Wardrobe Adventures In China, Part 2
Lessons during The Han Show Creation – Wuhan, China
I like to think of myself as a fairly decent researcher. Anytime I take on a new adventure I conduct due diligence to make sure I’m best prepared for anything the upcoming situation could possibly throw my way. Let me tell you, nothing can properly prepare you for everything you will encounter whilst living abroad and perhaps this applies even more so when speaking on Asia.
It’s such a vast area of the world and largely unknown to those of us born and raised in the US, ashamed we aren’t taught more about it at school age. Culturally I felt semi-prepared as I had recently spent a month in Taiwan, read some books, and talked to colleagues who had been there before. Looking back on the nearly two years I spent there I can safely say I didn’t know Jack.
I’m not so naive to think I was walking into a nice shiny bilingual city life but wasn’t prepared for the few words I had learned to seem utterly useless. In Wuhan, there is a strong local dialect dubbed Wuhanese and I was pronouncing my words worse than a toddler I imagined.
Almost no one understood me. Much more learning and even more practice was greatly needed for just the basics.
As I opted out of the company-owned dormitory style housing I was on my own to find accommodations. Remember I was given two weeks hotel and a pat on the back. After a few weeks of failed attempts with a local agent, I wasn’t sure what to do next. He just wasn’t getting me or understanding my needs. The few places I was interested in were gone by the time I got an offer in the next day. Luckily friends from the production side were most helpful with my housing hunt. After a full day of touring available apartments that met my criteria, I made an offer on one in a popular part of town with lots of shops within walking distance. Met the following day with the agent, landlord, and translator friend to hand over the largest bundle of cash I had ever seen (largest bill in China is 100 RMB) and secured my place for the next 6 months. Happy to report it was fully furnished and with a fabulous bathtub as requested. Life is good!
I had to quickly learn to be umm, let’s say extra proactive. Foreign face who doesn’t speak the language is a hard sell to a local taxi driver. They tend to drive by or refuse the ride once I opened my mouth. Eventually, with the help of taxi cards, I averted this crisis more times than not. When all else failed, I would walk to the 5-star hotel across the street from the theatre and they kindly obliged with hailing cabs and talking to the driver. Once we found that Uber worked I thought all my transit worries were gone. Type in the addresses, click go, bingo a car would arrive, right? No, the driver would call, every, single, time. Wei? Ni hao? Back to square one without being able to even have a partial conversation in Mandarin to guide the driver to my location. Quite important in a city of 10 million. Many times, I would luck up and be able to hand the phone to someone nearby who could tell I needed assistance. 9 times out of 10 this approach worked. The other 1 out of 10 I would have to get much more creative.
Again, I love an adventure but there comes a point when you just want to know what exactly is that on the plate.
I’ve spent years avoiding chemicals, preservatives, and unnecessary processing, most always preparing my own food and reading labels without fail. Now that is much less possible even with every good translating app. Luckily, we work within walking distance of a gourmet food store with lots of imports as well as a high price tag on said imported goods. Sometimes you just need a sense of comfort with something familiar, no matter the cost. I will admit on more than one occasion I am sure I paid upwards of $5 USD for an avocado and somewhere in the realm of $10 for some organic strawberries. This aspect of daily life needed lots of work too if I was to make it. The bars and protein power I packed were most definitely going to run out sometime in the very near future.
Cell phone and utilities.
These were a whole other thing. It became common place to have your phone suddenly stop working, electricity shut off, or come home to find no heat or hot water as the gas credit had run out. Yes, credit. Most utilities here are on a pay ahead system. Makes sense actually, I only wish someone had warned me about it. The very sweet landlord via a translator took care of gas or electricity for me on occasion. I eventually learned how to pay the electricity and where the gas office was and how to put credit on the card then reset the home unit with said card. Phew, that last one is a half day outing. A sense of real accomplishment came when I learned how to add credit to my own cell phone. A feeling near heroism came when I could help others by adding credit to their phones too. Before you know it I would be using Alipay to buy movie tickets with my phone and sending Red Envelope gifts via WeChat. I was indeed assimilating to this new way of life.