Throwing a party in Beijing is an exhausting task.
For one thing, almost no-one ever manages to give you a really firm and convincing RSVP: my expected numbers are between 15 and 45.
(I am guesstimating low-20s, but it could get crowded - or be deserted! You never can tell.)
For another, shopping involves massive treks across the city. Outlets of the two main supermarket chains specialising in foreigner-targeted imports are all clustered over on the east side; neither has a branch within the 2nd Ringroad. What's more, they are wildly inconsistent in their stocking: different branches of the same store may carry very different items, so you often find yourself traipsing to two or three different ones in hopes of finding something you crave - as often as not, ultimately in vain. This week, for example, I found that three different Jenny Lou's locations were mysteriously out of cheddar.
To add to my vexation, I discovered that my local Chinese supermarket has just stopped selling beer by the case. (There was welcome karmic compensation in the fact that one of the five or six 7-11 type stores on my street has just started selling beer by the case.)
In the UK these days, the major supermarket chains have started setting up numerous mini-branches in the middle of urban areas: in a big town or city, it seems you're rarely more than half a mile away from a Tesco Metro or a Sainsbury's Local - and they stock just about EVERYTHING you might ever want. Here in Beijing, you have to visit 5 or 6 different stores, and they're scattered all over the map. I've put in well over 50 road miles this week - the majority of them on foot!
And just when I was finally getting on top of the shopping list (lettuces are damned hard to come by... and the radish season has passed?!), I realised that I didn't have a serviceable barbecue - which is a pity, given that I had advertised an outdoor party and bought a ton of food for barbecueing. I had thought I had TWO barbecues left behind by previous tenants, but in fact I seem to have bits of three - from which I can only cobble together one complete one. And that's very small. And will take hours of cleaning to make fit for use.
I knew this was going to be kind of a problem. I had always planned to buy a similar barbecue of my own to boost my grilling capacity, but... I hadn't counted on them being such a seasonal item. Two local stores where I've seen them in the past (one of them, as recently as a month or so ago) no longer have any in stock. I also tried a multi-storey sundries market that stocks everything from plumbing supplies to My Little Ponies; after half an hour of searching, I ascertained that it did not stock barbecues. Well, no matter: I thought at least one of my friends would have one they could lend me....
Well, eventually, my problem is sorted. I had been contemplating building an open fire from pieces of broken furniture, but that will not be necessary: I have managed to procure a barbecue.
But that's another TWO DAYS of my life gone. And I haven't even done the BIG SHOP yet.
It'll probably rain, too....
* This post title cunningly chosen to aggravate the Chinese censors.