Monday, October 3, 2016

The Trip to IKEA Hangzhou: A Cautionary Tale

I first went to IKEA about a week or two after arriving in China. In my bleary, jet-lagged state, I didn't really remember much about it. I remember people - lots of people - and I remember it being nearly impossible to get home. But, I don't remember much else. I got a lot of stuff, but I knew I still wanted more stuff. (BUY ALL THE THINGS!)
By the way, the credit for the art for this meme goes to the blog Hyperbole and Half, which is a really great blog, and you should read it alot. You'll get that grammatical error if you read this post.
So, almost two months later, I decided to go with Michelle, who had not been to the IKEA yet. We knew it would be an all day trip, and we knew that there would be a lot of people. We also knew that we were planning on buying couches, and getting a few other bigger items that we could ship. Before you raise your eyebrows at our decadence, it costs a fraction of what it would cost us in the States. The main reason we chose this weekend is because we are off for a week for China's National Holiday, and so we could afford to spend an entire day shopping without feeling like we lost either a work day, or a rest day, on the weekend.

First, you have to get to IKEA. It's really far away - about 24 miles. I realize that's close, compared to most IKEAs in the States, but please remember, we don't have our own vehicles. The choices are to go by taxi, which is pretty expensive, or by public transportation, or a combination of the two. For some reason (I think we were feeling energized and gung-ho!) we chose public transportation all the way. Apple Maps is a great app, because it works in China without a VPN, and it has bus and metro routes.

First, we had to take about a 30 minute bus ride to the metro stop. There will be a metro stop near our school...soon. Sometime. Maybe December. Maybe April or something, since the motivation to put in the metro was the G20, and that's over with. After the bus, you take the metro for about 40-45 minutes. It's actually pretty easy - one bus, one metro ride (no switching). And, the IKEA is about half a kilometer away from the metro stop.

We arrived and made our way to the cafeteria (restaurant?), first, as it was already quarter of one, and we didn't want to shop hungry. This was the first obstacle. If you've ever eaten at IKEA, you know the food is decent - nothing to write home about (I'm sorry, but I just don't get excited about the meatballs...). You would have thought the food at IKEA was Michelin star quality at low, low prices, based on the crowds and the amounts of food people were getting. There was a long queue just to get into the restaurant , and then an even longer queue to wait for the food.
Again, if you've ever been to an IKEA in the States - I'm mostly familiar with the one in White Marsh - imagine a dining room triple the size of a "standard" IKEA...with every single table and almost every seat filled. After getting our food, Michelle and I wandered forlornly, awkwardly balancing our trays as people just bumped into us again and again. Of course, being a genius, I had gotten soup, which made it particularly difficult when people nudged and bumped me as we wandered around. Finally, after what felt like an hour, but was probably only five or ten minutes, someone offered to let us share a table, and we settled in for a bit.
This is actually from my first IKEA trip, but I got the same thing. The dish tasted like American Chinese food, which was weirdly comforting. 
After eating, it was of course, time to hit the showrooms.

Typically, I skip the showrooms, but our reasons for touring them were twofold: we were there to buy couches, so we actually wanted to sample them, and secondly, Michelle had not yet experienced the wonder that is the IKEA showroom in Hangzhou.

I don't know if it's like this in IKEAs across China, or simply in the more "provincial" cities. Hangzhou, for all it's modernity, is a city that has grown quickly in the past twenty years (like so many cities in China) and I think people are still catching up to that. I don't know how to say that tactfully, but my tact is about to completely go out the window.

When you get the showroom, there is a massive press of people. There are so many people it's difficult to move around in spots. And, there are people on all the furniture. Not sampling the furniture, but...using the furniture. They are sleeping in the beds, as in, under the covers. And they are actually asleep. They are napping on the couches, dozing peacefully as people wander around them. There are babies completely sacked out, with their mothers and fathers sleeping next to them. While literally hundreds of other people browse around them. It's nearly impossible to sample a couch because people are sleeping on them.
No one is sleeping in this bed...but obviously someone was, recently.
Just, you know, hanging out.

