Berry Picking, Perms and Esprit Shoulder Bags

It’s tough to be in your tweens (although that wasn’t a word when I was that age)/early teens, when your list of “wants” far exceeds whatever small allowance you receive. I remember being about twelve and decided that I *must* have a perm for my super long hair before the new school year started, but there was no way I could afford the $80 to get it done at a mall salon, which is what I wanted more than anything. Cutting a deal with my mom, she offered to pay half, but that still left me with a $40 bill, which was unheard of in my twelve-year old budget.  Plus, I was still dying to join the ranks of the cool kids with their Esprit shoulder bags, not to mention wanting a Trapper Keeper to organize all of my classes, now that I had different subjects to keep track of.  With my shopping list quickly growing, I realized that doing a few extra chores around the house was not going to cut it when it came to my funding needs, so I decided to branch out.  Berry picking sounded like a great way to make some summer money and hang out with friends, especially since the berry patch was owned by my best friend’s mom. Candace and her brother had been picking berries for their mom for some time, but as summer rolled around, they offered to let me in on the gig, which meant I could finally get some cold hard cash flowing into my pink, Velcro-closing wallet.

Little did I know at the time, berry picking began when the sun came up, meaning that I had inadvertently agreed to getting up before the chickens throughout my summer break! Since the berry patch was about a fifteen minute walk from my house and we needed to be there at sunrise, I rolled out of bed, threw on some shoes and headed down the hill, water bottle in hand, when I would much rather have been curled up under a blanket, snoozing away for a few more hours. (Going down the hill in the mornings was fine, but trudging back up it late morning, when the sun was out in full force was not nearly as idyllic.)

The other young berry pickers and I were paid by the flat, rather than an hourly rate, a great way to discourage the ever-present threat of a berry fight. (Hey, you put a bunch of 12-15 years olds in a patch of staining blackberries at the crack of dawn and it is bound to happen at some point.) We were paid at the end of each shift, which was definitely encouragement to show up again the next day, as the immediate thickening of my wallet reminded me that I was inching closer to those start-of-the-school-year goals. (Eventually, I did get the much coveted perm and an off-brand Trapper Keeper, but sadly, I was never able to strut the halls of Jefferson Junior High with an Esprit bag slung jauntily over my shoulder. Even after a summer of berry picking, it was not in my budget. Harsh choices were made. Perm, in. Esprit bag, out.)

I hadn’t thought about my berry picking summers in a long time, until recently it came to my attention that the countryside surrounding Chengdu is filled with strawberry farms, which come into season starting in late February. After getting these tidbits of information from several different sources, I decided that it was time to dust off the berry-picking skills and organize a CLO outing to one of these farms.

But, like most CLO outings, our trip became a bit more of an adventure than I had anticipated. We loaded onto a huge bus in the early afternoon, for what was supposed to be about an hour ride outside of town. At about the hour mark, we reached a small village that had several signs up, advertising strawberry fields. Feeling confident that this would not be another endless trip like when we went to the Bamboo Sea in the fall, I announced to the bus we were almost there, just as the driver pulled off to get directions to our final destination. (This is common here- for drivers to have a general idea of the location, but then stop to ask directions multiple times as the destination approaches.)

Hubris- always a downfall!

When we made a U-turn and head back the way we came, I thought we were just retracing a bit of our route to go down a road more suited to our large vehicle (the original one was dirt, muddy and full of huge holes). Boy was I wrong! Apparently, it was decided (without consulting the trip planner- myself!) that we could not get to the original farm with our full-sized bus and we would go do a different field. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but the newly decided upon field was on the other side of Chengdu, a hour away!  After a series of back and forths, there was nothing to be done but to continue on to the newly appointed patch.

Finally, *hours* after our departure, we disembarked the bus at a strawberry farm filled with row after row of greenhouses. With cameras flashing, as the huge group of foreigners arrived, we were led to several greenhouses on the far side of the fields, where we were greeted with row upon row of fresh, ripe, wonderfully sweet smelling strawberries. I filled a basket about halfway, really just for something to do, as I hadn’t intended to buy any at all, but watched as families with several kids ended up with multiple overflowing baskets of delicious fruit. The kids may not have loved the long bus ride, but once they hit the ground, the boredom of the commute was long-forgotten, lost amongst the sticky red fingers and high-pitched giggles.

While this round of berry picking didn’t yield a perm (thank goodness!) or a fancy Trapper Keeper and I do still slightly covet that Esprit shoulder bag, it did give me a week’s worth of strawberry mini-muffins and another great CLO outing bus escapade to add to the ever-growing stack of misadventures in the Middle Kingdom.

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