While we were still staying at the Marriott, I put Clementine in the stroller and walked over to Ayala (a shopping mall right next to the hotel) to get sheets, towels, trash cans, and school shoes for Daniel and Zion, among other things. Ben and I agreed to meet up at a Thai restaurant in an hour and a half for dinner.
First of all, let me explain that Ayala is HUGE. Here’s a picture, to prove it:
Not only am I an American adjusting to island life in Asia, I’m also a small-town girl adjusting to life in the big city. Ayala is staggering, and most of the touch-screen maps don’t work. I wandered through, looking for stores that would have household goods.
The first I came to was called MUJI. It was a small Japanese store with travel items, bedding, office supplies, and clothes–my very favorite things to buy. Almost everything in the store is gray or white–and exclusively solids.
If you’ve ever looked in our laundry hamper, you already know that MUJI had me at hello. First I was dazzled by the office supplies. They had pocket-size notebooks. Need I say more? I browsed the aisles for 20-30 minutes, picking out some notebooks, cloth napkins, and dish towels. And then, as I always do, I put almost everything back. I’m an “under-buyer” by nature. And when I converted the prices to USD in my head, this stuff was a bit pricier than I had realized.
Next I went into Metro, which is a huge grocery/department store. A sign told me that Metro had household goods on Level 3. I left the store and went out to the elevator. Every time the doors opened, I stood there with my stroller, looking in on a packed elevator. After 5 minutes of this, I finally made it onto the elevator and rode to level 3. I went back into Metro and found myself in the middle of the women’s apparel section. I asked where the household goods were, and the employee said, “Go up to Level 3.” Turns out, Level 3 of Metro is on Level 4 of Ayala. Of course. But then an employee directed me to an elevator within Metro. So I went and waited for that elevator, but there was a family with another stroller in line in front of me. Could be hours. So I found this dark, back stairway that mostly employees were using. I picked up Clementine in one arm and the stroller in the other and climbed my way to METRO Level 3, trying not to make eye contact with anyone (in case I wasn’t supposed to be there).
When I arrived on Level 3, a voice came over the store intercom, asking everyone to pause. I did. Then the voice said the Hail Mary and a prayer. As I stood there pausing, I realized it was 6pm, the time I was supposed to meet Ben. And all I had found was a bundle of dishcloths. I booked it to the towel section, and picked out some towels and wash cloths. Then I grabbed some trash cans and hurried to Level 1, taking the stairs again. I have no cell phone yet, and I knew it was at least 10 after. My blood pressure was rising as I pictured Ben waiting at the restaurant, wondering if I was ok.
I got to the outdoor food court, only to remember that Level 1 is in fact Level 2. I was directly above the restaurant. Escalator, here we come. I broke down the stroller, and held the shopping bags, the stroller and the railing in my left hand while holding Clementine in my right. Believe me, it was perilous. But we made it to the bottom and I rushed into the restaurant.
I looked around. No Ben. It was 6:15. Laughing, sweating (and shaking a bit) I asked the host if a white man with three boys had come in. He just blinked at me and said, “No.” I started fumbling with my bags and stroller, trying to figure out what to do next. Then it hit me. We had agreed to meet at 6:30, not 6. I had only been gone just over an hour. Then a recurring thought popped into my head. Why did we move to the other side of the world with two kids and two babies?
Right then, an older white gentleman caught my eye. Picture Farmer Hoggett from Babe. He was calmly watching me make a spectacle of myself. I smiled sheepishly at him, and he smiled back encouragingly.
Instead, he motioned toward Clementine and asked, “When will you have more?”
I answered, “I have three others!”
“Well, we can’t be selfish, can we?” he replied.
Fifteen minutes later, after Clementine and I had settled into a booth at the back of the restaurant, Ben strolled in with the boys. The man repeated his question to Ben. “When will you have more?”
Such a little thing, but his warm smile and encouragement meant the world to me as we embark on this crazy adventure. If only I had introduced myself.