After spending several days here on Shamian Island in Guangzhou – which is essentially adoption central for families from the US because of the old location of the US Consulate – and where it’s fairly typical to see caucasian families with their chinese daughters (and occasional sons) and the only people who really take an interest are usually the proprietors of gift shops, we ventured out into the city today in search of the mythical $100 suit and cheap custom shirts. We ended up in a nice shopping area where we were surrounded by shop clerks all very interested in our little daughter. At one point we had 5 floor attendants all clustered around us – I know this because I counted out loud in chinese – “yi, er, san, si, wo” and pointed at each woman as I did. They all laughed, apparently I’ve finally found an audience of people who’ll laugh at my jokes.
Back to the mythical custom suit. Ever since WWII men have come back from Hong Kong and China talking about these great custom suits and shirts, made in 24 or 48 hours. Supposedly dirt cheap and they look great. The cheap hong kong suit was even a featured Sgt. Bilko episode. I’ve never actually met anyone though, who’s had it done themselves. Since our Chinese Visas won’t allow us to go to Hong Kong on this trip, I did some investigating and found a place a whopping $2.50 taxi ride away. So after Lili’s – and our’s as well – morning nap and a simple little lunch at this outdoor cafe, we hopped into a taxi. We found the place (well Catherine did anyway) and quickly discovered they aren’t cheap at all. I don’t really need an $800 suit, no matter how nice it will look and custom shirts can be had with english speaking tailors in the US for less than their $120 per shirt price. So we left still suitless and shirtless.
A little background. I have a size 18 neck, which coupled with my size 46/48 chest means all dress shirts billow around my waist like a loose main sheet in a fresh breeze. So I’ve been trying to figure out how I can have nice, crisp, refined dress shirts made for my hard-to-fit frame for a long time. I did find a very nice custom tailor once, but his suit/shirt sets start around $2,000 and go up. Given the impending, and now actual, addition to our family that was a purchase that didn’t seem very prudent.
Back to today, after the first tailor we walked around this shopping district just enjoying the warm 75-80 degree temperatures and not even bothering to window shop since neither one us are likely to find much in the shops that will fit us. We wondered into the “Trust-Mart” in hopes of finding a WC (water closet which the chinese seem to have adopted as a universal term for restroom). We succeeded in that quest, if finding squat toilets can be considered successful. After a quick change of our little Lili, we started looking around the stores and found a store called “Happy Store”. It turns out it was a children’s/baby store. We stocked up with a hat for Lili, a new drop cloth (or whatever you call those spitup/feeding cloths), a bulb syringe for her stuffy nose and a pair of child’s training chopsticks. We also attracted loads of attention from the staff who all though Lili was a beautiful “Xiao Bao” (little baby). We then ventured up to the trust mart. It was like Walmart, but less frenetic. Since we needed diapers we picked up enough pampers to make it home.
After leaving the trusty Trust-Mart, we went to the fabric market. It isn’t a market as much as a large multi-storey building filled with separate 3×6, 6×8 and 10×12 little kiosks and shops all with their own slightly different fabric sold by the meter. We did find a nice woman with good wool suit fabric who spoke with a tailor across the corridor who didn’t speak english but said it would 500 Kwai (slang for the Yuan). We also asked the shop keeper how much fabric we would need for a suit. Her response – “for you?” followed by gails of laughter by her, Catherine and finally myself. She finally settled on about 3 meters which would have cost about 280 Kwai. So If I had been willing I could have had the $100 but since the tailor spoke no english, had no samples of her work making western suits, and wanted five days to finsh it (we only have 3) I decided to let that opportunity pass by. But we did enjoy the fabric complexes, we walked through two buildings all the while thinking how much fun Brett or Ann would have wondering through there. Every conceivable kind of fabric for clothes, bedding, curtains, tapestry not to mention all the yarns, buttons, trim, etc. I’m sure there are people who would have known what to do with such a bonanza, we weren’t those people. As it was we found two pillow covers so ridiculously cheap that we had to buy them and a table runner for about 1/7 the price of what they are charging for them on Shamian Island. Someday my suit will come.
Through all of this shopping Lili was her usual charming self -see the new pink hat along with the traffic coming at us as we are stopped for several light cycles in the middle of an intersection.
You may notice that Lili is secured in the baby bjorn and not in a car seat. I’ve been in China two weeks now and have yet to see such a contraption. Hopefully Lili will not complain when she gets strapped into her first car seat after a 30-hour-trip.
We took another nap before dinner before discovering that once again Lili really doesn’t like baths, as in face completely wound up, massive screaming and crying, crocodile tears, the works. A nice preview of what she’ll look like when I turn down her request for her own car on her 16th birthday, only with no shouting. Catherine turned in early because she has the cold, I’ve had twice already, and has now migrated to her and probably to Lili as well. Apparently we are doomed to travel through China with low-grade nuisance illnesses, which I guess beats the 4 day hospitalization a recent adoption traveler we know experienced a few months ago.
That’s all for now. BTW, what happened to all the commenting? We were really enjoying reading everyone’s comments to each other in the morning when we wake up, but they’ve been diminishing recently. Is anyone out there still reading our long-winded posts? Let us know either way. Zaijian -t