Yesterday, I went into the office for the first time because I had a meeting set up with a colleague. I’m not officially supposed to start work in the office until February 9th when I have a work license, so I’ve just been working with the Redmond office at home.
I scheduled our meeting at about 11:30 not realizing that this was prime lunch time. Everyone else was gone, and my Chinese colleague was the only one there waiting for me. He asked if I had lunch yet and invited me to lunch. Feeling quite obligated at this point, I went to lunch with him in the cafeteria in the basement. He explained how the system worked, but honestly, I didn’t fully understand due to the complexity. I paid 12 Yuan (~$2) to some lady before I entered the cafeteria because that’s what my colleague suggested. But, I noticed people were paying different amounts depending on what they were going to eat. I got a receipt that said I paid 12 Yuan. Next I stood in a long line that was moving very fast, and grabbed a tray. There were 4 people behind the counter. I recognized the rice lady who scooped up a bowl of rice and dumped it on my tray (no bowl). The other three people scooped up something unrecognizable from a trough and dumped it in piles on my tray. I grabbed a pear and a soup at the end. Not bad for $2. At the end of the line, I gave my receipt to another lady, and apparently, I was done. I found my colleague who had gone in a different line and looked like he got some pasta with sausage in it. We sat down together, and I started to decipher what was on my tray. One pile looked like sauteed zuchini. Another was a pile of sauteed cabbage and onions. The third pile was mushrooms and other vegetables with hunks of fat. I wasn’t sure what animal. Maybe pig. Maybe beef. I had a little bit of everything, and although it wasn’t food I was accustomed to, I still felt good about getting my $2 worth of food.
Afterwards, I went to Walmart, which is right across from my subway stop at work. It was actually quite nice and was somewhat familiar. They had a lot of things that Walmart normally carries, except they weren’t the cheapest store in town in China. Tenille texted a short shopping list to me. I went to the basement in the food department to look. All of a sudden, I felt my $2 worth of lunch disagree with me. I tried to suck it up and shop for the 4 food items on the list, but the disagreement was too strong. I quickly made for the bathroom which was 1 floor up outside of the checkstands. I left my basket by the bicycles, and ran for the washroom. I quickly found it and opened a door to a stall where I ran into my first squatter toilet. That’s ok… it looks easy enough… if only I could find some toilet paper. There was none in the stall. In a panic I looked all over the bathroom. Nothing. I ran outside… nothing… Oddly enough, with all the panicked running around, it must have distracted the disagreement in my digestive tract, because all seemed settled. So, I went back to the basement to continue my shopping. Along the escalators, there are piles of merchandise that you can pick up as your ride along. When I saw something that looked like a package of tissues, I grabbed it (just in case…) It said, “Breeze” on it. Hmmm… hopefully it wasn’t some feminine product.
I was a few items short, when the disagreement returned. Armed with tissue paper this time, I quickly made for the checkstand to make sure I carried in my own gear. I’ll spare the details, but I will say that the hole in the ground was not as intuitive as I thought it would be. I’m sure the reader is probably thinking, “Seriously, how hard could it be?” Next time you go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground, let me know where your pants went so you don’t pee on it. I had my own solution, but I want to compare notes and see what you came up with on your own.
I finished up my shopping and took the subway home. It was a pretty significant “culture” day, and so I thought I’d share.