While Jim, Mary Lynn, Eric, Yan, and Anna were away to Shanghai, Rafal and I had to fend for ourselves.
About three weeks ago, Rafal needed a power supply and he handed me this complicated-looking thing and said he needed to buy one. In my mind, I was thinking that there was no way we were ever going to find that another one of those things because a.) the thing was made in Germany (or some other European country, I forget), b.) I didn’t know where to go, and c.) how the heck do I explain this to people in Mandarin? I called Yan, who suggested Suning, which is a big store for electronics and appliances. So I looked up the closest Suning online and Rafal and I took a taxi the next morning. Well, it turns out that they didn’t have the thing. In fact, they didn’t even have an extension cord with surge protection, which Rafal also needed. We walked out of the store and started walking around, me (at least) feeling hopeless. Anna got such an extension cord last time we went to Carrefour, but Carrefour was kind of far from where we were. Then by pure luck, we came across a little office supplies store that had extension cords with surge protection. So we bought that, and I asked the people at the counter where we can find the power supply. They asked me what it was and I said it was a power supply (in Mandarin). Then they asked me what it is used for and I said I didn’t know how to explain it in Mandarin. They looked at us funny and told us to go to this place. I couldn’t understand the woman, so I told her to write it down (I can read and write Chinese—and speak in Cantonese…). I asked whether there are a lot of electronics there and she said yes. So we went.
So. Rafal and I took a taxi to the place the woman suggested and it turns out to be this street with one electronics mall after another. The place was awesome. Way better than Circuit City in the states. Although we weren’t sure which store to go to since there were so many of them. We just walked towards the entrance of a store, and there were many salespeople yelling, “SONY! SONY!” or “TOSHIBA!” or “CANON!” I approached one of the guys, showed him the power supply, and asked where I can find it. This guy ALSO asked him what it was used for and I said it could be used for a computer (I made that up at that moment…. but I confirmed with Rafal afterwards that it could, indeed, be used for a computer as well) because I couldn’t figure out what else to say. They guy looked at the power supply with a somewhat confused look on his face (I don’t blame him…) and he walked us to a store and took us up the elevator to the second floor.
Wait, so about the elevators. I don’t think I have seen so many people trying to get into an elevator in my life. It was pretty insane. Rafal had to wait a few times to actually make it into the elevator. Every time the elevator door opened, a bunch of people would rush in until the overweight alarm went on, the thing would beep non-stop, and people would start yelling and complaining until some people stepped outside the elevator. It seemed like a continuous cycle of the same series of events for the five minutes that Rafal and I stood there. I was squeezed next to a smelly guy in the elevator (not Rafal).
When we were at the second floor, we showed the power supply to a person who seemed to know his stuff. He recognized it as a power supply immediately, but he also said that no one sells this type here because the current is so low. I probed further into where we could potentially find it in Beijing, and the guy pointed us to a place about 800 meters away and said that if we don’t find it there, we won’t find it anywhere. I then asked the guy the correct term in Mandarin that I should be using in order to look for this device. He said it, and then he wrote it down for me upon my request. Then Rafal and I fought our way into the elevator again and went to the place the guy suggested.
It turned out to be just the right place. The place the guy suggested comprised of four stories of electronic parts. It was unbelievable. It wasn’t just a store either. At each floor was stall after stall of different people selling different types of parts, and looking around the place, there were people bargaining everywhere. There is simply no equivalent in the states. Rafal said that he probably could’ve bought all the parts of his instrument here instead of bringing the instrument from the U.S.! I really wouldn’t be surprised. After trying a couple of stalls (and me very painfully trying to explain to them what we needed), we finally came across one that finally had it. Then there was another long, drawn-out and painful conversation about the technical details of the power supply and whether it was really what we needed. The conversation involved part Mandarin, part English, some pointing and hand gestures, and also some writing in Chinese and drawing on a piece of MIRTHE paper with a lot of writing and drawing on it from before. The whole time, I was trying to go from English to Cantonese to Mandarin inside my head.
And then, believe it or not, we finally bought it.
Rafal and I had Pizza Hut and then we both went back to work afterwards. I LOVE authentic Chinese food and so generally, I’m really enjoying the food here, but I didn’t realize just how much I missed cheese.