First, a game –
You are packing your suitcase. Tell me, which of these things that you pack is not like the other ones?
Becoming an expat has opened my eyes to the simple life. If, like me, you are uncertain about your long-term living solutions, you learn how to distinguish what you need from what you want very quickly. While having nice things is great, when it comes time to relocating it becomes hard to justify why you simply had to have a wooden owl carving, or fifteen different types of socks, or three Tupperware containers come with you.
Learning how to have less is a big advantage, and what you cannot take with you is then offered up to the remaining expat community for them to scavenge.
My dear friend Lisa is departing China soon after a successful two (I think) years of successfully making the Chinese language her bitch a valuable skill to have in her asset collection. As she is leaving, the past few weeks have been a sort of garage sale, where bits and pieces of Lisa’s China life are becoming a part of someone else’s life. Because she is someone who has always enjoyed cooking at home (her homemade pizza will make grown men weep with joy) she invested in a reasonable sized toaster oven of which (obviously) she cannot take with her on her next journey.
Another friend and co-worker, Sarah, pounced at this opportunity to become the next owner of the toaster oven. Because we were going to see Lisa for her birthday this weekend, it was decided that the toaster oven would have to make the trip back with us. The ‘how’ in ‘how are we getting a toaster oven from Shijiazhuang to Beijing?’ remained a thing I like to call the ‘later problem’ and was left unresolved.
The weekend then quickly rolled around and Sarah and I make our individual ways down to Shijiazhuang. I arrived at Lisa’s to a large black suitcase at the door that Sarah had brought with her. Instead of using the gargantuan box the toaster oven came in when it was new, Sarah had eye-balled the size of the oven on a previous visit and decided that sticking it in her suitcase would make for easier transportation.
It then comes time to leave Lisa’s place this morning, and Sarah sat on the ground to pack her suitcase. First in went her clothes, then makeup and toiletries, a pair of shoes, and then a large 60cmx40cmx40cm (ish) toaster oven.
Well I’ll hand it to her, it fitted…kinda.
After zipping the suitcase lid to the point where it could zip no more we tied a thick band around the unzipped part of the suitcase lid and prayed that a slow and steady journey would halt the zip from falling down, or breaking.
At this point I am rolling on the ground laughing the hardest I have laughed in a long time. I’m talking on the verge of tears laughing, and for a brief moment I forgot all about the horrific hangover I was suffering. I can honestly say I never thought I’d be helping to pack a toaster oven in a suitcase to trek cross-country with via train, subway, and bus. Only in China.
We make our way to the train station and through security. I do wonder if they questioned the fact that we had a massive toaster oven inside a suitcase, or whether that just plain isn’t weird enough for China’s standards. After settling down I recharged (napped) the hour and ten minutes it takes to get to the Beijing station, and subway connection.
We eventually get to the bus stop needed to complete our journey in an all right fashion, though the subway did stop at random for a few minutes in the middle of the tunnel. I want to know, one: how do you muck up a subway schedule, and two: how do you fix it? But that’s for another post. We made it from Shijiazhuang to our bus stop in a timely three-hour span, and waited for the final movement of our journey to come.
The first bus for our destination was pretty sardine-esque, and with a massive toaster oven to take care of we decided to wait out for the next one. Luckily we needn’t wait long as the second bus rounded the corner after a brief five minute extended wait.
Sarah lifted the toaster oven into the back of the bus, scanned her metro card, and sat down. I followed her with the rest of our bags, scanned my own card, and sat down.
Now on every Beijing bus there is always one attendant to check who pays their bus fee (or doesn’t) and to yell out the name of every upcoming stop. The attendant on our bus turns to face us, points and says –
‘Ta meiyou piao’.
Now I’m not fluent in Mandarin, but I have learnt enough to recognise these words.
Ta – common pronoun for he/she
Meiyou – have not/do not possess
Piao – ticket
We flicked our metro cards out to her to show that yes, we scanned our cards and have rightly paid for our ride home. This seems to annoy her some more and she gesticulates wildly in our direction all the while repeating ‘ta meiyou piao’. Her pointing becomes more focussed as we pay closer attention, and while previously we thought she was pointing at us, it becomes clearer that she is pointing at the suitcase with the toaster oven.
And that’s when we remember; the word ‘ta’ can also mean the third person pronoun ‘it’.
The toaster oven did not have a bus ticket.
The fear of being kicked off the bus and having to wait for another was more than enough for us to hand over (albeit a little begrudgingly) the six kuai fee needed to keep our seats, and our oven, on board.
What did I learn from all of this? If I ever hold the idea of a toaster oven, I’m buying online.