Why I hate American Colonialism and a Pillow

Here is one of the most depressing truths about China: the beds are as hard as Donald Trump’s resolve to continue making a fool of both himself and the United States of America.

Seriously, it’s almost like I’ve embarked on a year long camping trip and forgot to bring my sleeping pad. That might even be better than sleeping on Chinese beds for a year. I’ve heard certain foreigners claim that “I’m serious, I think that I’m too used to it, I don’t think I could sleep on a soft [heavenly, sensible, comfortable] bed again!”

Total bullshit. Let’s say that for a year you ate pasta without any olive oil, butter, salt, cheese, marinara, lo que sea for a year~just plain, dry pasta~sure, you might get sort of used to it. You might even convince yourself that you’ve come to enjoy it… until you get the chance to have Nana’s spaghetti and meatballs again, replete with rich tomato sauce and slightly melty cheese and meatballs so big you have to cut them into four pieces. You’d gobble that right up and go for seconds. There’s no such thing as “enjoying” plain pasta or a mattress that is essentially a plank with cloth wrapped around it.

So. The first night that I slept in Bertha I had my sleeping bag and my ridiculously hard Chinese mattress, and like the resourceful graduate of the venerated Whitman College, I realized I could use my bag of dirty laundry for a pillow. No longer crashing on the couch of some people I barely knew, I relished sliding into my sleeping bag wearing just my underwear and barely noticed the lack of cushioning for my neck, back, head, hips, face, and every other part of my body.

I fell asleep, full of feelings of accomplishment and independence.

I woke up probably and hour later. My neck hurt. I adjusted my bag of dirty laundry under my head.

Five minutes later I adjusted once again.

An hour and ~forty minutes of restless turning and dozing later I finally found a position in which my plank with cloth wrapped around it didn’t feel like it was actively trying to make me sore.

Rinse and repeat.

I woke up with the sun shining in my eyes, illuminating my sore body and newly stuffed up nose and pounding head. I drank cup after cup of boiled water with a little touch of honey (I had yet to buy tea or coffee) and blew my nose a good fifty times. As much as I wanted tea or coffee, I came to the conclusion that what I really needed was a good night’s sleep. Tea or coffee could wait: I needed a pillow better than my bag of dirty laundry. The number one, letter a, top-of-the-long-list-of-priorities for my eighth day in China was to acquire a pillow so that at least ten percent of my body could rest on something reasonably cushioned that evening.

Thus later that day when I had a two hour break from work, I set my sights on the almighty, all-knowing new representative of American Colonialism. I mean—Capitalism! Wow, my bad.

Walmart.

The first time that I ever went to Walmart was my freshman year of college. I went with some people from an art class I was in to try and find materials for a found-object project. I didn’t know them all that well, and my qualms were a little exacerbated by their astonishment that I had never been to Walmart, and so I tried to hide my own astonishment as I stepped inside and comprehended for the first time the sheer size of the Walla Walla Walmart. I was immediately nervous that I would get lost, and sure enough I got separated from my companions and ended up in the power tool section, surrounded by drills  and monstrous lawn mowers that looked like they could eat me for brunch. Upon escaping from the wet dreams of macho over-compensators everywhere, I ended up in the toy area. One side of the aisle was all black and blue with the occasional red hi light, full of racing stripes and bulging unrealistic muscles sculpted out of plastic. The other was all a sickening shade of pink fluff and creepily big eyes that seemed to follow me step by step down the aisle. Finally I emerged from the looming shelves, stepping around an abandoned cart and BOOM my feet slipped out from under me and my butt landed on the unforgiving off-white tiles. Some imbecile had left a carton of ice cream in the cart, and in my hurry to escape from the rows upon rows of plasticized doll’s eyeballs I had slipped in the drippings. Luckily that was the last of the traps Walmart had laid for me that day, and I finally found my friends, my Birkenstocks and legs and hands and dignity sticky with viscous chocolate chip mint.

Needless to say, I don’t have a love-hate relationship with Walmart. Since that first visit, I have gotten lost in the Walla Walla Walmart at least five times. It’s never fun to call your friend who is in the very same building as you and tell them you don’t know where you are or how to find the exit, but alas, I have been in that situation multiple times when it comes to Walmart. I would call the relationship between us more hate-hate, yet sometimes it cannot be avoided. Sometimes being when you live in Walla Walla or in Kunming China. At Walmart at least all things would be clearly labeled with prices, easing a little bit of the terror and uncertainty that governs every interaction I have with Chinese people.

So I found my way to Walmart. In China, it was even hard to find the entrance of the store, as everything is crowded here and so even the normally proudly behemoth Walmart can’t proclaim America’s presence to the skies–it’s hidden in an outdoor mall.

( Going to interrupt myself for a moment to acknowledge that some Spaniards just sat at a nearby table and listening to their “lisp” is making my heart hurt. Will I feel this same way about China someday? Thats a rhetorical question but if any of you know the answer I’d love to know. Do I love living in different countries or do I love living in Spain? Dime dime dime!)

