Remember when I told you life in Beijing wasn’t all pandas and dumplings? There are days when reality sets in and discouragement runs deep. We call those days “China Days.” Everything is just hard, and I feel completely incompetent. Today was one of those days.
Laundry is my nemesis. I have shed more tears over washing clothes here than I care to admit. I believe Chinese washing machines and dryers are designed for one or two articles of clothing at a time max – Chinese-sized clothing. I’m an extra large in Chinese sizes and I’m a US size 4 if that tells you anything.
There are some cryptic well-worn labels on the machine settings, so it’s been trial and error in learning how to use them. Google Translate gives poetic-but-not-so-helpful translations likes “fast force,” and “flowing river” which I think is the rinse cycle.
Often the clothes come out of the washer dripping wet, or the dryer imparts a funky, sour smell. Sometimes the clothes refuse to come out at all, locking themselves in with a stubbornly shut door. Spending the night inside the damp washing machine does not make them cleaner than when I put them in.
This morning I checked the laundry room to see if I could pry the door open to the washing machine, as last night it wouldn’t open no matter how how hard I pulled or pounded on it. Sometimes it’s best just to walk away for awhile.
Not surprisingly, the clothes smelled terrible. I decided to wash them again, so I added some soap, pushed a button and said a little prayer.
When I checked a little later, soap bubbles were flowing out of the machine and onto the floor. I reached up above to empty the dryer, dropping some of precious clean, dry clothes into the soap bath. It would have been comical if it had been happening to someone else.
I don’t recall which words of frustration came from my mouth, but it was enough to draw my husband’s attention.
Surveying the laundry room and finding me standing in suds, he says “Wasn’t there an ‘I Love Lucy’ episode kind of like this?”
Yes, there was. Remember when Ricky and Lucy got a new washing machine and decided to sell the old one to Fred and Ethel? Well, after one load it erupted like a volcano with soap bubbles flowing everywhere.
It made for a funny episode but it almost ruined Lucy and Ethel’s friendship. Malfunctioning washing machines have been a source of tension in my family too.
“I can’t even figure out how to do laundry,” I complain to my husband.
“Why don’t you talk to the landlord?” He suggests.
“And what, tell her I’m too stupid to operate a washing machine?” No thanks. I push the “flowing river” button again, trying to rinse the soap out of this load. Going on eighteen hours later, these are going to be the cleanest clothes ever.
I decide to go to gym to relieve some frustration, knowing full well I’m only contributing to the laundry problem with my sweaty gym clothes.
I hop on the only open treadmill but this one doesn’t speak my language.
I press a few buttons, but nothing happens. At this point, the tears are welling up in my eyes and I just want to go back to America. Or at least back to bed. I swallow my pride and ask one of the regulars (the friendly guy with the pony tail and really cool shoes) for help.
He pushes a button. “Zou,” he instructs. “Kuai! Kuai!” He urges, pushing another button causing the treadmill to take off under my feet. I’m sprinting to keep up, nodding and smiling thank you.
I find a comfortable pace and turn on my music. Why is everything that should be easy so hard? Tears are streaming down my face as I listen to Mandissa sing ‘Stronger.’
When the waves are taking you under, hold on just a little bit longer. He knows this is gonna make you stronger, stronger.
The past eight weeks have stretched me and tested my patience in ways I never expected. It’s like raising toddlers all over again, and feeling like one myself at times. I’ve had to count to ten often to control my temper and even given myself a timeout on occasion.
Most of the things that I find frustrating like laundry or trying to order online when I can’t type my address in Chinese and my name doesn’t fit in the space because it’s too long, are just minor inconveniences. I get that. But coupled with the stress of adapting to a new culture, trying to learn the language, missing friends from home and a shortage of warm chocolate chip cookies, they become supremely frustrating.
Revitalized from the gym, I returned to find the washer and dryer behaving themselves nicely. I folded the laundry and felt a little bit better about life.
I met some friends for lunch, which always lifts my spirits. I stopped at the store afterwards, still craving cookies. These minty ones caught my eye.
They taste kind of like Thin Mints, and that sweet reminder of home helped me make it through the afternoon.
This pain ain’t gonna last forever, it’s gonna make you stronger. Believe me this is gonna make you stronger, stronger. Gonna make you stronger, stronger, stronger.
What does home mean to you? A place to rest your head, nourish your body and relax with your family? In Chinese, the character for home or family comes from the pictograph that symbolizes a roof over a pig.
I’m not sure why it’s depicted this way, perhaps because if you had a pig in your house and a roof over your head, you had food and shelter and life was good.
My concept of home has changed over time, from the security of my childhood home surrounded by family and furry friends on our farm, to the excitement of my first home-away-from-home, my college dorm where I met people who helped shape me into who I am today.
Now that I have my own family, home is where we gather to pray before dinner, track my sons’ height on the garage wall (I stopped once theirs surpassed mine), light the candles on our Christmas tree and celebrate birthdays with homemade lemon bundt cake.
It’s the weird stains on the carpet from experiments gone wrong, shoes by the front door, crumbs on the placemats and half-full water glasses littering the counter (why do all of the other dishes make it into the dishwasher?)
A home lives and breathes the connections and love of the people who live in it. It’s more than food and shelter. It’s more than a roof over a pig. I think about these things as I get ready to head to Beijing next week to look for our new home.
Sure, I’ll ask about square footage, count the outlets in the kitchen and check the air purification system, but what I am really looking for is a place our family can thrive. We need an oven to fill our apartment with the smell of fresh baked cookies.
We need space to decompress with a good book, play music or just be alone for a bit. We need a table where we can gather, thanking God for this grand adventure and share a meal together. I would love a space large enough to host visitors from home (now taking reservations), welcome new friends and reconnect with team members who have gone before us.
I want our home to be safe, comfortable and conveniently located, but that’s just the house. It’s the laughter, tears, frustrations, joys and memories that we will experience together behind those walls that will turn into a home. I can’t wait to find it. But please, no pig.
What makes your house a home? How did you know when you found the right one?
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