I’ve been here more than two years now, so you’d think, wouldn’t you, that I’d have everything pretty much figured out. By now I should be able to find what I need, get where I want to go, and even understand why turn-right-on-red trumps drive straight-through-green. You’d think. But you’d be wrong. Take, for example, the case of the broken watch. Pay close attention here, because this story actually starts almost two years ago.
January, 2008: My watch battery dies. “Oh well,” I think, “I’ll just use my other watch until I have time to find a place that changes batteries.”
March, 2008: “Honey,” my husband calls from the next room, “a couple of my watches have died. Could you ask around and find out where to get the batteries changed?” “Right,” I think. Time to figure this out.
April, 2008: “Hey honey?” he calls again. “I really need a new watch battery. Any chance you know how to get that done?” Sure, I know how to get it done. In the United States, that is. So I ask my ayi where I should go. “Jingkelong,” she answers, and what could be easier? I hop in the car and head over, watches in hand. The cashier shakes her head at my watches and points to the row of cashiers at the other end of the shop, near the exit. I walk over and show them my broken watches. They confer, and then explain something in great detail while pointing at the exit. So I exit, figuring the watch place must be out there. I walk up, I walk down. I go home, defeated.
One Week Later: Husband and I set out together for Jingkelong. He understands when they explain that the repair shop is “just down the street.” We walk a ways and duck into another shop. Finally, a friendly shopkeeper adds a bit more detail, enough that we realize the shop we want is waaaay down the street, through an alley and behind some houses … We go home.
August, 2008: My last watch battery dies. But my phone tells time, so I’m in no hurry to restart my search. Husband has given up on ever getting a new watch battery.
December, 2008: Under the tree I find a shiny new watch. Crisis averted!
February, 2009: Through an online forum, I discover that there’s a repair kiosk inside the Vanguard store, right here in Shunyi. The man behind the counter changes the battery in one of my husband’s watches – the only one I thought to bring with me, assuming as I did that I’d never actually find the place. “I really should go back right away,” I think to myself. But, well, I’m busy. And he has a working watch now. So I wait until …
April, 2009: The recently repaired watch dies. But I’m not worried. I know where to go. I gather up seven watches and two friends; together, we set out for the Vanguard kiosk. Alas, the man who works there is out. “He’ll definitely be back by one o’clock,” an apologetic saleslady informs us. We go home.
Later That Day: I return, alone this time, at the appointed hour. No sign of the repair guy. But the saleslady calls him, and says he’s on his way – just wait five minutes, she says with a smile. So I wait five minutes. And then ten more. And another five. Finally – can you guess? I go home.
July, 2009: I go home. No, really: I fly back to the United States, where it’s simple to get your batteries changed. Unfortunately, in my haste to stuff two suitcases full of summer clothes for four kids, I forget to bring the watches with me. We have a great vacation in the States. The watches grow dusty on a shelf in Beijing.
August, 2009: Back in Beijing, I take a newcomer to Sunny Gold Market. She’s checking out watches. For some reason, it occurs to me to ask: Do you sell watch batteries? Of course, the saleslady answers, giving me a look of surprise. But of course, those broken watches aren’t with me. They’re all back home, on my shelf, their carcasses lying in a forlorn, neglected heap.
September, 2009: And here, dear reader, is where my story ends. You’re certainly wondering: Did she bring her watches back to Sunny Gold? Did they have the right batteries? Were they able to fix the watches? And where can I buy her book, sure to be a bestseller on several continents? Sadly, I haven’t yet returned to Sunny Gold. Even as the saleslady told me that she could fix those watches, I knew I probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. I have four kids, after all, and a part-time job. Oh – and I hate shopping. So I did what any sane consumer would do. While I was at the market, back in August, I bought myself a shiny new watch. It’s the little things like this that’ll drive you crazy if you let them. It should have been an easy errand. But here it is, October, 2009, and those watch carcasses still sit high on a shelf, blank faces staring down at me as I type. Next month, I’ll try again, I promise. After all, it’ll be time to hit the market for holiday shopping. Don’t tell my husband, but I’m thinking this year, I’ll buy him a watch. Maybe two.