Searching New Sidewalks

Between the ever-so-trying trip home from Idaho last week (click here if you missed that saga), Friday’s government-sponsored packout and the subsequent organizing and reorganizing of suitcases to go with us to China, the only time I have to blog is at 30,000 feet above the surface of the Earth.  So, with a five hour flight in front of me (okay, four and a half at this point, since I was just cleared to use my electronic devices), I figured now is as good of a time as ever to get an entry logged and star-dated.

I finally made it home, not on Wednesday as planned, but at 2AM on Thursday morning. After falling into the giant king-sized bed, I slept for a few hours, but once Thad’s alarm when off, I was wide awake, not because I was feeling overly refreshed and rejuvenated, but rather because my uptight, must-be-organized genes were kicking in and I knew I had only a day to get the whole mo-partment ready for the movers.

Thursday was spent taking everything out of every closet, drawer, nook and cranny in good ol’ #905 and placing it in one of four piles:

*Suitcase-These are things going with us on the plane to China, including most of our electronics, clothing for both work and weekends for an indeterminate number of weeks, a variety of shoes to go with those clothes, as well as toiletries and nail polish to get me though until the other forms of baggage transportation come through. (I’m currently sitting at a mere five bottles of nail polish to see me through that period. I will be creatively mixing and matching those colors until my box of sixty-some shades arrives in Chengdu. Don’t ask about the shoe situation. It isn’t pretty.)

*UAB- Unaccompanied baggage is a shipment of limited weight that is goes by air, but not with us. It is supposed to arrive a few weeks behind the owners, but I’ve heard in China that “few weeks” can easily stretch to a couple of months. All of our winter clothes are in this shipment, as well as comfy house stuff, like throw blankets and pillows. Thad’s PS3 and video game collection is also in this load, although I am not sure it will do him much good until the TV arrives.

*HHE- The household shipment is truly the slow-boat-to-China load. It will literally get placed on a container ship, where it will trek across the Pacific Ocean, arriving in the Middle Kingdom at some unknown future date. It could be a few weeks after the arrival of UAB , or a few more months. Who knows! This shipment has all of the goodies I bought at Costco about six weeks ago (again, click here if you missed that adventure!), as well as my Christmas tree, a sizable stack of books, and all of the boxes from our house in Idaho that we packed up a year ago. (At this point, I have no idea what randomness lurks in those!)

*Storage- The final pile from Friday morning belonged to storage. These are things that we didn’t  want to take with us to China, but rather wanted put in permanent storage until we are living back in the US. The tricky part of this pile was that the moving company required a minimum of 200 pounds to put a load into storage, but we were well below that level. (This may be the first and only time in my life that I want to see the number on the scale go up!) We had a couple of boxes that were meant to go to permanent storage when we packed out in Idaho, but somehow mistakenly ended up in Arlington with us. (These boxes include such necessary items as the feather pen used by guests to sign-in at our wedding reception, my 7th grade mosaic of a pig made from kidney beans and split peas, and my ginormous graduate program portfolio.) On top of that, we wanted to put our TV in that stack, as we already have one headed to China from the Idaho house. When the packing company representative came to the apartment a few weeks ago to do the pre-pack survey, he estimated that we were about fifty pounds short of being able to do a permanent storage pile, so we either had to up the weight or haul that stuff halfway around the world with us. With no desire to take my bean-art to China, we searched high and low for random junk to add to that pile, but came up empty handed. It was at this point that I remembered that in the activity room of our Oakwood, there is a bookshelf for taking or leaving books at will. The bottom two shelves have been filled with the same pile of books for a year now- tomes of diplomatic history, Norton anthologies of literature and a few technology textbooks that appear to be at least a decade out of date. Sticking with the fashion rule “if you haven’t worn it in the last year, it is time to get rid of it,” I figured if no one had taken them in the last year, no one is ever going to want them, they would be perfect for my pound-needs. It took me two stealthy trips down there to collect the needed weight, but I was able to get within a few pounds of the requirement, which is good enough for government work!

With all of our earthly possessions boxed and hauled off (an entire day of sorting and piling turned in to a mere two hours of work for the movers), we were left with the mo-partment looking eerily like it had exactly one year before when we moved in. After a few evenings of farewells with friends in the area, time has finally arrived to embark upon the trek to Chengdu. We’ll touch down in LA (with cardigan in tow, just like Miley, although I’m not sure I can get Thad to throw his hands in the air if they are playing his song) in just a couple of hours, spend a day and a half in the Sunshine state and then head out for Chengdu on Thursday.

