Lucky Number Nine

IMG_0018Yesterday, I learned how to say “wine” in Chinese.

This valuable linguistic tidbit came my way just in the nick of time, given that this week I also finally managed to crack into the wine scene here in Shenzhen. It must have been fate that included this term in the lesson plan for only my second language class. (Or maybe the fact that the word doubles as the number nine.)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the subject of vino since leaving California; most of my energy has been spent navigating the early stages of expat life with a toddler in tow. It hasn’t helped that the beverage options in mainland China are just as limited as I’d been led to expect, consisting primarily of watery beer, overpriced (and possibly counterfeit) Bordeaux, and big-brand liquor. It’s taken me time and persistence to track down the good stuff. And given that I have a higher threshold for bland beer than boring vino, I’ve consumed enough cerveza over the course of my research for it to show in my waistline. But I’ve been here long enough now to connect with some of the right people. So, I’ve decided that it’s time to get back to work.

With the help of my new friend Antonio Panetta, cinematographer extraordinaire, I’ve begun developing a series of videos called “Where to drink wine in Shenzhen.” I’ll be exploring the best wine lists in town, starting close to home here in Shekou. So stay tuned! We hope to release the first one in a couple of weeks.

Patience

IMG_9944 (1)This week scored a couple of big wins in my book. Not only did I finally track down a pool that I can actually swim laps in, but believe it or not, it’s housed in the same facility as the best bar I’ve seen in Shenzhen. No joke – my gym pass also gets me 10% off of legit cocktails and the most interesting wine list in our immediate vicinity. (I won’t deny that this helped swayed me when confronted by the rather exorbitant membership fee.) I figure, if I swim enough and drink enough this year, it’s definitely worth the price of entry.

A good workout – followed by a nice dry martini later in the evening – always helps me balance out. But this valuable new find came at a time when I have a lot of extra steam to blow off. When we set out on this crazy adventure, we knew that many challenges would come along with it. As we approach the two-month-mark, though, I’m realizing that I’ve thrown myself right onto the flames. And I’ve gotta say, it’s getting hot in here.

You see, if there’s one thing above all others that I’m determined to take away from this journey, it is patience, a virtue that I’ve always known myself to be lacking. It’s mission critical for both parents and travelers alike, so I guess I was hoping that new surroundings would make it easier to pick up some new skills. Silly me.

Rather than cooling down, over the course of the day I feel myself slowly igniting. Each toddler tantrum pushes me close to breaking, and every cultural snafu makes my ears steam. In response, I’m trying to train myself to laugh more often at my own foibles – or at least push through the frustration. So, when I showed up at my new fitness club for my first swim, only to find that the electricity was out, I didn’t let it stop me. Instead, I changed into my bathing suit by the light of my iPhone.

Despite the daily struggle, I still believe that patience is an achievable goal. To get there, I guess I just need to be more patient.

Groceries

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My heart is racing, nerves frayed before I even lay my clammy hands on a shopping cart. I can do it this time, I tell myself. I’m not leaving here until I have everything I need to make dinner tonight. I will NOT have a panic attack in the middle of this supermarket.

It’s tough to explain the anxiety that overcomes me each time I prepare to enter a Chinese grocery store. Yes, they are crowded, and yes, they contain a lot of products that I can only presume to be edible. But neither of these is what really intimidates me. To be honest, I think it’s the very familiarity of these places that I find most unsettling. I should feel at ease. After all, I even recognize many of the logos, and a lot of the unfamiliar items have delicious looking photos on the package. But the thing is, other than the branding, everything is in Chinese.

“Damn, those are some fine looking dumplings!” I might say. But then, I think, How the hell am I supposed to cook them??

Or, as occurred yesterday while shopping with the family, “that laundry detergent with a photo of a baby on it is hypoallergenic and good for washing the little guy’s clothes, right?” No, of course not. It’s just baby scented, or some shit. True story.

Then, there’s the dairy section, when I’m lucky enough to find one. Most milk here is of the non-refrigerated “shelf stable” variety, and while I’ve encountered this elsewhere in the world and my goal here isn’t exactly to discuss varying pasteurization methods, let’s just say that strikes most Americans as odd. When there are fridges, it’s hard to distinguish between milk, “milk products,” soy milk, drinkable yogurt, and other ambiguously labeled white liquids. God forbid one should want half and half for coffee. (Note to self: whipping cream doesn’t quite fit the bill.)

Last week, I spent a good 10 minutes totally bricked in front of one such display, near tears because I was below ground and couldn’t connect to the internet to determine which package, if any, contained cream. And this was WITHOUT Little Dude in tow, complicating things even further.

I used to love shopping for food. Even in San Diego, I managed to retain some of the habits that I picked up in Italy years ago: leisurely strolls to purchase dinner supplies, buying produce in one shop, meat in another, and then finally stopping to pick up wine or beer.  

Here in Shenzhen, even the online grocery store scares the shit out of me. When I do attempt to take advantage of it, I find myself purchasing the most random assortment of items – everything but what I actually need to assemble a proper meal. Hand soap? Check. Paper towels? Sure. Dried pasta? Indeed. And…. Nerds! Yes, of course! 

Each week I promise Wifey that I’ll cook more than once or twice. “I’ll get the hang of it,” I say. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out eventually.”

Good thing there’s a solid restaurant delivery service around here.