Monday, October 20, 2014

Gary's Ikea

I like Ikea. Lately, I'd been rabid with Ikea fever, even figuring on traveling to a city where there is such a store. When I visit family and friends stateside, I'm often treated to a trip to Ikea, and their homes have a few Ikea goodies.I dreamed and drooled over the few things I wanted to buy for my home here. Ah! Heaven, when Ikea opened up in Wuhan!

The first time, I went with Summer and her mom. It was so crowded we had to wait for admittance to the store and the restaurant. We spent 3 hours browsing and admiring, and had even picked up a few small things I was delighted to finally be able to buy, because such things as silicone oven mitts and basting brushes are not widely available here. Summer's mom had also selected a few treasures and the only thing that stopped our buying them was the formidable checkout lines. I vowed to return for those kitchen tools I had been missing so badly.

Gary would be my Ikea buddy, I decided. Mostly, we're of one mind, although he deviates on some things I'm passionate about. That is to be expected: friends can't like everything you enjoy. He's never ungracious about what we diverge on; he humors me... but then quickly gets back to where he is most comfortable. Based on his excitement over our proposed shopping trip, I reasoned Ikea would not be such a situation. We share a love of functionality and home d├ęcor, and nifty little gadgets. And, he was so excited to go. 

Tuesday was our day. We arranged to meet at the train station at 9AM, meaning I had to wake up at 6:30 for my quiet morning time before facing the world. No problem! I'd do it for Gary, and for Ikea. Besides, I was eager for the early morning bike ride to our meeting place, in fact arriving early enough to enjoy a McDonald's breakfast – a rare treat for me, and the only McDonald's meal I like.

McDonald's delivers in China, but I'm so far out that there isn't a McDonalds' for miles around. As in the states, breakfast is only served in the morning. Being as we all know I'm NOT a morning person, I'm not likely to get up just for a McMuffin. But to meet Gary and go to Ikea... that's a good enough reason to celebrate early rising by having crispy hash browns and fresh-brewed coffee.  And a couple of pineapple pies. I'll tell you about those pies later.

Changes of plans! Remembering that I am on a strict budget, and that the train station's restaurant charges more than others franchises for the same food, I turned away from the golden arches to have a bowl of Re Gan Mian, Wuhan's signature dish that I also had not had in a while. Unfortunately it is also more expensive at the train station. Vigorous bargaining bought me a bowl at half the 10yuan price. It was dry and flavorless, overall disappointing. I ate it anyway, washing it down with a coffee from Mc.D's. In all, I spent more on that breakfast than had I just followed my original plan.

We were to ride the subway all the way to the store, but Gary sent a message saying some of his friends wanted to go too, and one of them knew how to get there by car. The more the merrier, and such great news! This time I was sure the store would not be so crowded that I would not want to wait in line to check out, and going by car meant I would not have to wrestle with my purchases on overcrowded trains.

For me, Ikea is a social occasion. When stateside, we like walking through, sitting on the furniture, admiring the kitchen gadgets and decorations. I never buy much – if anything. It is just nice to idle the day away with loved ones, comparing likes and dislikes and commenting on all the cool stuff they have. In China, as I walk through, I see things that my friends and family stateside have in their homes. In a sense, I feel they are with me. Sometimes the longing for them is so sharp... but now, here I am with good friends! We can do all that I love about Ikea in America with my Chinese family!  

It took almost 2 hours to get there by car – as opposed to the little-over-one-hour by train. Traffic is always a bane, but we spent the time in happy conversation. Once there and undaunted by the day's bummy experiences so far, I jumped out of the car, keen to introduce Gary to the wonders of Ikea.

Bobo and Michelle said they'd been here before, and would just wait for us in the cafeteria. Why did they want to go if they weren't going to enjoy it with us? Gary, his friend Stabbe and I flowed with the tide through the displays.

I suggested Gary sit on a particularly comfortable couch. He chose a comparably hard wicker chair instead. He saw no difference between that chair and any other chair in China. Further into the showroom, I sat down and again invited him to enjoy the plushness. He was unfazed: “Can we get up now?”. Softness and comfort are relatively new concepts in China. I can imagine cushiony seating would be out of his comfort zone. We moved on.

I tried desperately to attract him to what I thought were innovations in comfort and utility. His overwhelming response was: it was poor quality. Other comments: “We can buy this cheaper on TaoBao” (an online store). “What is the purpose of that (item)?” The beds were too soft. A firmer mattress was denounced as having a thick foam pad on it. As his comments piled up, I grew less enthused. Arriving at the Marketplace, that section of the store with kitchenware and smaller items – my favorite part of the store, he declared it was too crowded. He and Stabbe would wait for me in the restaurant while I browsed. Where's the fun in that?

I found the wall-mounted plastic bag holder my daughter has. All excited, I picked one up... and then reasoned: why spend money on something I'd managed without for so long? Ditto with the oven mitts, the spatter screen and other kitchen tools I'd so yearned for. 

I wandered a few minutes, and then returned to the restaurant, where everyone was waiting for me. Apparently, Bobo and Michelle had already eaten. Gary was enjoying coffee. I thought that, at least, we could enjoy lunch at Ikea. Wrong again! Everyone declared they had their fill of crowding and Swedish goods. After only a little over 1 hour in the store, we threaded our way out, piled in the car and headed to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Not that I'm complaining: food is food, and we were all quite hungry.

That is where the pies I'd bought earlier came in. occasionally I will treat myself to pineapple pies, 2 for 10Yuan, deep-fried and crunchy. I take them home and warm then in  my oven for a special dessert.

Stabbe had not had any breakfast. In typical Chinese fashion, gave him a pie. Driving back into town, Bobo exclaimed how hungry he was. He got the other one. Not  that I resent sharing, but there went my guilty little pleasure. I too was quite hungry after my unsatisfying breakfast but it would have been rude for me to eat that pie when my host was hungry.       

Lousy breakfast, pies gone and no Ikea goodies: I'm trying to find something redeeming about the day.

I think it would be going a little far for me to say that Gary has ruined the Ikea experience for me. I'm a firm believer that one is only ever hurt by one's expectations, so if I got disappointed, it is my fault. What bothers me is my paradigm shift, brought on by his comment: what to use that for? That is when I reasoned that all of the gadgets I'd done without for so long, I had already found an adequate substitute for and/or could continue doing without. Which, in turn brought my goal to live with minimal amounts of stuff sharply back into focus.

I look around this home I'm privileged to occupy. There are few personal touches. Come packing time, I might have 2 or 3 more boxes than I came here with, and there is plenty I could do without.

I need to thank Gary for reminding me of my goal: avoid excess. I'll probably do that in the same conversation that I tell him Ikea is not about shopping for me, but about enjoying an outing with loved ones. Would he consider going with me again, this time as a social occasion rather than a shopping expedition? I sure hope so.    

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