The section of sidewalk I’ve spent the last year exploring was a great one. I saw more of our nation’s capital than I ever thought I would (parts of it more than I ever wanted to!) and was able both spend time with old friends and make some great new ones. With that said, I also feel like I’ve worn that chunk of sidewalk to its core and it is time to take this exploration on the road. I’m excited to search a new section of sidewalk, looking not necessarily for where it ends, but for where it will lead.

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Preparing to Level-Up in Errands

Errands. We sure seem to have a lot of them lately. Perchance it has to do with that little move to the other side of the globe that is just a month away now. Possibly. Maybe. Conceivably.  Regardless, there has been a lot of little things that need taken care of over the last few weeks- phone calls, emails, runs to this store and that shop, dropping off paperwork here and picking up passports there. Lots and lots of stuff to do.

The dress I ordered to take to Chengdu (see the whole story in “From Coloring Books to Formals”) finally arrived. The shop both called and sent an email last week, so I was feeling the pressure to go out and pick it up. Since I am currently (again) in the midst of a vacuum when it comes to a daily routine, it was no problem to find the time to go to Rockville. It was mostly a matter of finding the effort required to put my book away, close the book review that was in progress and put on clothes worthy of the public and make the hour (each way) trek to the boutique. It was while on this errand last week, mid-grumble to myself, when I realized that in the course of a year, my errand running has gotten (and will get) progressively more difficult.  (If I had been a better math student, I would create a lovely line graph with the X axis being difficulty level and the Y axis showing time and the points indicating where they intersect with a pretty pink line connecting them in a steep upward trajectory. But alas, math and science weren’t my strong points, so instead, a narrative it is!)

I should be grateful for the relative ease of going to pick up this dress. (Heck, picking it out too!)

A year ago, when we were still living in the lovely house in south Nampa (the one that is still for sale at a rock-bottom price if anyone is interested!), if I needed to run some errands, it was as easy as getting an 8th grader to giggle at a fart joke. Say we needed light bulbs. (It always seems like we needed light bulbs and we always put it off until we needed a whole stack of them.) In Idaho, I would just grab my keys (in the figurative sense of getting stuff ready to go, as I always left the keys in the ignition in the car in the garage. Oh, how I loved having a garage!) hop in my cute little Celica and head to the store. Which store? The choices were endless, from the Walgreens and Albertson’s just down to the road, to the Shopko (always a good place to find things- like husbands!) or Target just up the road the other direction. I could get the light bulbs, pick up a few other random goodies and be home before Mabel, the resident basset hound, even awoke from her nap. Light bulbs in a flash.

Now, in Arlington, if I need light bulbs, it takes a bit more planning, but not excessively so. I can always run down to the labyrinth below the mo-partment, in hopes that Rite-Aid has some, but that is always a bit of a gamble. Rite-Aid has an odd and unreliable selection of household items. The more likely scenario holds that I will check the Metro website, pulling up the Adobe document with the schedule for the near-by 9A bus. Once determining the time of the next arrival, I’ll grab my bag and skitter down to wait at the stop that is in front of a creepy, abandoned post office. All the while, I will be crossing my fingers, hopng that the bus actually stops for me. (To be fair, if I am running this errand on my own, which is usually the case, the bus is going to stop. Three times in our year here I have had the bus blow by me at that stop. All three times I have had Thad with me. Something about him just must look sketchy to the drivers!) On the bus, I’ll scan my card and find a spot to enjoy the couple miles ride to the shopping center that is home to our local Target. At Target, I will get my light bulbs and anything else that strikes my fancy, being sure, of course, that whatever I purchase is easily cartable, as it is going home with me again on the bus.  Now, this is where it gets tricky and/or frustrating. Going to Target, I can check the schedule and arrive at the stop just prior to the bus, but coming home, I am at the mercy of the bus. More times that I care to count, as I walk out those automatic doors of Target, I have glimpsed the taillights and smog spewing back end of the bus I wanted to be on. That means, it will be twenty to thirty minutes until the next one. There is no good people watching available from the Target bus stop, but I do get to enjoy a symphony of horns, honking for reasons unknown. All this, for want of a light bulb.

It was while on the Metro train on my way to Rockville to pick up the dress last week though that I realized I should be quite content with my current errand running system, for in just a few weeks, that difficulty is going to step it up a few notches. It is like playing a video game. (This is possibly the worst simile I could come up with, as I never play video games, but I’ve watched a lot, so I think I have a bit of wiggle room here.) Once you reach a certain point in the game, you level up, making each task harder and more complicated to accomplish. Well, soon, we are leveling-up.

