The man standing just outside my apartment door politely begins to remove his shoes. Despite my protestations of ‘mei guanxi, jin lai’ he slips off his well worn dress shoes while balancing a heavy flat box on his shoulders. His socks are black and thick. His partner follows suit. Both are wearing the traditional laborers uniform…suitcoat, mismatched slacks and loafers. They step in. Damp footprints on the hardwood floor mark their path and they quickly set down their heavy burdens. The foot-smell goes far beyond any of the locker room odors I remember from college, it will linger for hours and survive multiple clean-up attempts, I nearly gag.
It’s all so familiar, the maze like path, the mid-quality merchandise nicely arranged in small tableaus, the crowds. I’ve been here before, both this exact location and in this exact experience elsewhere. IKEA represents a destination more than a store. I fitted out my grad school apartment nicely with decent furniture that lasted for my time there, spending several days looking and imagining future living spaces, eating meatballs with lignon berries. Home furnishing based musings, meatballs and lignon berries are also available in Shanghai.
Unlike my US apartment in grad school, however, almost all the apartments here come already furnished and thus pose another variable when apartment hunting….location, size, bedrooms, bathrooms and furnishings. And the furnishings range from cheapest mismatched junk sale-bought imaginable to the very most expensive nouveau-riche style Victorian. Having designed and built my previous home, I miss the opportunity to take an empty space and make it mine by design. My apartment has mid-range semi-modern furniture but lacks a few key things, the purpose of the sojourn, and I’m happy to do what I can to personalize my new home. There are cheaper places, there are better quality places but none with the same convenience and meatballs.
I pick out familiar shelves, dish rack, side tables and other interesting organizing-based items, then take advantage of China’s biggest resource, cheap labor. My 50lbs of merchandise will be delivered same day, and then set up two days later all for less than $20. I drop off all my purcahses at the delivery desk, head out for an evening on the town and then after dinner, return home and wait for the delivery men.