Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Friday

Did you go shopping the day after Thanksgiving? Were the stores crowded? I recall the times, in my former life when I had to leave the house 30 minutes early to get to work every Saturday in December because the mall was on the way and traffic was lined up for miles up the road from that exit. I don’t have to live with that anymore; here the stores, streets and malls are crowded year-round.

And are there malls? For pity’s sake: Lu Xiang Square, that popular tourists’ showplace boasts no less than three malls directly off the Square, each of them several stories tall, with shop after shop and food courts every so often. Here, shopping is no problem. The forth corner of Lu Xiang is occupied by a Ramada Business Hotel; 5-star if you’ve ever seen one. That’s just Lu Xiang Square; wait till I tell you about Wu Ma Lou (pronounced Woo Ma Low). A shopper’s paradise!

I did not shop on Black Friday. For me, Friday was genuinely black. The power had gone out sometime overnight; by the time I woke up around 8:00AM there was no electricity anywhere on campus.

My normal routine is to stumble to the kitchen and start the electric kettle for tea. While that heats I go to the bathroom for a good brushing of teeth and constitutional; on the way there I turn on the computer. On the way back through I log into my DSL account; by the time I make it back from the kitchen with my hot tea I’m ready to savor your emails and the daily news.

Only one problem with that: most of my morning routine requires electricity, and there was none that day! What’s a girl to do?

I went back to bed. Being as my apartment is maintaining a steady 61 degrees Fahrenheit –those darn concrete walls! The only warm place is under my thick quilt, with what heat remained in my hot water bottle. I read by ambient light until I couldn’t see anymore, and then I snoozed.

At noon I was awake again, and hungry. Still no electricity. A cold breakfast is better than no breakfast, so I had the last deviled egg from the night before, two pieces of Melba toast bought at Metro, a piece of cheese also from that fabled store, a glass of yoghurt and an apple. Oh, and a brownie. Satisfying, but cold.

Now, I’m cold.

I could have gotten dressed and gone out but to tell you the truth, sometime in the past 48 hours I had developed what felt like the onset of a nasty cold and just couldn’t see myself facing the great outdoors and all that dust. What water remained in the hot water heater was already tepid; getting cleaned up and ready to greet the world with only warm water did not send my into shivers of anticipation. Besides, I’m still incubating a virus. Remember that.

Back to bed with me. Now I’m not even reading because I’m tucking my cold hands between my only slightly warmer knees. Again I doze.

As it turns out, it really is a nasty cold. From the tickle in the back of my throat that no Hall’s will soothe to the ache in my muscles, this might be the worst cold I’ve had in a long time. With all that time to lie in bed and snooze and think, I reflect on the ever-loving bus system here in Wuhan. I know: strange thing to think about when you can’t quit coughing, right?

Here, many people wear face masks to keep from inhaling germs or dust. Commendable… but what about their hands? The Chinese are not noted for washing their hands much, even after bodily functions. Nobody performs any bodily functions on the bus (except for the occasional nose picking, but even that is going away). If one’s hands aren’t clean when they board the bus, and then they grip the bars and handles to hold on as the bus travels its circuitous route, where do the germs go?

That’s right: onto the next person’s hands. And that is how cold viruses are transmitted. I’ll bet that’s how I caught my cold.

It is a moot point now. I’m sick and there’s no heat except for under my comforter. I sleep until 5:00PM this time, and wake up ravenous.

Still no power. The ironic thing is that I had mashed potatoes, chicken, vegetables and all sorts of good stuff to eat in my fridge, but with no electricity for the microwave, I either have to eat it cold or go out for hot food.

There is electricity beyond the campus walls; I can see the neon of the KTV shining though my windows, and the steady stream of students going by with warm food tells me the food vendors are out. Using what might be the last of the tepid water in the water heater I wash my face, run a comb through my hair and head up the road, into light and life with the objective of securing a roasted chicken from the chicken restaurant. While on my way I figured I had better buy a flashlight because my three flickering candles would soon gutter out.

My whole outdoor adventure lasted 20 minutes: selecting and paying for a rechargeable flashlight and trying to find one that is battery powered instead (no luck), buying a hot chicken dinner and then braving the crowds back home. The crowds? It seems the weather was so beautiful that everybody turned out: the ‘civilians’ of the community around campus and all of the students who did not want to stay in their darkened dorms. I daresay the street was more crowded than I’d ever seen it. I slunk back home to eat dinner while it was still hot.

As I trudged back home I saw a familiar sight: a full-sized car trying to wedge its way between street vendors and pedestrians into the neighborhood behind campus. This time their way was blocked by electricians rolling out a large spool of wire, hopefully to supply our campus with power again. Needlessly, uselessly, the impatient driver leaned on his horn, as if sheer volume would give him priority. Each blast drove a spike into my throbbing head. I felt like kicking his tire as I walked past his car.

I don’t know what happened to our electrical feed, but I think some industrious handyman capped the wrong wire from the rat’s nest tangle that allegedly feeds our campus. Or it could have been cut because of the construction going on a quarter mile up the road.

The power came back on at 9:20, but by that time I had already eaten my dinner and was back in bed, still feeling miserable. I only got up to boil water for my hot water bottle, and I shivered as I waited for the kettle to finish its little chore.

The next time my eyes popped open, it was 7:14 the next morning. All the sleeping I did had done me a world of good; I felt full of energy and made plans to go play badminton and enjoy dinner with some friends. But I have to reflect that yesterday was one of the most depressing days I’ve spent since I’ve been here, sickness notwithstanding.

Black Friday indeed!

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