Stories like this have become so normal to me, but I have to remind myself that this is not normal for most of my friends in America.
We’ve accomplished a few projects over the week-long holiday. Accomplishment number one: hang stuff on the wall. (I’m not going to mention that one of the big things we hung already fell off the wall because I paid 3 yuan ($0.50) for the sticky hooks). Hanging stuff on the wall could be a whole story in itself. Good thing we found these super awesome nails in our previous city that can somehow penetrate the solid concrete walls in our apartment and somehow had a few leftover that made it to the new city. Too bad we only had three of them.
But, today’s success story is about a staple gun. Does anyone know how to say “staple gun” in Chinese? I do now!
It all started when I came home from the fabric market with two options for Project A: cover the old 3-panel tree art with fabric to freshen things up a bit. So, fabric option two created Project B: cover orange velvety chair seats in something more acceptable. While Project A required duct tape and scissors, Project B required something we didn’t have on hand: a staple gun (What? I know. Everyone has a staple gun, right? I’m not sure how we’ve survived 4 years here without one.)
So, this morning, I set out to find a staple gun. Sounds easy, right? Well, in America, I would simply hop in the car, cruise to Wal-Mart, buy a staple gun, stop at Rosa’s for a bean burrito to go, and finish my project within an hour.
Here’s how it went down on this side of the ocean:
I pedaled my bike to the street just outside our apartment complex and slowly cruised along peering into each little shop to see if I could find a hardware store. Noodles, fish restaurant, hair salon, convenient store, noodles, restaurant. Bingo! Hardware store!
I jumped off my bike, locked it to the nearest bike rack and stepped into the tiny hardware shop. The man inside was staring at his computer while petting a white cat. Strange. He hardly noticed me. I didn’t know what to ask for since I didn’t take the time to research how to say “staple gun” before hopping on my bike to start my adventure.
So, when he glanced my way, I just started mumbling about wanting to buy something that goes “chi! chi! chi!” while pretending to staple fabric to his table. All I got out of that was a blank stare from the guy and he returned to his computer screen. Resorting to using technology, I looked up “staple” in my phone dictionary. Then I looked up “gun.” But then I realized I might use the wrong word for “gun” and he’ll think I’m shopping for an assault weapon. Not good. Stick to staples. Don’t be the American shopping for a gun.
So I threw the word I found for “staple” into my game of charades and he actually figured out what I wanted to buy. “Qi ding qiang?” he said. “Mei you. (don’t have)” After asking him to repeat “qi ding qiang” a few too many times, I headed back to the street armed with my new found word for staple gun (well, I was really hoping that was the word for staple gun, anyway).
A few shops down I found another hardware store. I stepped in, nosed around a bit, and then asked “mai bu mai qi ding qiang?” (sell staple guns?) “Bu mai. (don’t sell)” said the shopkeeper. But, then he told me to go to the big street just down the way, turn left, get on the bus, go a few stops and there I’d find a big hardware store that sells them.
"Oh, no! I’ll never remember all that!” I thought.
After I asked him to repeat those directions, he got out a pen and wrote it down for me. I left the shop, jumped back on my bike and headed to the big street. This particular big street has 3 lanes of traffic going each direction with large bike/pedestrian lanes on each side. I was too lazy to cross the big street so I rode my bike on the left side of the bike/pedestrian lane weaving in and out of the Saturday morning shoppers. I didn’t feel too bad about doing that because there were other bikers doing the same thing. And, I felt it was my right to be on the bike for once as I’m usually the one on the sidewalk dodging moving objects.
After a few minutes of pedaling (which was getting trickier by the second as my left pedal decides to fall off at least once a week and continues to do so even after I have the bike guy fix it. I pay him 2 kuai to hammer it back on and off I go for another week. I need to go see that guy again…coming soon…a blog post about the definition of insanity…) I found a row of shops selling power tools.
After waiting for the lights to turn and daring to cross 6 lanes of traffic with a crowd of pedestrians, I entered the first shop and confidently asked, “Mai bu mai qi ding qiang (sell staple guns)?”
“Mai (sell),” the shopkeeper said with a nod. Then, he pointed to a huge air-compressor powered nail gun.
“Xiao de?? (smaller??)” I asked.
“You (have),” he said.
So he started digging around the shop and couldn’t find one. Then he asked if I’d wait for someone to bring one. I agreed, and while I waited I really wondered if the mystery object to be delivered would really, truly be a staple gun. For all I knew, I was asking for a turbo-charged, combat ready flame thrower. Low and behold, a guy showed up five minutes later with the exact thing I wanted! And a box of staples. All for 35 yuan (a little over 5 dollars).
I pedaled extra carefully on the way home thinking the whole time that my little adventure turned out very well. Too well. I just knew something was going to go wrong. But, it didn’t. I got home in one piece (the pedal somehow stayed on) and Jeremy finished the chair covering project a little while later.
Instead of burritos, I picked up baozi (steamed meat buns) and a sweet potato baked in a barrel for lunch. And it was normal.