Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, 1 Month 3rd September 2014

When a child is born and people meet new parents, the question is often asked “how old?” The response varies from days, then weeks and then around 12 weeks the answer turns into x months and then years and then years and exact months if the child is asked. Well we aren’t counting the days anymore, weeks are varied and difficult to define when you aren’t working, but this week is different as we are entering our 1 month anniversary in China. Does it feel like an extended holiday? No. Martin is working really long hours but REALLY loving it, Eleanor is enjoying her school and her Mandarin is improving – she can count up to 99 and I can count up to 999,999 (if I wanted to!). Eleanor is also taking Chinese Dancing at school as an extra curricular activity, and I am shopping everyday for food.

Have we done much sight seeing? No. Not since the first week that we arrived. If we aren’t careful these next years will be taken up with indecision and we won’t see anything. My days are taken up trying to work out what I can cook on 2 burners and then trying to work out what supermarket I will go to. Today I am going to Sam’s Club now I know that this stems from Walmart and they are found in America. It is by Golden Lough, a compound that is way out of our housing budget! But Lough is pronounced by everyone who lives there as “luff”. Sam’s Club is just one of the supermarkets frequented by expats so I can expect to pay over the odds for anything I buy. For instance as a TREAT (Martin and Eleanor know that this is a treat) I bought pork sausages at Summit for 5GBP. Have I ever paid that for 5 sausages – no. Believe me if I bought that every day, the food allowance wouldn’t last very long.

I also ventured downtown yesterday after Chinese class. I went primarily to see Victor Lim, an ex Dulwich College London student and former finalist of young musician of the year for a lunchtime piano recital. He was fantastic and at the age of 20, it makes you think about the talent out there – and how young he was when he started playing. He is playing at Dulwich College Suzhou tonight, but Martin has duty until 8.30pm so we aren’t going.

Going downtown also meant a trip to Marks & Spencer (sadly now closed down as M&S pulled out of China). I only walked out with some mini shortbread fingers and orange squash. It is apparently the only place that does squash I am told. It also has a wide selection of wines, but the German couple at the checkout where aghast at how much a bottle was costing… maybe that was why M&S pulled out – I wasn’t buying much! 

However, getting to M&S proved to be a feat in itself. I took a taxi from the craft store to what I thought would be Marks, but the taxi let me out at some traffic lights with only Prada and Gucci in my eye-line. M&S nowhere in sight. That is when I regretted not downloading the address in English (the taxi card was only in Chinese), and google maps couldn’t quite decide where I was. Oh well best foot forward. I was greeted with hello on numerous occasions, someone tried, very persistently to sell me a watch, but after 30 minutes walking I finally reached my destination. I was slightly disappointed by the size of the food hall on the 3rd floor (2nd floor to the British), but I got what I came for. I eyed up the clothing but left without buying. It made me think about the M&S in Yeovil which I frequented a lot during my working life.

The language barrier is greatest when in a taxi. Effectively a car being driven by a person who speaks no English and who we rely on to read a card in Chinese and take us there. I am putting my faith in the fact that these taxi cards are correct and that the taxi driver will take me to where I want to go. Sadly not everywhere is covered by a taxi card, and so the internet is our friend, and several apps.

I found M&S not only buy wandering aimlessly but asking where the metro station is – but no my Chinese is not that good – but my hand signals are! Motioning in a train moving along the tracks underground. It worked – so I have no complaints – but I have also started hand signalling to people who speak English – it has become that much of a habit.