Anyway. I found this strange Walmart and for the next hour and a half dragged my sorry sniffling ass around. I wore my headphones and blasted self-affirming hip-hop (the new Kendrick, if you must know), so I could pretend to be oblivious to the hordes of Chinese attendants staring and trying to offer me “help”. I picked up item after item, not knowing it the lightbulbs I picked up would fit in the lights in my apartment, hoping that I could find real coffee sometime soon instead of the little packets of powdered crap that I figured could get me through the next week. Walmart makes my head hurt in America, where I can read all the labels and (now) vaguely understand the layout of the store. In the Kunming Walmart, I went down to the first floor and found what was essentially a Chinese market—strange smells and weird looking muses and ducks brined with their heads still attached hanging from racks. I quickly ascended back to the semblance of normalcy, but even after walking back and forth at least four times across the massive second level I still couldn’t locate a single blasted pillow. I was so desperate that I even considered giving up on a pillow and using a large stuffed minion—minions seem to be a national obsession here—so that I could escape with my rapidly disintegrating resolve still intact. Instead, I mustered up the courage and looked up the Chinese word for pillow on Pleco (a translation app to which I now owe my first born child). I made eye contact with one of the many aproned attendants, who walked over immediately. I pointed at my phone and made the universal symbol for confusion, mentally crossing my fingers that this idiotic round of charades would translate to “WHERE THE BLOODY HECK CAN I FIND A PILLOW IN THIS GODFORSAKEN PLACE”. Luckily she understood me and pointed upstairs, where sure enough beyond the rows of electronics and TVs I found my holy grail.

The battle was not yet over, however. The next two laps across the second (main) floor of this monstrosity I was just desperately trying to find a register to purchase my pillow and other lifesaving items. At this point my rolling cart was squeaking obnoxiously with each turn of the wheels, which of course made all the Chinese people stare all that much more. Why is this strange girl just walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth? their eyes questioned. I focused on the floor.

Finally I found a small little check-out counter in the very back corner, behind the shelves of wine and beer. Alas, it was not to be. I took out my headphones and started bending over to unload the things from my cart, but I saw the guy shake his head out of the corner of his eye. “Rapid chinese rapid chinese rapid chinese,” he said, and I shook my head and made an apologetic face, a move I have perfected after the countless times I have had to explain to a Chinese person that I have absolutely no clue what they are trying to communicate to me. He pointed down, and I realized that somewhere amongst the dead ducks on the first floor I would find the real checkout. Sure enough, there it was, and I was finally able to purchase my pillow and thumbtacks and pot and etc. Of course, I was the only person in the line that had chosen that had more than like, three small items, and so I accrued even more Chinese stares as the cashier rang up my many items and then neither of my cards would work for some inexplicable reason. The stares were becoming more and more frustrated, and I told myself firmly that this same situation could happen to anyone, and I didn’t need to feel stupid or apologetic, that my bumbling foreign-ness was inescapable no matter how capable I wanted to seem and that I needed this pillow, dammit! I was not going to let my pride get in the way of having a cushion for my tired, tired head on my plank of a mattress that night.

Moral of the story? I survived. My head hurt and I was covered in a sheen of nervous sweat when I got back to work, but I had a pillow!!! And that night, due either to my cushioned head or Walmart-induced exhaustion, I slept through the night. Mostly. Like I only woke up three times, I think.

Things I have managed to buy since arriving in China that make each day a little more normal-seeming:

  • A lime-green pot (25 RMB) in which I use at least five.eight times a day to boil water for tea, coffee, and noodles.
  • A mini French-press (39 RMB) and coffee (54 RMB)!!!!! And the Western food restaurant ground the coffee for me! My coworkers haven’t mentioned  a notable difference in me but I can see in their faces their relief that I’ve been upgraded from zombie on instant coffee to angel on the good stuff.
  • Noodles. And more noodles. (8.50 RMB) And cabbage (Basically free RMB) and peanut butter (13.50 RMB) and oatmeal (60 something RMB for a giant bag that I’m only halfway through and it’s already made me 16 scrumptious breakfasts).
  • A towel. (45 RMB)
  • Wee packets of tissues to carry around because public restrooms here don’t have toilet paper (6.50 RMB for ten packets).
  • Paint! Little jars of crappy acrylic for ~10 RMB per. Two oblong canvases, about 7×21″ — only 15 RMB each! And a calligraphy brush (didn’t see any regular ones) for 5 RMB.
  • A chicken deluxe quesadilla when my yearning for melted cheese just couldn’t go ignored any longer (45 RMB)
  • A bottle of Australian Shiraz (78 RMB) for some evenings like the good ole days of painting and wine… aka my version of heaven on earth.
  • Three Chinese textbooks, Chinese to Spanish because those were way cheaper than any Chinese-English books I could find, and also because it makes me feel far more worldly than I actually am.

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