The bathroom light bulb burned out, and Eric went to go buy a new one.

Simple, right?

In theory, yes.

But, the first shop didn’t have that particular kind of bulb. The next day he went a little further to another shop, but they didn’t have that bulb either. This was strange, because the bulb looked really basic to us. Nothing fancy, nothing specialized about it, so why would two shops be out of this kind of bulb?

IMG_20150504_202213That’s when Eric got serious. A few days later, we made a special trip across town to a Philips shop. Professional lighting store, y’all, with lots and lots of bulbs on display. But, still no luck. They didn’t have the bulb we needed.

However, the guy at the shop was kind enough to give us an explanation that ended the search: the light fixture was “fake goods” and it apparently came with its own “fake goods” light bulb. Normal light bulbs would not work. There was only one way to get a new bulb, the Philips guy explained. Contact the landlord and find out where he had purchased the light fixture, then go to that shop (hoping it was still in business) to get another bulb.

After four seconds of careful consideration, Eric decided to go a different route. He simply purchased a new light fixture for about US $7 (making sure it was one that used standard bulbs, of course.) It’s crazy to think that it was EASIER for him to buy and install an entire new light fixture rather than changing the bulb, but, well…welcome to China!

This story reflects just how inconvenient life can be here. What should have been a brainless errand turned into a cross-town hunt. There’s so many examples of things taking more time to accomplish because of speedbumps in the road.

  • You go all the way to the train station to buy tickets, only to find out that the ticket windows are all closed for afternoon xiuxi.
  • You arrange to meet a friend at a favorite milk tea shop, only to discover that it went out of business two days ago.
  • At the bank, you’re told the transaction can’t be done, sorry…but are told at a different branch that it can be done, and the first branch just didn’t know how to do it (and saved face by telling you that it was not possible.)
  • You plan for two months to buy bacon in a big city you’re traveling through, but the one store you have time to go to is completely out of bacon.
  • Last night, you went to the theater specifically to check the movie schedule, but today when you show up with your kids, you’re told they aren’t showing that film anymore, bu hao yisi.
  • The eyeglass shop is “temporarily out of” contact solution, which you eventually learn is code for “we have never carried that item and never will.”
  • You order curtains and a mere two weeks later, you’re informed that they don’t actually have the fabric you selected, could you come back and pick out something else?

I could go on and on and on, friends.

Obviously, frustrating things like this happen in my home country, too. (Except for the running out of bacon example.) It’s just that they happen way more often here in China.

In the States, there’s just a whole different culture going on. Everyone expects to be able to look up movie times online. You can check store inventories on websites to save yourself a trip. It’s easy to get phone numbers for companies so you can call and get answers without going across town to ask in person. Life moves fast, and wasting a customer’s time is a sin, so information is publicly available “for your convenience.” That is just how things function there.

Here, people seem to live in a much more in-person world, where you swing by the neighborhood shops on your evening walk, no big deal. Things also shift and flux a lot more, and it’s not a huge thing to suddenly cancel a movie, or decide to open/close a restaurant. Stores aren’t guaranteed to keep things in stock, even if they’re large, international chains. Life moves more slowly, and having to come back later is not the end of the world. And this is just how things function here.

I’m glad I’ve learned that. I’ve come to expect that, at least the first time I try to do a particular errand, it’s going to take at least two trips on two different days. If I’m successful the first try, yee-haw! If not, I’m not stressed or frustrated, because I was still planning on (at least) a second attempt.

So, I guess the answer to the joke is: just one foreigner, but it may take him a few tries to get the right one.

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