To be fair, some people were just sitting and they were awake and just spending time together. But they were still settled in, and not going anywhere. The number of people simply enjoying the couches provided by IKEA is much higher than the people who actually want to purchase a couch.

We wandered through the showroom as quickly as possible, which of course took more than an hour. After the showroom, we got to the "Market," which was even worse. Because now, those hundreds of people all had shopping carts.


The laws of traffic were not observed.

I think that's all I should say about that.

Imagine trying to push your shopping card through literally dozens of other shopping carts, all in a gridiron at certain points because no one can move, and no one seems to be able to figure out how to move out the way. At one point, I crossed the aisle to look at a mug, foolishly taking my cart with me when there was a gap in traffic, and I couldn't get back. I stood there, probably for several minutes, trying to make a break for it. I finally lunged out into the middle of the carts, devil may care, and had to cut off several grandmothers and mothers with infants to get to the other side.

We slowly wended our way through the store, not wanting to miss anything because we knew we were never coming back. This, of course, took approximately forever. IKEAs, in general, seem to be the sort of places where time forgot. I think they're like the furniture version of the Lotus Hotel in The Lightning Thief. Several days passed outside, and we were none the wiser.

This is an adult woman sitting in a shopping cart. This was the third or fourth adult woman I saw riding in a shopping cart.
So. Many. People.
We finally made it to the warehouse, and picked up several of the furniture items we wanted. Neither of us had ever bought big furniture from IKEA, so we didn't know the social protocol, unfortunately. We made the mistake - I say we, but I feel like it was my fault because I'm an annoying know-it-all - of checking out first. I thought that we would buy bigger furniture after the checkout, in the same area where you ship items.

We went to the wrapping area and wrapped up our fragile items, and realized that we couldn't order couches after the registers. So, I went back into the warehouse area, found someone to help me - he spoke English - and ordered my couch while Michelle waited with all the stuff. I had no way of telling Michelle why I was taking so long (initially I was just going to look at the bargain area), because her phone died. I got in a pretty fast line, paid for my couch, and got back to Michelle in less than twenty minutes. I gave her directions on how to order her couch, drew her a map (yes, really), and sent her off. She came back twenty minutes later to get my phone number (because her phone doesn't really work). and she explained that the person helping her spoke very little English. I hadn't had to give my number at all, and the process for me had been straightforward. She went back, and returned twenty minutes after that.

Then (yes, it's still not done), we had to figure out how to ship it all home. Fortunately, that was a easy process. We were able to most of our things shipped, though I wanted to take all my stuff (except for the furniture), which meant lugging it home.

We finally exited the IKEA almost 6 hours after entering. It was still the same day, much to our surprise. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks across the street, so we schlepped my bags to the Starbucks, and collapsed there for a bit before getting the metro home.

The metro was nearly empty, so we found seats, which was good, because it was almost a fifty minute ride due to delays. We then decided to still take the bus home - I'm not entirely sure why.
Michelle was really thrilled about the metro ride.

Of course, the bus was completely packed, and so we crammed onto the bus with my three large bags. There were many pictures taken of us. I'm pretty sure we're trending on Chinese social media. I literally saw one woman upload the video she had just taken up us to several - I'm not exaggerating - several different sites.
Actually, it could have been much worse.
We finally got home about 10:00 pm, almost 11 hours after we left.

Eleven. Hours.

There are two types of people in the world, I think. Those who love IKEA, and those who avoid it at all costs.

I'm never going to IKEA again.


Until I need something.

p.s. I know I haven't blogged all...Life is really busy, in a good way. I just haven't had time or energy or inspiration to write since moving here. Everything is going well, even though it's overwhelming at times. I'm sort of getting by one day at a time, and with five courses to plan for with no curriculum...I don't have much personal time!