown and promptly packs it in. Of course getting it fixed is like asking asking for the winning lotto ticket numbers, as is getting a straight answer!

With the hotelier diligently downstairs working, I get a phone call in the hotel room – a man we can call ‘MR I.T’ says he is here to fix the laptop. I reply that Mr Walkden is working in his office. “No he’s not, the door is closed,”  he says. Me: Ahhh OK, well I guess he could be anywhere in the hotel, I’m sorry I don’t know.

The dialogue continues something like this.

Mr I.T: Can I come back later to fix the laptop? (Brief experience tells me if I let him go now, we may never lay eyes on him again)

Me: Can you call him to see where he might be right now?

Mr I.T: No.

Me: Okaaaay, Where are you?

Mr I.T Man: Outside room 5306.

Me: (half dressed) realize Mr I.T is at my front door. Hastily throw on some clothes and greet him, reiterate, no the laptop isn’t here and nor is Mr Walkden. Would you like me to call him?

Mr I.T Man: OK.

I call the hotelier…who’s conveniently just up the hallway, in the executive club having a meeting and tells me to send him that way.

Mr I.T nods enthusiastically in agreement….but apparently he doesn’t make it there for several hours!? Lap top is eventually fixed that evening, but by the time the hotelier boards a plane the next day, it is no longer operating.

And breathe…..

So all the while I am negotiating with Mr I.T, we are told the hotelier’s visa is ready and he must fly to Hong Kong asap!  We also discover we need passport photos for everyone, pronto!

Not an easy task it seems. We find out nowhere in Xi’an is able to specifically take this kind of photo, bar some photo booths on the other side of town in the underground train station. (While China is home to the globe’s biggest ‘new travellers’ – in reality, only a small portion of the 1.3 billion population actually holds a passport.)

So we are advised we must get to a photographer’s studio at once! We meet downstairs and are bundled into hotel car and driven five minutes to a slightly ramshackle area and dropped off at a shopfront door, literally. (Actually, I think we are on the footpath.) Picturing the site of us three ‘Gweilos’ entering, has me chuckling to myself. We enter the nondescript shop where a lady sits at a computer, with a few aptly framed photos on display. She babbles to us in Chinese and when she realizes we can’t speak her lingo, promptly turns around and goes back to work on the computer. (Pesky Gweilos, I know!!)

I try a few lame words in Chinese like now and photo? but for some reason whenever I am in a ‘situation,’ the Chinese I have supposedly learnt, eludes me. I am blank!? Please explain!!

Again she replies in Chinese and turns away, ignoring us. The hotelier decides it’s time to use the ‘bat phone’ to call for help. Tina - our ‘ever patient personal translator’ is on the line and speaks with the lady on the computer and it all seems clear. She will take our photos but she doesn’t know what size passport photos are, so this is going to take some organizing.

So we hang up and wait….and wait….. and wait. Nothing is happening. Time is ticking…..people are starting to stare through the glass at us and some are taking photos!

We call our ever ‘patient personal translator’ again and this time we get the green light! She’s ready to do the photos! We are shuffled into a studio. James goes first and is told (we think) to do his jacket up and straighten his collar (these are clearly not just any old passport photos).

She pulls at her ear and I think she’s telling me to listen, but eventually work out she wants my earrings off. It’s a bit like playing charades, we stifle our giggles.

Ava’s turn and for the ‘posing show pony,’ sitting still without cracking a smile is proving difficult. The lady is faffing abut with Ava’s hair until she’s satisfied and gesturing madly at her to keep her hands by sides (this is not a modeling shoot young lady)! Finally, we are done. We pay about US$20 and are whisked out of the shop into our waiting car. I feel like Brangelina again (clearly minus her looks and money)!

Crazy China | Mint Mocha Musings

The Griswolds! The look on our faces sums up the China experience!

I am then off to the hair dresser where I decide, as well as getting a blow dry I will be doubly brave today and ask to get my nails done. I have practiced the word for ‘doing nails’….so they seem to get my gist — but immediately start to wrap tinfoil around each finger.

I know this is the way to remove a certain type of gel (you ladies will know it as ‘soft’ gel) but alas I have ‘hard’ gel and never the twain shall meet!

I know that it is not going budge with some mere tinfoil, so I try explaining it’s hard gel, I even use my trusty chinese app, but appear to be failing miserably. Time to call Tina our ‘ever patient personal translator’ again – she explains and again it all seems clear, they know it’s hard gel but this will certainly work.

Ok, you’re the boss, I think, so I sit back and relax….a few minutes later the foil is off but the gel nail is not. Hmmm dilemma, now I can see they are really confused… there’s a lot of spirited chatter back and forth. All I can do is smile meekly. She attempts to scrape it off and so I make the noise for machine….bzzzzzz…..but they look at me like I am slightly crazy. I point to the nail file and she attempts to file it off. It takes a looong time, but it sort of works. I am sure they are stumped with the weird ‘white’ lady with her ‘white’ hair and ironically strange ‘white’ nails….Who is she and why does she keep coming back!!

But they bring me two tiny apple-like looking fruit to try (I later find out are called Nai, or Crab Apples), so I figure maybe they aren’t too annoyed with me.

Chinese Fruit | Mint Mocha Musings

Meantime, my new found hairdresser has been learning English and is like an excited puppy dog, sitting next to me while my nails are finished. We both decide in our broken English/Mandarin this relationship could work! I teach him, he teaches me. I decide to really push the boat out and test the waters to see if he can ‘colour’ my hair. My slightly er darker/grey roots are showing through and it’s not going to be pretty. He seems to understand eventually and shows me his colour chart with two types of blonde. Just two. Not a lot of choice but perhaps that’s a good thing. I learn the word for foils and show him pictures on Pinterest. Here’s where it gets tricky as I want to explain that I don’t want my hair too gold, so I find the word for ‘gold’ and say ‘not want’ in my best chinese, so he thinks I want ‘white’ but I say no. I search for the words, caramel and beige but these are lost on him. If I say ash, I will surely get grey hair. Xi’an is greying my hair by the minute so ash colour won’t be necessary.

He proudly shows me a picture of the only white woman’s hair he has colored and says she likes red. Does she ever. It is the brightest, boldest fire engine red I’ve ever seen!

Hairdressers in China | Mint Mocha Musings

Note: this is not the picture but I promise it was this red!!

He tells me again he is the best hairdresser in Xian after all, and says “just let me try.” But to me that alarmingly sounds like a toddler asking to “just let me try pouring the milk on my cereal.” We all know how that ends! I remain noncommittal and decide to do a poll on Facebook that night.

Enthusiastic hairdresser and I connect on We Chat (the What’s App/Facebook equivalent) and I leave with some ‘Zai Jians’ and see you next week – it’s been an intense maintenance session…I’m not really sure what just happened, but it was reasonably successful, I have my hair done and my nails look reasonable enough for public display.

Two steps forward, ten steps backwards.

This is China!

And breathe…….

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