They’re Miiiiichelle’s Faaaavorite Thiiings! (If you read it in Oprah’s voice, you might think a brand new car or luxury vacation is coming your way. They aren’t, but relish in the possibilities, for just a moment.)
As I was flying solo in China last week, Thad half packed a large suitcase and was off to Washington DC for shopping…uhh, eating…I mean training. Yes, training. That is what he was doing. And a lot of it he did do. He spent a week at FSI getting additional instruction on a new portfolio he will soon be taking over, but between classes at the Institute, he made trips to the mall, to Target, to Mens’ Warehouse, back to the mall and back to Target.
Between hamburgers and non-dodgy seafood and a few pitas, he had a chance to pick up a few things for us (by us, I really mean “me”) back in China. You see, we are on the homestretch towards the Marine Ball here in Chengdu. It will be held the first weekend in December, which means we have less than three weeks until the big event. Squeezed amongst the holiday preparation (Christmas bazaar this weekend, Thanksgiving next week, Christmas parties for the community and local staff…) has been Marine Ball preparation. We don’t have too many reasons to dress up in Chengdu, so when we see the chance coming, we jump on board and ride it out as long as we can.
You may remember I went shopping for a gown last spring while I was still Stateside. That was a good choice. Although there are wedding dress shops filled with frills and froof on every other street corner, the petite size of most Chinese women rules out me ever fitting in even their largest sizes. Plus, as much as I love some sparkle and shine, most of the dressier dresses here just take it a step or two too far. Coco Chanel, in giving fashion advice to women, once said, “Before you walk out the door every day, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Ms. Chanel would have a heart attack in China. She’d take one look at these dresses and suggest the designers take *all but one* thing off. Some of them are bedazzled on top of pleated on top of being adorned in large flowers (that often look like cabbages to me) and bows, finished off with a bit of lace or extra beading. Too much is an understatement.
But, although I’ve got a gorgeous wine-colored dress hanging in the closet of our spare bedroom, I didn’t plan ahead to accessories. (I thought ahead to it and then figured I’d make that Future-Michelle’s problem. Well, the future is now here and Present-Michelle has had to scramble to take care of it. Sometimes Present-Michelle has a real dislike for Past-Michelle, who procrastinates everything to Future-Michelle.)
Never one to shirk my shopping duties, two weekends ago I headed to the market with a couple of ladies from the consulate to do a little jewelry/shawl shopping. Knowing that it is going to be rather chilly by December and with all of us wearing dresses designed for warmer climates, we were in search of some nice shawls to help ward off the inevitable frostbite that comes with sandals in the winter. Success was achieved in the shawl department and one of the other gals found the jewelry she was looking for, but after hunting through stall after stall of sparkly things, I couldn’t find anything in a pretty gold. (My shoes are sparkly gold, so that’s the metallic direction my other baubles need to go.)
With no luck at the market, in the following days we headed to two different malls in search of sparkles to hang from my neck and ears. Nothing. Everything in this town is silver, which is ironic for a country that prizes the color of gold so highly. In frustration, I went online to search of something, knowing it was too late to have it shipped, but hoping I could find something at a site with a brick and mortar store near where Thad was staying. I probably scrolled through thirty pages of jewelry before I found the perfect necklace/earring set. It was gold and rhinestones (no need for real diamonds for this girl!), and the perfect statement pieces to go with my simply shaped dress. Excitedly, I sent that pictures and asked him to make a run to the mall to see if they had them in stock. (I figured he wouldn’t mind an excuse for some food court Taco Bell while home in the States.)
The next morning, when I checked my email as I sat on the floor of my living room, eating Cheerios, I was bummed to see that he had gone, searched the whole store and came up empty-handed. The real-life store didn’t have the same selection that the online-one did.
Alas, Chengdu is a hardship post.
I was beginning to think I was going to go to the Marine Ball bare of baubles.
But, on Sunday, when Thad got home from the US, he unloaded his now full large suitcase which was overflowing with goodies from home. After trying on my two new brightly colored scarves and matching gloves, my warm wool-lined slippers with pink puff balls on top, and munching on a tasty Hostess Cupcake, I was presented with the coup d’état- Marine Ball jewelry.
After failing to find the pieces I was looking for, Thad went back to the mall a second night (and for a second round of Taco Bell) and renewed the search for jewelry. All he knew was I wanted gold and sparkly. I don’t know how many trips around the building it took him, but he came home with the perfect necklace! It is gold, with rhinestones in the shape of flowers. Undecided about which dangly earrings would best compliment the necklace, he bought two pairs- one with large teardrop jewels at the bottom and the other with gold, diamond-shaped cut-outs linked by gold chain. Gorgeous!
As we continue to move closer and closer to the big day, my Marine Ball outfit is coming together nicely. I’ve got the dress (which I need to take to the cleaners to be pressed this next week), the shoes and the jewelry. Next up: finding a hairdresser and hosting a mani/pedi party for the ladies of the consulate. While a single night of fun may not seem worth this much effort, when the days are as gray and polluted as they’ve been lately (today we’ve been running “very unhealthy” on the air monitor, inching its way toward the “hazardous” zone), having something bright to look forward to and chat about is as good for morale as the vitamin D sunlamp that sits in my office.
17 days and counting…