I’m a sucker for a patio. (That sentence initially used “deck” in place of “patio,” but I was worried a quick skim could lead the reader to a very wrong conclusion, so thought a less potentially awkward synonym would be a more appropriate introduction, although I did used to preach “hooking your reader” to my 8th graders when we wrote essays. “I’m a sucker for a deck,” read quickly and slightly incorrectly would definitely qualify as a hook!) If we are planning dinner out in the summertime and I’m asked for my restaurant input, my only requirement is a deck. I could really care less what type of restaurant, as I’ll just be ordering the chicken strips anyway, but if it has a nice, sunny, outdoor area, I’m in! Overall, there are few little pleasures in life I enjoy more than sitting outside on a warm summer evening with something to drink and a book.
Much to Thad’s chagrin, about two months ago (basically the week we got back from the States), I decided I needed patio furniture for our balcony. We’ve got this great little area that looks out over the river and on the rare sunny days, gets a good dose of sunshine. Since we live on the 24th floor of our building, we are high enough to get a great view of the city and away from the crowds that gather on the streets. (Although, there is something to be said for Chinese streets at night in the summer. The people here are much more communal than in the US. Evenings see small plazas filled with older ladies doing the Chinese version of Zumba, kids taking roller skating lessons and grandpas hauling babies around on their backs. The entire community goes out each evening, after dinner, for a few hours of fresh air and visiting.)
I thought I had two deck chairs coming with our HHE, but, along with a few other items I would have sworn were packed to come to China, they did not arrive. That meant furniture shopping in Chengdu, which may or may not sound like a great way to spend multiple weekends if you are Thad. We made an initial outing to IKEA, only to find that January might be a bit early for outdoor furniture shopping. But, all was not lost. Any trip to IKEA is entertainment, in and of itself. We got to witness the usual array of photo shoots going on throughout the various display areas, were a little annoyed at the fact that we couldn’t actually try out any of the chairs that were available, as they all had people lounging in them (not testing/buying, just hanging out) and purchased some meatballs for dinner. (Horse meat or no, they make a great addition to spaghetti or mashed potatoes!)
With no luck at IKEA, my next stop was B&Q. (For those of you unfamiliar, B&Q is a European Home Depot-type store. I was initiated into the world of B&Q a few weeks ago when I went there with one of our locally employed staff members to look at tile. At the consulate, we are in the middle of creating a lactation room for our new mothers and since we have limited space, we are going to turn a storage area into a really nice, private space for these women. The young man who accompanied me to the store asked me why exactly we were looking at tile, to which I replied it was for a lactation room, secretly praying to myself that we would end the conversation there. But no. He then asked, “But why?” I went on to explain that we’ve got several expectant moms in the community and they will need a place to get away at times during the day. “But why?” Our conversation then moved towards the idea that many American women come back to work just a few weeks or months after giving birth, but prefer to have their babies drinking real milk, rather than formula. “But why a room?” So, I rather awkwardly got to explain that the women needed a private space to pump. As the word “pump” came out of my mouth, I went back to my silent prayers, hoping I would not have to explain that process to this poor man. But, somehow, my lack of churchgoing prayers were answered because at this point, he looked at me and said, “I think you can do this. Is it okay if I go outside and smoke? Text me when you are ready.” NO PROBLEM! )
So, B&Q. While tile searching, I noticed they had a small outdoor area, but didn’t have time to check it out. When weekend rolled around again, Thad was lucky enough to get to go with me to see what they had for our balcony. Upon initial inspection, they seemed to have a good selection of chairs, and surprisingly, there were no locals lounging in them, just for the heck of it. After sitting in all of the different options, I narrowed it down to the chair/table set I wanted, so Thad called over the closest employee to ask him to get us two chairs and one table. He gave us a slightly odd look and said everything they had was on the floor. That means, they had exactly ONE of every chair. I’m not looking for anything fancy, but I would like the two chairs to at least match! After several minutes of discussion, I am still unsure if the furniture on the floor is the leftover stock from last year and they are waiting on this season’s to arrive or it they just have a super limited supply. Either way, I’d like two matching chairs, so back home we headed.
Frustrated with the local options, I opted to check out Amazon.com and see if they could help me out. (I’ve decided diplomatic families ought to get a discount at Amazon, considering how much we all buy there on a very regular basis. Each Tuesday and Friday when I visit the mailroom at the consulate, there is always a stack of Amazon boxes, easily identified by the orange swoopy arrow along the edge of each package. There is serious kuai spent there each week!) I found several possible options (although at prices higher than I would have liked, but I was annoyed and ready to have my chairs), but after adding them to my cart, before hitting the “purchase” button, I decided to quickly review the shipping limitation of our pouch mail system. Sure enough, the chairs, even un-assembled, would be too big to ship. Mail order options were out.
Now that a month had passed, I thought maybe it was time to give IKEA another try. Since a good friend was headed to that side of town with his car on Friday night and knew I was currently a bit obsessed with patio furniture, he invited us along. I jumped at the chance to go shopping again, with the bonus of having an easy way to get my possible purchases home. On a Friday night, there were fewer photo shoots happening (although not none), and only a couple of families taking up space in the chair section, so we were able to actually sit in the various available option. After moving from chair to chair, picturing myself on the balcony with drink in hand, I settled on high backed wood and mesh chairs, accompanied by a latticework table. Perfect!
The calendar page has been changed to March and my chairs/table are sitting on the balcony, just waiting for the perfect outdoor afternoon to arrive. Spring, I’m ready for you! Come early, stay late! I’m looking forward to a lingering spring season of occasional sunshine but consistent warmth. Ready, set, GO!