I can’t speak for Chengdu, as we’ve only spent limited time there during Peace Corps trainings, but in Chengxian, buying a light bulb or two could become an all-morning process. The first matter was to figure out what exactly we needed. Things never seemed to work in quite the same way as they did the US, so it didn’t take us long to learn to take whatever it was we wanted replaced with us to the store. With light bulb in hand, the next step was to identify the area of town in which the desired item could be found. In Chengxian, there was the clothing shop section of town, the plumbing supply section of town, the live fish/eels/turtles section of town, etc. Once arriving in the electricity-related section of town, it was just a matter of finding a store with the same light bulb, negotiating a price and hoping that the bulb worked when we got it home.

I am sure Chengdu will not be quite as complicated as Chengxian, as there are mega-stores that probably have all these odds and ends items in a single location, but even getting there will be more work than it is here.  Language will always be a bit of a barrier, as will the blonde hair and blue eyes. (Not because it makes me ditzy, but because it stands out and it different from the norm, making me a great topic of conversation that must be concluded before purchasing can occur.)

So, as the difficulty of daily errands is getting close to leveling-up (I can almost see the colored bar hovering over my head as I complete each task here in DC), I am reminding myself to be thrilled with the ease of each chore accomplished, since that simplicity is to be short-lived.

With that in mind, I’m off to buy mosquito repellant and milk. What an odd, and hideous, combination!


Wii-ning Advice

Much like the poultry population of southern China, our Oakwood population is experiencing its own culling process. Friends that we’ve made through Thad’s A-100 training class and language training are beginning to pack-out and leave for their respective assignments.  On one hand, this is great because the commencement of their tours means ours isn’t far behind, but on the other hand, it is a bit odd to not have the same people on the shuttle each morning and evening and to not have the same people chatting around the table at lunch each afternoon.

This week was the last week at FSI for two such people.  Ian and David both just dominated their end of course language tests and are now headed west to visit family before heading far, far east where Ian will begin his assignment in the Guangzhou consulate. Thad and Ian started Chinese classes together last July and have spent a large portion of each day together since then. David and I joined the party a bit later, but have also had our share of time on the fake-coyote ridden campus of FSI.

A bit of an impromptu going-away party convened last night to celebrate their impending departure and to wish them well in their new adventures. While I usually am not up for anything big on a Friday night, riding up the elevator five floors for a get-together is definitely doable! The evening’s docket included pizza, soda, chips and a bit of Wii.

This being my third Wii-experience (Wii-sperience?) in as many months, I have a few tidbits for my fellow players who also lack technological aptitude:

  1. Apparently, calling yourself a “video game player” is not appropriate lingo for those who are serious about their games. If you refer to yourself this way, it is equivalent to donning a sandwich board sign advertising your lack of video game skillz. (Spelling and pronouncing skills with a “z” may lead to a similar assumption, but I’m sticking with it!)
  2. Just because you are a decent driver in real life (no pullovers or tickets for this motor vehicle operator) does not mean those abilities will in any way translate to video game driving abilities. After coming in 11th and 12th consecutively, David jumped in to be my back seat driver.  In addition to giving me hints about upcoming turns and obstacles, his squeals when I careened into various gorges and ravines kept me on my feet. With him riding shotgun, I soon propelled my standing from the bottom of the pack to 2nd place!
  3. Don’t listen to your competitors-ever. Their advice should not be heeded. Towards the end of an intense Mario Party clashing, as I was about to purchase my third star, thereby putting me in the lead, I was debating whether or not it was in my best interest to allow Donkey Kong to shoot me out of his cannon (really, who wouldn’t want a ride in a cannon?!?), I hear something say “Yes!”  Thinking this advice was coming from someone in-the-know, I chose to take the cannon ride, which catapulted me not to the star as I thought it would, but rather to the Never-Neverland of Mario’s prehistoric jungle. There would be no star in my future, at least in that round.

As a thrice-experienced “gamer”(this, I am told, is the correct way to label yourself if you have wasted away hours of time on your sofa, moving your pixilated men and creatures in hopes of achieving virtual success), I feel that my past mistakes can be learning opportunities for those who follow in my technological footsteps.  While these tips may not allow you to be the ultimate winner of Mario Party (which I was last night, by the way!) but they will give you a leg-up on your fellow uninitiated video game players.

The coming months will see many more goodbyes, but mostly great ones, as it means everyone is finally heading out to their multitude of awesome posts, as well as the possibility of a few more virtual game nights. I doubt I will ever be good at goodbyes, but I will continue in my quest to achieve the gaming skills of a six year old!

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