Saturday, November 10, 2012

Shopping With Impunity

I aver that I’ve never been much of a shopper. That is, shopping as a pastime, hobby or therapy has never been my thing. When I moved to China shopping opportunities were the least of my considerations because of my intentions of living a scaled down, bare bones existence. After all: how much should one accumulate when anticipating a vagabond existence and working on a year to year contract?

Since my declaration of tenure around this time last year I’ve settled in to the idea of having a somewhat permanent home at this university. I’ve bought a few amenities, like: a space heater, an oven, a crock pot, a small countertop grill and other household odds and ends.

Well, the space heater is not an amenity as much as a necessity. When your living space gets down to the 40 degree Fahrenheit range, you kind of need some heat. Other purchases I’ve made along the heating milieu: bed heaters, foot and shoe warmers and a hand warmer.

All in all I’m doing pretty well at not accumulating junk. And, so far this year, I’m doing pretty well at staying warm.  

One thing I am accumulating is money. I don’t mind that at all. Mind you, compared to what I was earning in America, and indeed what is considered poverty level income in America I am far below that bar – I earn the equivalent of about $6K per year, give or take a few $100 depending on currency exchange rates. I think there is a direct correlation between not shopping and saving.

Well now, there’s a ‘Duh!’ statement!

In the past, 2 main factors kept me from going on wild spending sprees: money and the fact that I would have to carry home whatever I bought. Some items I’ve lusted after are just too unwieldy to take on a bus, my principal mode of travel. Sometimes, when I am tempted to buy ‘stock up’ levels of food at Metro I remind myself that I will have to carry home everything I buy.

And the bus is not the only ‘carry it home’ obstacle. I have to walk to the bus stop from Metro or wherever I’m shopping at, and then from the bus stop to my house. Each stretch is a little over a kilometer long.

Recently I bought a handy-dandy shopping cart. It is basically a shopping bag on a wheeled frame. It can tote up to 4 bags of goods, if packed carefully. So now, if I intend to do ‘stock up’ shopping, or if I foresee something heavy in my shopping bag I simply take my cart along and only have to worry about pulling my arm out of socket, tugging the loaded cart onto buses and then home.

My other primary deterrent: cash. Still mindful of my advanced age and the need to save for some sort of retirement, I am frugal. Till now I’ve only had my university pay to rely on and I still count only that income source as actual money in the bank.

What has changed is that I started taking on extra teaching jobs.

More specifically: through a mutual friend, Gary has helped pave the way for me to start my own school. It is a total immersion curriculum, meaning no Chinese is spoken. We use gestures, signs and drawings to express ourselves. Concepts such as ‘Past, Present and Future’ verb tenses are expressed in context with ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’. The focus is on proper pronunciation and grammar usage. Vocabulary building is a by-product of the elementary grammar lessons.

I teach Little’uns - 7 year olds, as well as adults. The adults are mostly interested in the spoken language, the so called ‘tourist English’: how to navigate situations like hotels, airports, restaurants and shopping. Preparing for their classes is a snap. So far we’ve only had one lesson because the adults cannot agree on a specific time or day to meet.

I meet with the “Little’uns” each Saturday afternoon for 2 hours and each Wednesday for 1 hour. The one hour midweek class is used to reinforce the previous Saturday’s lesson and to review any worksheet I might have assigned. There is always time to read a story during the midweek class. The kids get a big kick out of story time.

They also like the fact that we use music a lot in class. The ‘Days of the Week’ song, sung to the tune of The Addams Family. We danced and sang The Hokey-Pokey when we learned about body parts, articles of clothing and left/right. Ring Around the Rosy worked well for our Left/Right lesson too: we spun either left or right. And then we have our Goodbye song: ‘So long, Farewell, It is really good to see you…”, taken from The Sound of Music.

I earn an extra 200Yuan/week per student for my efforts. I have 6 students in my Little’uns class and 4 adults who want to study tourist English. Even if I shopped like Imelda Marcos in a shoe warehouse I couldn’t spend that much money in a single shopping spree.

I’ve had a comfortable padding of cash since the school year began. I’ve already bought my plane tickets for my annual America pilgrimage and still have a nice cushion left, in spite of the unplanned medical expenses. I went shopping.  

My wok being inconvenient when cooking certain dishes, I’ve long wanted a frying pan. I need a container for my tea. The one I’m storing tea in now is not airtight and the fragrant leaves lose their flavor too quickly. I wanted a new, larger bed heater so that I could put the two narrower heaters on my couch and chair – a different attempt to stay warm this winter. I wanted a tea decanter that would fit on my candle fueled tea warmer – the teapot I have is too wide on the bottom and the teapot Sam gave me is very decorative but too small to be serviceable.

And there were other things: Sacs of candy for Halloween. Some cleaning supplies I cannot find in the local markets. Other odds ‘n’ ends stuff, nothing major.

So I went shopping. Dragging my empty cart behind me I mentally reviewed the list of things I wanted to buy. Once at the store, I dropped whatever I wanted into my shopping basket with no qualms whatsoever. When I got to the register, the cashier rang up my purchases totaling over 600Yuan. I did not bat an eye as I handed over the cash.

Dragging my loaded shopping cart to the bus stop I did not feel a single drop of buyer’s remorse. What I did feel was a novel sensation for me, with regard to shopping: glee. I had just shopped with impunity!

I did not fear running out of money or pulling limbs out of socket from having to carry all that I bought. I had the satisfaction of being able to meet all of my needs and my few wants. Barely at the bus stop, my coach pulled up. Crowded as it was, I had a time with my loaded shopping cart and finding room to stand comfortably. No matter! In my head I was already composing this entry. The title, Shopping with Impunity stayed with me all the way home, even as I walked the dusty alleys of the Over the Wall community.

But then another thought intruded: I am ‘nesting’. Slowly, this apartment is turning into an actual home.

What kind of Vagabond nests?                 

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