Now is not the time to be tired. I have things to do: bags to pack, stuff to clean (including my smelly self), laundry to fold, and presents for a very cute and very toothless eight year old girl to wrap. I should be excited, if not antsy, in anticipation of a 10-day China trip that kicks off tomorrow. But here I am feeling groggy, my body achingly sore. In hindsight, it wasn’t wise to go on a big hike in Tiger Mountain a few days ago, which reminded me just how out of shape I am. Four days later, my calves and lower back are still hurting. As if I needed yet another reminder that I’ll be one year older by the end of this month.
I can’t do much about these bodily pains and, sadly, there is no time for a cheap massage this week. Instead, I’m hoping a little cup of espresso sipped from my pretty orange cup I picked up in New Zealand can perk me up and get me through the next few hours. Most of which will be spent at the aforementioned eight year old’s birthday party. For interested parents, you will not be surprised when I tell you that the chosen party theme is Frozen.
It’s not just the hike and all the trip prep that’s worn me down. No, it’s the domestic duties that have really drained me. It’s hard to explain to those of you not living within the confines of this strange little village of ours why living here is such a chore. That’s what it is…and one after another. I always feel like I might come across as a whiner when I’m talking to those of you out there about what life is like right here. Thank god I’ve got a group of fellow housewives to
commiserate bitch with. I just came home from hanging out with a few of them. Hanging out implies this was a casual, relaxing affair, but that’s misleading. This is the second day we ladies have spent together, prepping for the big birthday bash and, well, bitching among other things. It’s not that we were complaining about throwing a party. It’s all the work that’s involved in throwing one here.
There are food and cakes and decorations to be made. And, yes, sometimes it truly takes a village to pull it all off. Let’s start with the cooking. It’s hard to whip up a spread that’ll feed twenty when you’ve got microscopic counter space on which to work. Even harder when you’ve got one or two hot plates, one or two mini fridges, and one oven that is about as big and works about as well as the Easy-Bake Oven you got when you yourself were eight.
Photo courtesy of LA Weekly
Then there’s the issue of tracking down all the ingredients you’ll need to make all the food from scratch. For starters, you never know what vegetables will be good or what items will be stocked on any given day you happen into the local grocery store here. This is frustrating for people like me who (1) are used to some sort of quality control and consistency when it comes to their food and (2) can’t just magically pull dishes together from unimaginative brains and instead need to plan dinners around recipes in advance. And there are no assists in the form of readily available packaged foods when it comes to cooking here. You want to bake a casserole to feed your family or your birthday party guests? Don’t count on finding frozen premade Stouffer’s or Marie Callender’s boxes in the freezer section. You can’t even find frozen spinach or most other frozen vegetables. Sandra Dee and her semi-homemade recipes could never fly here. Sorry to burst your bubble, Rachael Ray, but there is no such thing as a 30-minute meal here. Let’s talk about dessert, while we’re at it. You want a cake that is sweet, tastes like cake, and not topped with starfruit and a tomato or two? Then you can’t go to a local bakery. Sorry, friend, you’ve got to make one on your own. Everything — no matter what — takes time and patience here. I may have a lot of time on my hands, but I’ve always been in short supply of patience.
In the end, we women — practically pioneer ones at that — managed to team up and get everything made on time and all the decorations hung just right. Was it a pain? Sure — especially for the birthday girl’s poor mother. Was it worth the effort? Definitely — especially for the birthday girl’s poor mother. As was my own personal domestic hell of the last several days. Because, while I’ve been getting ready for my trip, I’ve also been getting ready to leave Iggy home alone. I’ll be airplaning and training between Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and Hong Kong with my college buddy over the next ten days, while Iggy will be holding down the fort back here. That’s really no big thing, except for the fact that the skinny guy will starve if I don’t leave him with two mini fridges and freezers stocked full of food. Other than KFC or the village cafeteria, there are no take-out options here. There are few dining out options for vegetarians like us here. And since he doesn’t cook, what the hell will he eat here?
I can remember when we first moved here and a friend told me that when she left the village and her husband stayed behind to work, she would make enough frozen meals to get him through their temporary separation. I thought, at the time, “Jesus, I’d never do that.” Now, here I am doing just that. I’ve got two portions of red lentil-tomato soup and four portions of veggie lasagna chilling out in our freezers. Plus, he’s got a whole, freshly made pizza to come home to tomorrow night, which will hopefully stretch into two or three meals. There’s also a loaf of freshly baked bread so he can make the three things he knows how to: toast, PB&J, and egg sandwiches. Should he run out, he can at least make another loaf since he recently learned how (you’re welcome, dear). I also taught him how to make yogurt, should he run out of the batch I made today. I hope the new jar of granola I threw together for him lasts, but it’s doubtful. If all else fails and he can’t be bothered to make a sandwich or heat up all the food I’ve left him, at least he can snack on cheese and crackers and pickles. I’m leaving him with a whole jar of them and I’m betting none will be left by the time I make it back here. That’ll be sad for me because I’m sure I’ll be returning home hungry and most likely just as tired, sore, and groggy as when I left.