Yesterday marked a day of minor victories and minor tragedies.
We set out at 8am thinking that everyone else would be up like us. This was only partially true. Most of the stores were still closed, but a few places were open such as the mini marts on the main road in front of our complex. We stopped in each checking out their prices for basic necessities such as soap to determine where to purchase these items. Next, we walked along a line of higher end restaurants we hope to eat at once we figure out how to actually order food.
Our first real stop was at the phone store to buy Tommy's phone. This went smoothly due to the fact that the woman who helped us the day before was there and readily recognized us. I explained that we needed a phone (using far too many words) to which she translated: telephone? We eagerly nodded yes. She passed us on to the phone sales woman, telling her which phone we needed. Ten minutes later we walked out with a phone that we knew how to change from Chinese into English settings.
We walked around the mini mall that the phone store is located in, the stores were just opening which made us feel very much like MSU Asians who seem to be doing something strange such as walking in stores that aren't fully open yet, or walking through sections of stores that haven't turned their lights on yet.
The third floor of the mini-mall is entirely dedicated to children. Tommy is going to tape it next time we stop there so you can appreciate what I'm going to attempt to describe with words. One section of the third floor is a play area for children. In US malls this would be the area with the giant plastic fruit that children crawl all over. Not so in China. Rather, the play area is divided into two parts, the first is a two story play place kind of like the ones in McDonalds if those had compartments with large balls that the children presumably throw at one another. The second part is where the real action is at. This is so hard to describe. There are several different play things, like a merry-go-round with four creatures, but the merry-go-round is on a huge saucer that tilts slowly back and forth (to make the ride more fun?). Then there is a palm tree, that is like the swings ride at an amusement park, except instead of swings you have long vines dangling down with coconuts that the children sit on and it spins around. There are other such thrilling attractions as well, but I will save those for the video which will do a far better job of showing you than I could every hope to accomplish.
On the ground floor of the mall there is a very nice bakery with a cake display. Tommy and I were happily admiring the many different cakes and converting their prices into USD when one of the bakery works came up. She very nicely said Ni Hao and then proceed to say a great many things in Chinese. I looked at her and blatantly said, "We speak English, sorry." She immediately covered her face with her hands in embarrassment and ran back to the other employees. As she explained to her laughing colleges what had happened, Tommy dragged me away from the store. As we turned the corner, he said to me, "We didn't have to leave." I blinked at him, taking in the shocking hue of pink his face had turned. "I wasn't the one who dragged us away," I said. "I know. It was just so embarrassing!" he told me.
After this adventure, we tried to go to the pet store but couldn't figure if it was open and decided that we could try it another day. We went back to our mini-marts and bought rice and rice steamer, household cleaner, clementines, sweet potato noodles, and other items. We got back to our apartment all excited to use our rice steamer only to open the bag with our rice and find that the household cleaner had broken open, drenching the rice in chemicals. Thus, we had to throw out the rice and resort to trying the sweet potato noodles. This was not a good experiment. The noodles were slimy and chewy, much like what I imagine eating squid would feel like. After two bites, Tommy had to talk himself down from throwing up and that was the end of trying to eat the noodles.
Now we had no food and were starving. After a 45 minute search aided by my Uncle Leon's suggestions (he has lived in Shanghai with my Aunt Cindy for the past four years) we eventually found a supermarket by us. A short ten minute bus ride later we were in the heart of downtown Suzhou where there is a HUGE mall type complex. The area is called Times City and the mall complex is six different malls that are connected Somerset sky walks and by bridges criss-crossing the medium size river that separates the two mall areas. The supermarket was located in the basement of the four story mall and provided a very wide selection of food with some Western imports. To give you an idea of things, our cellphones cost 250 yuan each. Strawberries cost 83 yuan. A box of Frosted Flakes costs 30 yuan. A liter of coke costs 9 yuan.
Overall, the day was a success. I'm excited to return to Times City when we have more energy to explore its labyrinth of stores. (They claim to have a Starbucks and I for one could really use a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino.) We went to bed at 7:30pm (whoaaa watch out night owls!) and awoke at 6am, so we are very slowly adjusting to the time here.