Friday, February 22, 2008


I now have one more reason to support the Shanghai Metro.

Last October when Jodi and I took Charlotte to visit the States, my mom and dad gifted me with a USD 50 gift certificate to Borders for books (Jodi received USD 50 at Target). Naturally, when I was done browsing the shelves I had about USD 150 worth of books in my hands. I resolved to spend only USD 100, and one of books I put back was Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones. When it came out I had ignored it because River Town was fun but I didn't learn much from it, but then Megan raved about Hessler so I figured why not give his new book a spin. In the end it didn't survive my selection process, but my mom thought it would make an interesting read so she bought it and promised to send it to me when she finished reading it.

A few days ago I was exiting of our apartment complex, late to work as usual, when the guard at the gate stopped me. He was holding a package from my parents, strange since the mailman usually either delivers it to our door or leaves a slip instructing us to pick it up at the post office. It was a Valentine's package with some candy, socks, a letter — and a book, Oracle Bones. Starved for reading material as usual1, I dug into it that night. Over the next few days: on the bus, using the toilet, walking home, going to bed... Hessler and his motley crew all kept me company. While confirming my previous appraisal of his writing, I was nevertheless very well entertained and glad to have the book in my hands. (Thanks Mom!)

I guess it's time to break the news: Jodi and I are moving again. We had intended to stay at Century Park for a few years but a disagreement with our landlord drove us to look for a more stable housing solution, and the most obvious is to move into company housing next to the school in Zhangjiang Park for a couple years2. We saw the house on Tuesday, signed the rental agreement on Wednesday, began to make preparations immediately, packing and buying furniture for the unfurnished apartment.

In February, teacher turnover at the school is basically zero and the second-hand furniture market is dry. We've turned to Taobao for the bed, fridge, etc, but decided to look at washing machine and TV prices at the Longyang Rd Suning for a point of comparison. Last night we met at the B&Q to look at couches and beds (poor selection), and then crossed over the bridge for a snack at KFC and the peek at Suning. That done, we put some money on our transportation cards at the Longyang Rd metro station and rode the subway home.

When we got home I realized what I had done: I left Oracle Bones on top of the card recharge machine at the metro station. This was a BIG disappointment. Moody for the rest of the night, I still managed to muster all of my optimism and hope that a trip today would find that somebody had turned it into the service desk.

After work today — I got two newspapers this morning to compensate for the book-less commute — I met Jodi and we hiked to an HD-TV repair workshop in an old country home in southern Zhangjiang Town to look at second-hand TVs. Finding that Jodi had been mislead about the availability of certain models, we left and took the bus and metro back to Longyang Rd top pick up cardboard boxes and check TV prices at Metro (out of boxes; reasonable prices on the TV). We had another reason to go back to Longyang, and that was to look for the book.

"Haven't seen it" from the service desk.

Nothing to be found on top, beside, nor behind the recharge machines.

No book anywhere.

We walked to the exit, buttoning up for the trip to Metro. On a whim I suggested to Jodi that we should walk through the "Employees only" door that leads to the station control room and explain to the staff there. With puffery and false confidence to avoid being stopped, we waltzed into the semi-lit corridor. Past the subway driver break-room filled with laughing guys in black uniforms, past a middle-aged woman walking in the other direction who said nothing, and into the control room we strutted. As we explained the situation to the five curious employees in the room, one of them broke towards the computer consoles below the window overlooking the ticketing hall. I turned my eyes, anticipating his target... lo and behold, my book was next to the computer! As he held it up, big smiles broke out on Jodi's and my faces. We thanked the staff profusely and traced our way back to the exit.

Hooray! The Shanghai Metro saves the day!

[1] Yes, yes, it's on Taobao for less than RMB 100. I didn't notice that until just now. Sometimes Taobao amazes me.
[2] This won't make too much of a difference to our friends in Puxi, we've moved from the boonies of Pudong to... the boonies of Pudong. Don't worry, we still intend to buy in Puxi as soon as we can afford it, with our eye on Hongkou and also the Wuning Xincun area in Putuo. Maybe post-2010?


At Feb 27, 2008, 8:56:00 AM, Blogger GLO said:

What a great story about the "lost book",lots of suspense. When are you going to write your first novel? Hope you and Jodi and Charlotte too are happy in your new home. Blessings, GLO


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