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One of my first experiences interacting with the Chinese was a lesson in futility. Well, a few lessons, really. After a few nights freezing with no sheets and my only long-sleeve shirt being my jacket, I desperately needed sheets. The nearby RenRenLe (the equivalent of Fred Meyer or a Super Walmart) had sheets, and I thought I was going to be able to get what I needed. I had the dimensions of my bed, and I started looking for what I needed. A lady who worked there offered to help, so I drew a picture on my notebook of a bed and the dimensions of it. She seemed to understand, but that was about as far as our communication extended. What ensued was a challenge for both of us that quickly escalated out of control.

She kept pointing to things and I kept not understanding. She would point to the English description of the thing she was putting in my hand, but they were names of sheets that I had never heard before. What is an “enamel cover”? Why was this so complicated?

But it got worse. My whiteness attracted attention, and soon I had 5 staff standing around, trying to understand and help. Then the local shoppers tried to get in on it. Then they started calling people they knew who spoke any amount of English, and trying to get them to translate for me. It was a mess, and I just wanted to be left alone to figure it out on my own.

Eventually I decided it could get no better and that this was futile. I extracted myself as best I could and gave up sheetless.

The next time I came prepared. I had gotten internet on my phone and was able to use Google Translate to say “I do not need help. Thank you.” This was enough to get them to just stand nearby while I figured it out for myself.

However, this was not the end of the story. I had made the mistake of assuming that a large chain store would accept a credit card. When I handed it to the cashier she looked at it, then at me, then at it, then turned it over, and handed it back to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough cash to cover it, so I had to leave the sheets. I went back to the apartment and got some dough, then went back to the supermarket and found the sheets again and brought them home.

Sadly, that’s still not the end of the story. The sheet set I had purchased was missing a fitted sheet for the mattress. It took one more trip to the supermarket, and I ended up with a flat sheet, but I’m making it work. At least now I can sleep. Next I’d like to work on making my mattress less hard than the concrete floor.

This ginormous fail is not a criticism of the Chinese, who really were going out of their way to try to help, but more a realization that sometimes the best help is to leave someone to figure things out for themselves. Also, Google Translate is going to make things a lot easier for me in the future now that I have the Internet on my phone.

Permanent link to this article: http://engineerinshenzhen.com/sheets/

1 comment

  1. Scott Brauer

    Haha…experiences like that are the norm. I never saw a fitted bed sheet in China that I didn’t bring to the country myself. And the flat sheets always seemed to be slightly the wrong dimension for any bed I ever encountered. For the top cover, they do things in the European style, which is a sheet that you stuff a comforter in. I’m sure it’s too warm for the comforter where you are, but those extra sheets on top can be nice.

    And quit trying to use a credit card. Almost nowhere has the capability of handling a foreign card, and in those that do (only a few of the big chains, and usually only one of their stores in the city) somebody will steal your card info and rack up a bunch of fraudulent charges. I’ve seen it happen multiple times. Using a credit card in China is, at best, futile and, ordinarily, just asking for a world of financial hurt and annoyance.

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