The Smell of Cardboard and Ugly Awnings

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I’m not sure if it’s the smell of the cardboard or finding dead bugs underneath the sink, but moving never brings out my best.


Mark knew this too, as he always needed to climb a ladder when my moving stress escalated. Actually, I think that he got up there to inhale the last molecules of breathable oxygen from the living room. After all, it is a well documented fact that my mood during a move sucked the life out of every room.


In the midst of the cardboard and bubble wrap of our fifth international move, the doorbell rang unexpectedly. I was in the kitchen with a broken Pyrex lid and Mark was hanging a ceiling fan. 


“If this is bad news,” I warned Mark, “I’m having a meltdown.”


Now, I realize that in some relationships, this might seem a vain threat, yet in mine, we both realized that this carried the weight of a Sumo wrestler.


With ten years of marriage under his belt and a ceiling fan in both hands, Mark sensed peril from his perch.


“Gimme a minute and I’ll get it,” he offered as if winds and waves would obey him.


I stormed past him and swung open the door to reveal Mr. Wang, our diminutive building manager.


As I think back to his poor countenance, the sweat on his brow and the tremor in his voice should have prompted more compassion. Yet, the emotional pendulum swung and I was doing a little trembling myself.


“Shumah shr?” I barked, asking him what he wanted.


In Mandarin, he began to explain with great diplomacy that the awning we’d just purchased for our balcony was not within building code.


This news did not set well with me.


Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night could stop my erupting into tears. Leaving the door as wide-open as his mouth, I turned to sob my way into the bathroom.


In the meantime, Mark was able to disengage himself from the fan and descend the ladder. He too had heard the news.


“I’m so sorry,” Mark offered in Mandarin to the stranger, whose face matched the color of the rice he’d had for lunch.


With no response, Mark tried again in Chinese, “Can I help you?”


After a considerable pause, Mr. Wang stammered in broken English, “Your wife…..she…ees…CRY!”


Because my husband knew that responding to Mr. Wang in his native tongue would put him at ease, Mark replied, “No plobrem. My wife ees many times cry.”


It seems that in that moment, a mysterious heart-bonding came over the two men. Not, a David and Jonathan relationship, you understand, as no armor was exchanged. Yet, they took pity on one another – one for temporarily experiencing one of my moods and the other for having to live with that revolving door daily.


In the end, the next time Mr. Wang came to our door, it was to inform us that our landlord had surprisingly decided to enclose our entire balcony with sliding glass windows.


So, I ask you – who said public demonstration of emotion is inappropriate in the Chinese culture?