Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Perfect Gift

Dedicated to Elizabeth.

November 19, 2009. Yichang, China. It was a cold, fall day. But not just any day. It was Elizabeth's birthday. And Katie and I, after weeks of contemplation and hours of shopping (Exaggeration? Perrrrhaps.), had settled on purchasing a turtle for Elizabeth. Yes, it was the perfect gift. We could already envision the way Elizabeth would light up and her husband, Zack, would grimace at the sight of it. We were pleased.

The plan was as follows: Katie and I both had morning classes, being that I am domestically challenged, Katie would begin cooking preparations for the lunchtime party that would take place at our apartment whilst I hopped on a bus to Children's Park where I could make the purchase of a turtle family to bring back just in time for the birthday celebration at 1:00 PM and, thus, give Elizabeth the ultimate birthday surprise. It was infallible. Or, was it?

11:40 AM: As planned, I leave after my second morning class and promptly catch bus #23, slightly aware of the fact that a visit to the Ladies Room will be warranted in the near future.

12:00 PM: Upon arrival to Children's Park, I began to get really cold. This does not help the situation of the full bladder. But I'm still not exactly a fan of the squatty potty, so I decide to hold out. I approach the previous location, where only days before there had been an abundance of teeny, tiny turtles for sale, but to my dismay, there are only fish. I immediately realize that we had recently undergone a cold front, no doubt from the icy winds blasting from our Northern friend, Mongolia, and fear this temperature change must have seasonally done away with the numerous green, shelled reptilians that usually lined the streets in their little bowls.

12:10 PM: I do not know even know how to ask where I could purchase one since I can't say "turtle" in Chinese, so I pull out my phone and call Katie. No answer. I do not panic. I am Jess Cus. Chill as the air I am breathing. Immediately, I see a cute shop and am, once again, filled with hope. I buy the birthday girl a pink tiara (muahaha) and some nail polish. But, alas, this is no suitable replacement for a turtle. At this point, the urge is becoming bothersome. I throw the money at the woman and leave, starting to feel nervous about finding a suitable gift in time.

12:20 PM: I exit the shop and walk around a bit more, wondering if I was right about the previous location being the spot that I'd seen turtles at before. As I walk, I take a long look at a sign with an arrow pointing towards the WC. But I press on. There is no time to waste. (No pun intended.)

12:25 PM: I call Katie, again. No answer. I risk the chance of Elizabeth being with her husband, and call Zack. I ask him if she would like fish. "Umm. I don't know. I don't think so." I ask him what I should do. "Well, there's a pet store somewhere.." I ask him if he knows where, "Uhh.. No.." Just when I begin to doubt his usefulness, he provides me with the Chinese word for turtle (乌龟 or "wu gui"). Xie xie, Zachary.

I actually know how to ask where something is, but somehow this slips my mind, and I begin to walk around asking people if they speak English. Every person I approach just looks at me, startled and confused to be approached by a foreigner and as they walk away I begin to frantically shout "Wu giu? Wu gui?!" The fact that I have seriously gotta go is getting to my head. I realize I'm scaring people, and decide to rethink my current course of action.

12:30 PM: Another call to Katie. No luck. I look at the time, and I think I actually say out loud, "Elizabeth, you're getting fish--and you will like it." I march back across Children's Park to the booth where the selection of gold and black fish are swimming happily in water, two of which are unaware of the terrifying ride of their lives they will shortly undergo. Poor suckers.

I haphazardly point out two fish: "Zhe ge, zhe ge" (this one, this one), ready to quickly make the purchase and find a toilet of refuge. I start looking around to see if I can find a restroom nearby--there it is. The stick figure woman shines in the sun. Like the pearly gates, it beckons me, and although I am not there yet, and the road to get there seems long, painful and, at times, impossible, I have faith that I will make it. The lady behind the table has already scooped out my two fish but is pointing at the swollen eye of one of them--apparently I've picked one that is less than perfect. I try to tell her that the fish is fine (who am I to discriminate?) but she continues to argue with me in Chinese, so I give in, and she happily dumps the less than perfect one back in the tank, and nets another.

12:35 PM: Like everything in China, this is not going as quickly as I had hoped. In a moment of insanity, I actually wonder if I can hold it out any longer. Never has giving up looked so appealing. At least it'd be.. warm.. I push the thought from my mind. MUST. PRESS. ON.

I am vaguely aware that little Chinese man and woman are giving me choices for a bowl, some colorful rocks, and fish food and I just keep saying, "Hao, hao, hao" and waving my hands impatiently. I try to ask for them to put the fish in a bag, like they do at carnivals, so I won't have to carry a bowl full of water, but they just put a bag around the bowl full of water. Whatever. "Duo shao qian?" I say as I rummage through my purse. I realize I can't even stand still anymore and the people are looking at me like I have two heads as I try with all my might to conceal the fact that I am doing a little dance that I'm pretty sure I haven't done since I was three. I don't hear how much they say so I just throw money at them, they hand me my change hurriedly as they can tell that something is wrong. I grab the bowl and the fish goods and make a dash for the stick figure lady and throw back, "Thank you!" (Probably in English.)

12:40 PM: I'm pretty sure the sloshing water in the fish bowl is not helping matters. But I am almost there, and for a moment, I think I'm going to make it--and then I round the corner and am stopped by some ladies behind a counter demanding money for my right to pee in a private place. At this point I don't even try to hide my urgency. I grab some money while I dance, throw it at them, throw my fish bowl at the lady, and fly past the ladies who are now laughing hysterically at me.

The deed is done. I walk out with my head held high, and a smile on my face. The ladies laugh at me, once again. But I don't even care. Not having to go has never felt so good. I nod my head at them and go on my way to the party, second-rate gift in hand, and feeling victorious.

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