*This post is again interspersed with random photos. If I posted about them all I’d never have time to work, but I want to share them! They are completely unrelated to the actual text of the post. We now return you to your irregularly scheduled blog post.*
Today’s is a tale of timing and four-letter words.
No, not those kinds of four-letter words.
To provide some necessary background, I buy my electricity in advance. My apartment has been issued with a card that one takes to the electricity office, pays to put money onto, and then inserts into the fuse box downstairs in the correct slot for my apartment, thus depositing the credit into my own power supply. My apartment in ZZ had this too; the office was just a block up the street, but I had to hurry home a couple of times to get to it before it locked up for the night. Bankers’ hours and no joke.
Two cooking failures: The strawberry cake was wonderful with yogurt on it but would have been just as good without the strawberries, which sank and made the bottom soggy; and the cooking-show-recipe stir-fry wasn’t worth all this prep work as it tasted pretty much like any generic stir-fry I cook in the way Celia taught me. Live and learn!
Our story begins as I was preparing breakfast this morning. I was enjoying the sound of a fading storm outside when there was a sound of thunder, and the electricity went off. “Rats.” (No, that’s not the four-letter word I mean, it comes later in the story.) I looked out the window and didn’t see any lights on in the neighboring apartment building, so I figured it was the storm and not my own problem. The oven was already hot but cooling quickly and but it didn’t really toast my English muffin slice. I didn’t want to open the fridge again to get out the natural PB so I had to make do with some generic skippy-type. Not so yummy, but no harm done.
As an aside, I would love to find out from a scientist or chef or anyone else who could explain to me WHY toasting turns rather blah things like English muffins into heavenly breakfasts? It’s partly the texture, I think – chewing this “raw” breakfast was half the battle, it just didn’t feel right – but some other change seems to take place as well. Anyone?
This man draws chalk images on the pavement to earn a little money. He was very friendly rather cheerful and I enjoyed talking with him and admiring his art, though he couldn’t tell me the Chinese word for “eagle.” I didn’t determine which country’s flag he was going to fill in under the bird, nor did I ask how he lost his left leg or what he did before, though I do wonder. At the end he even busted out a little English – “Thank you very much.” Isn’t it always such a blessing when someone speaks your language to you? I hope I run across him again.
Back to the story. I turned off all the lights I could remember leaving on (missed the kitchen, as it turned out!), literally thanked heaven I’d charged the computer when I first woke up that morning – 15 minutes before my alarm and those 15 minutes saved my morning – did a couple of digital chores, transmitting them to school by USB stick rather than internet since it’s too much trouble to go plug the laptop in to the cord when the wireless goes out, and then left for the day.
On my way to school, I learned that the other teachers in my complex had NOT lost their electricity. Hmm. A bit worrying. We are not the only people leaving this early, but we are among the first; could it be that my neighbors’ homes were dark simply because they weren’t awake yet? The idea that I was out of electricity, earlier so easily dismissed by their dark windows, began to claim a bit of ground. Still, what were the chances it would happen to run out of money right after a clap of thunder?
This afternoon I crammed myself and all my dongxi (stuff) onto the Chinese staff bus after my Chinese class ended in an attempt to get home before 5, check the power, and make it to the office before it closed if necessary. Indeed, at the foot of the stairs my power box held a glowing red “5.” That’s the warning – when you’re almost out, the power goes off, and you can stick your card in to start it again, using up those last few credits while you go get more. If I’d grabbed my card that morning I could have checked on the way out and gone directly from school, but I didn’t even think of it.
So now I dumped everything inside my door, picked up my card, and headed out. On the way, I put the card in the slot to activate those last 5 credits so my fridge could start cooling off again in the meantime. The 4-digit screen flashed some sort of 4-letter word at me. I shrugged, then went to catch a cab.
It was past 5 when I arrived, but as it turned out (a) they closed at 4:30 anyway, and (b) I’d forgotten that I’d already been told by the DeKonicks that there’s an ATM there that you can simply insert the card into. Duh, I didn’t need to take that early bus after all.
There was a woman using the machine ahead of me, and she was there a long time. It seemed the machine wasn’t working correctly. It kept spitting her card back out. She finally gave up and I tried. Same problem. Oh, dear. We tried asking a nearby guard, but it wasn’t his domain – he didn’t even know which slot to put the card into. Then another customer drove up. The woman and I exchanged glances but decided to let him try; who knows? Who knows, indeed. We stood there watching him feed hundred after hundred into the machine. It was working! My companion in distress quickly asked him why this switch, and he tried her card for her – again, it was spit out. Mine also was refused. But he inspected the screen, inserting my card several times in order to get a complete look at a message that would flash when it refused the card. Apparently I needed to insert my card into my home box once, then return and use the machine. (My companion’s problem, on the other hand, was that she had brought the wrong card.) Turns out I was there at the right time after all – I’d never have figured that out on my own!
Still. Go home, come back, and then go home again? Now might seem a good time for four-letter words, but you’ve probably figured out by now which four-letter words I’m talking about. That’s right. When I found another cab and had him drive me the 1 1/2-circle round trip, the fuse box flashed “9OOd” at me when I inserted my card, and then the ATM was willing to take my card. I now have power (obviously!) after inserting the newly-charged card to deposit my 400 yuan worth of electricity into my apartment’s account. It said “9OOd” again when it charged, so I’m safe. I do wonder what that other four-letter word was that I disregarded earlier, but I’m too paranoid now to put my card in to check. I’ll just make sure I put a couple hundred on it before I leave for the summer, so I won’t be caught unprepared next time!
(That used to be my strategy, by the way. It’s just that last time 600 was put on it, which seemed like a ridiculous amount, so I didn’t think it would be running out yet. I guess 200/month isn’t too bad an average, though.)