When I came to China, I learned a phrase: “This is China.” I thought it was kinda cute, a way to remind yourself that things are different because you’re in a different place, so don’t waste time being upset over them. “TIC,” you could say to your foreign friends when something made no sense or seemed “incorrect” compared to the Western way. I think I even wrote a blog post about it that first year – search my archives if you’d like to see it.
But in the last year, someone – maybe Peter, maybe someone else – pointed out that it wasn’t a very complimentary phrase. It was generally said to highlight a complaint, as if people here can’t do things right. Rather judgmental, and not a good way to connect with the culture, adapt to living here, etc. I can see that point. Side note: Kind of like the warning I was given before I came, to not think or say “we” and “they,” or you’ll never identify with or get close to the people who live here because you’re always generalizing them as different from “us.” In any case, I never used the “TIC” phrase much anyway, and I try not to use it now lest it offend anyone who feels it’s rude. I still think it’s good to remember that, hey, it’s a different culture here, yeah, you’re not in America any more, so stop expecting it to be the same, but perhaps it’s a bit like taking the L0rd’s name in vain – if you only say it when you’re annoyed, instead of celebrating the good things, it’s probably not a good thing to be saying at all.
Thus, the title of my post is instead “This is Life.” Another title could be, “The Saga of the Refrigerator.”
A few weekends ago, we discovered that if you leave the door of the fridge open, it starts going “ding, ding, ding.” What a neat feature! The thing has a digital display on the front with six buttons – everything in Chinese so of course we just have to guess, but still, what a high-tech machine. We generally figured the part of the display that said something like 3 was the fridge, and the part that said something like -18 was the freezer, and didn’t worry about what the middle number was (found out later it was something to do with the space between them, which is why it was generally around 0.) No worries, everything’s cool. Except that, a couple days later, the freezer display wasn’t a negative number. No bright “bing, bing” to let us know, just a number in the wrong part of the scale. Uh-oh. Work hours being what they are and the craziness of teaching being what it is, I didn’t get around to calling maintenance for a couple more days, once the standard push-all-the-buttons-and-see-if-you-can-fix-it method failed. I tried the unplug-it method too, but it didn’t seem to help, so I put the partly-thawed things in the fridge. Only, after re-plugging the machine, that stopped staying at a low number, too. Hoo, boy. Definitely time to call in maintenance! I made one last effort, looking for a manual in English online (nope, though I did find a Chinese one on an English-language website, thanks a lot, guys), and asking a friend from Hong Kong to look at the manual that came with it (nope, only general care and use, no trouble-shooting.) By this point I was finally putting things in a neighbor’s fridge.
That Thursday, workers from Samsung came to check it and said they needed to come back with a truck and take it to their shop. Great, but we aren’t generally home during business hours, and Tuesday and Thursday are the only mornings our ayi is home. We’d already given a spare key to another teacher’s wife who is a “stay-at-home mom” (I know, how many moms actually stay at home all day? But at least she had a better chance of being there!)
Come Saturday I’m out at school working and get to be part of a phone chain that runs repair shop -> school housing and maintenance department -> actual resident (me) -> neighbor and back again, setting up a time for them to come get the fridge. They got it. That week, we put leftovers of ayi’s cooking in the neighbors’ fridge and generally didn’t eat very well because who wants to bother the neighbors all the time – even very friendly ones – to get the salad dressing or a cup of yogurt? (I must say, Dale and Jenni were wonderful about it all!)
Saturday again and still no fridge, the same answer as when it first disappeared – “several days” – and our hero of an elementary principal offers to unplug the mini-fridge in the secondary building’s conference room and bring it over for us. Heaven! It’s one of those little cube-shaped jobs, just big enough for a few necessities (or, pretty much everything we’d managed to salvage from the old fridge that was still worth eating, and a couple things that weren’t).
Finally on Thursday I took the early bus home so I could meet the workers returning our fridge. “Don’t plug it in for three hours,” they said, killing my hope of asking them to show me how the buttons worked. They did assure me that I didn’t need to press any buttons when I plugged it in, and they spoke true. It cooled right off once it was plugged in, and I transferred things over before bed, wiping out the mini-fridge and leaving it to dry.
So, now we have a working full-sized fridge again (and a cube fridge in the corner, waiting to go back to its place). Friday after school I went grocery shopping, so we have frozen dumplings and corn, loaves of bread and fresh eggs and other nice things to put in it. Still some stocking up to (re-)do, but we’ll get back to full operational level soon in our kitchen!
And chalk another one up to the “Well, I survived that. What’s next?” stories.