When we moved here to this land of four toned language and city streets changing daily with construction and the demolition of progress, we were moving to a country that had already seen massive leaps in modernity in a space of a few decades or even a few years. People I met who had moved to our city even six, eight, or ten years before us would tell "tales" of the living conditions and things they did without, before many of the "conveniences" I now enjoy had arrived. They "endured" things like no diapers, or large grocery stores, and no western imported food, period (this, when all that we had when I arrived was a little hole in the wall shop with canned goods, a few boxed cereals, and baking supplies or alcohol for the starved and dehydrated foreigners).
It seems that the country and probably every city within it is changing daily, hourly. New high rises, apartments, high-end shops like Burberry and Armani (which are empty... who can shop there? They are a mystery to us all), and places like the first Dairy Queen and Subway are popping up everywhere like the little spring buds that push through the rock hard clay packed around the concrete streets and sidewalks.
I say this because today I experienced my first ever shopping excursion in Qingdao that actually had me giddy with delight. I saw clothes. I liked them. I could afford them. They did not have appliques of Micky Mouse or Mei Yang Yang sewn on nearly every available surface. It was not a dream, or surfing online, it was an actual store and it was like eating straight out of a carton of Ben and Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch after living for twenty years in the Saharan dessert (okay, not quite like that). Today, H&M opened up down the street from our apartment. My friend and I went in merely to gaze and ooh and ahh over what could now be... buying clothes for our children, for a friend's baby shower, for that growing belly, for that moment when you just need a new shirt because all of yours have been stretched to disproportionate lengths by your angry washing machine.
I have many things to be thankful for today, some of which should include things like food, water, a mind that works and a body that can move. For my children who shower me with love and cuddles, who bless me with quiet moments when I need it and who drive me crazy with their wrestling when I DON'T, for cinnamon swirl raisin bread coming hot out of my oven and for the joy of my husband returning at midnight tonight after a week away from my arms, for a beautiful run by the ocean with music that made me feel like I was soaring high above the waves, for the grace given to respond with grace when I felt like holding it against her, for life giving Words and a boy who obeyed, for a good friend given time and again.
In light of all those things, clothing stores seem kind of trite and superfluous. And to be honest, in all my excitement about the possibility of shopping in the flesh again with greater frequency than once every two years, I actually felt a little bittersweet about the opening of this store today. Thinking about all those sacrifices that we willingly accept when we move to a different culture, a less-developed country, remembering all the ways they change us for the better, the way they challenge us to think differently about our lives, I wondered if this was the beginning of the end. The end of doing without (if at this moment you are thinking, good grief lady, take a load off and enjoy the darn store, I hear you). It's wonderful, in a bittersweet sort of way. And while I'm basking in all it's affordable, stylish, accessible glory, I'm feeling a bit wary of the changes it will bring. Wary, but not protesting, mind you. I'll be in there again tomorrow.