Are You Fashion?

It was time for a Walmart run. Our local “Friendly Shop” grocery store, so named by our son to distinguish its family ownership from the surliness across the street, doesn’t have everything. Salted peanuts to decorate my corn flakes, plus a large bag of Tide, were on the agenda, but I really wanted one more look at a pink fuzzy pyjama shirt I’d seen the week before. It had been my favourite linguistic delicacy of the winter.

Like most women’s nightdressing in China (well, at least so far as I can tell), the emphasis was on cute, preferably with animals. (Earlier, I’d been looking for a housecoat my wife had casually mentioned, and that’s why I was there, I swear it!) “Love My Bear” had adorned a neighbouring nightie, but I was looking for a stronger, more probing motto: STYLE IS MY GENETIC, the rosy shirt had announced. ARE YOU FASHION? This wasn’t something I could actually buy for my bride’s mid-winter birthday – besides, the pink slippers with the black polka-dots so perfectly matched her black PJs with the fuschia ones! – but I had stood and repeated the sentences. One mysterious statement, and one inscrutable question that I wanted to remember. Tragically, when I’d reported my find back at headquarters, I was convinced that the Chinglish had been even better, even more delightfully flawed. I cursed my mouldy mind.

I shouldn’t have waited a week. Up and down the aisles of women’s clothing I went. I looked in sales bins. No luck. I found Skippy and some pleasantly mediocre jam to spread with it, and everything else I needed for comfort breakfasts and tolerable laundry. Vacuum-packed salted cashews offered crunchable and linguistic solace – TRADITIONAL FOODS WIN ZEN PRESENT – but there was no my genetic, no are you fashion? I left the basement emporium, overheated and slightly claustrophobic as usual, but mainly with that feeling of having missed a chance that won’t come again. Back in the cold air of a December Dalian street, bags in each hand, I trudged on to my next duty, arms heavy but heart heavier at the lost phrase.

(But wait: Chinese neighbours often wear their pyjamas outside! Who knows, maybe come spring I’ll find it on an after-supper stroll! Hope springs.)

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