The Case of the Missing HHE

It may have taken a few months to get the paperwork sorted out, but just a week ago today I was thrilled to announce that I was “Rolling in the Renminbi.” That windfall (okay, windfall may be a bit of an exaggeration, but at least I have employment and a steady source of income) was a high point of the week, leading to a lovely Sunday outing to ChunXi Lu where I treated Thad to the long-promised Pizza Hut meal.

(Pizza Hut may seem like an odd choice for celebrating a new job, and while Pizza Huts in China are fancier than those in America, with waitresses in long white aprons and fancy decorations adorning the restaurant, that is not why we chose to eat pan pizzas for our personal-sized party. Rather, when we were here with Peace Corps, Pizza Hut was the destination for pizza whenever we happened to be called in to Chengdu for a meeting. It was pricey on a Peace Corps budget, so we would plan carefully, weighing the triple threat of quantity we wanted to consume vs. the quantity our stomachs could handle after being without dairy and grease for so long vs. the amount of cash we were going to drop on a single meal.  Now, here on Thad’s Foreign Service salary and my CLO income, we could eat Pizza Hut every day if we wanted. [Ugh! We don’t want.]  So, falling back in to the DINK category, it was off to Pizza Hut where I promised to buy Thad anything he wanted off the menu- although when he went with the popcorn chicken stuffed crust pizza, I did have to question his taste. )

With the successful deposit of my hard-earned  money into our account I thought we’d have smooth sailing for the foreseeable future.

I should have known better.

Monday morning I was greeted with a long-anticipated email from our consulate customs staff member saying our HHE (Foreign Service speak for “everything that was in my Idaho house which has been in storage for the last sixteen months) had arrived in Chengdu and was ready to be delivered to our apartment.


For weeks now I’ve been mentally pacing my office, hoping to hear that our stuff is in town. I’m excited for the wall hangings from Idaho to help disguise my cement walls. I’m itching to read the piles of books that I know are in plastic Rubbermaid tubs, just waiting to line up neatly on the shelves of my apartment.  I’m uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the pots and pans and plates and pitchers awaiting homes in my Chinese kitchen. And I’m dying to get my hands on my school supplies to make my office at work not only more colorful, but also more organized and efficient.

With a twinkle of excitement in my eye, I dropped by the cubicle of the staff member in charge of shipment deliveries this afternoon. My excuse for popping in was that I wanted to verify the time of tomorrow’s delivery, but in reality, I just wanted to look at the white board that says “Ross” and “October 14” that hangs in his office, announcing to the world that I will soon have a complete household.

This was a poor choice.

Rather than walking away with the same twinkle in my eye, I walked out of his cubicle holding back a tear. There will be no massive HHE shipment tomorrow. There will be one box.

That’s right. One, single, lonely box.

After a bit of mild panic at Thad’s desk, an almost meltdown in my bosses office (which took every ounce of my power to contain, but as nothing less than a professional, I did my best to hide the tears of frustration with a smile and a whole lot of note-taking) and a few deep breaths behind the closed door of my office,  it was time to get to the bottom of the mystery of my missing HHE. (I really could have used the detective help of Scooby-Doo today. If only that goofy dog and his slightly-stoned partner in mystery-solving were here to follow a green slimy monster through a deserted amusement park, eventually unmasking him as the horrible customs official who was hiding my goods.)

A bit of digging revealed a much more bureaucratic bad-guy: paperwork.

It seems that when Thad scheduled our whole pack-out from the mo-partment, he told them that we also had a lot of items in storage that would need to be shipped to Chengdu at the same time. The operator that he spoke with said that wouldn’t be a problem, so we left it at that. Somewhere between that discussion and the forms though, this extra piece of information was lost in the shuffle and the operator never added the note about our other boxes that were resting in storage.

None of this came to light until today, when I saw the packing slip that was written out for a single box.

After sixteen week in Chengdu, we will now wait another eight (or more…it is hard to be optimistic at this point) weeks to be able to finally settle in and completely make our apartment home.

Tomorrow I will get my giant box of goodies, most of them items I collected on my shopping spree to Costco in the weeks leading up to our departure, and for this I am grateful, as I may need those bulk-sized boxes of chocolate pudding cups and the case of brownie mixes to get me through the frustration of not getting family photos and holiday decorations for another two months.

Here’s to countless more weeks of white walls, pineapple shaped lamps and a set of dishes that rivals those we had when we were first married…

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