Sunday, March 25, 2007


(This one's for Megan.)

Jodi says I always turn sad after a day of shopping.

On a rainy Saturday, we ate lunch and set off to look at baby cribs, strollers and bottles. We jumped onto the 798 and sailed past the Yaohan mall without realizing it, going all the way to Lujiazui. We cruised into a bustling Super Brand Mall (SBM), making a beeline to Toys'Я'Us's baby section. We found a playpen on sale that Jodi's mom promptly tried to veto when we got home ("who needs a playpen? a bed is good enough.") The verdict on T'Я'U: not enough selection, and a little expensive. Up on the 7th floor, the kids section had a few acceptable candidates.

We looked at clothes, and it occurred to me that there must be a lot of neutral colors because people aren't allowed to know which sex their baby is before it's born.

Jodi fell for a purple stroller. In my world, strollers fall into three categories: tanks, mid-size strollers, and stroller lites. The purple stroller is a mid-size, comes with a retractable roof, bottle holder, lots of pockets, and a leg cover for Shanghai winters. It has no tray for the kid to put stuff on, but that's a small sin.

We also found a bed that was acceptable, but we weren't completely satisfied and it was still early so we left. Chaterhouse Books at the Super Brand Mall is like a mini-Borders. Prices are reasonable, a small mark-up over their US cost. They had sold all of their baby name books.

We took the 798 back to Yaohan. The number of street vendors outside that place is incredible. Their floor of baby products was much bigger than the SBM's. We found a couple of beds that made the cut. One is actually any bed by ForU, a company Jodi found that specializes in baby sleep equipment. The other is by a company that actually has only two models, but a very solid build and attention to detail. But no stroller was able to steal Jodi's heart from the purple stroller.

Even the most basic cribs that we looked at all share a few basic characteristics: they're made with non-toxic materials, they have lockable caster wheels, one side slides down for easy baby access, and detaches and the bed drops down so that the crib can turn into a "normal" bed when the kid gets older. Higher end cribs use nicer woods, have built-in drawers for storage or built-in baby-changing counters, or come with a rocking crib that hangs inside the bed itself. There's really not much creativity in the industry; the most innovative idea I saw was a crib whose bottom was rounded so that it turned into a rocker when the wheels were detached. Still, the fact that most of the cribs we saw were functionally pretty much equivalent was the main point of one "discussion" today.

Of course, a crib along is not enough. You also need a mattress and a set of blankets and pillows. I learned from online research that it's good if they have a high thread count, but in this town "for export" seems to be the best and most oft-touted guarantee of quality. Also for Shanghai, a drapable mosquito net is a popular add-on.

So that was it. Three cribs, one stroller and a playpen made the short list. Tonight we sleep on it and tomorrow we go back to make final decisions and purchases. We ended the day with dinner at Bifengtang (pan-fried beef vermicelli, wonton soup, steamed chicken feet, honeyed suckling pigeon, "churros" in egg noodle wrap, Chinese kale, "pineapple" buns with cold butter), which is where Jodi made the quote that I started this post with.

It's true, and it's something I can't help. Superficially it looks like I'm a miser embittered at having to part with his money; that's only partly true. The cradle is going to cost around USD 250, the stroller of interest is nearly USD 200, while the playpen, on sale, rolls in at a merciful USD 20. On a monthly salary of about USD 1700 (oops, just violated the NDA) we should be able to handle that, even while paying rent, saving for a house and dreaming of vacations to Egypt; and that's a fact of which I am aware, if a little begrudgingly.

But my glumness isn't all due to the above; it has a more philosophical, existentialist root. It's entwined with ideas of expected social status, of unapologetic and genuine simplicity, of a spirituality that allows for not a thing secular, of a search for the lowest common denominator and what it hides. I came to Shanghai to get away from some things, but they've been laid back on my plate.

I may not be a missionary like my mom and dad, but I still care about that stuff.


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