It wasn’t easy, but we survived Chinese Ikea. We enjoyed Swedish meatballs and lingonberry beverage, yes, but the end game here quickly went from getting home furnishings to just making it out alive.
Imagine an Ikea store with the showroom of dreams, the shopping aisles drunkenly weaving from bathroom rugs to glassware, and the carts with demonic wheels. Then imagine a crowded sports stadium or concert hall when everyone is trying to leave. (For those familiar with Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center a.k.a. the stairs to nowhere, just imagine that.) Now combine the two. This will give you an idea of what Chinese Ikea is like. It is its own breed of chaos.
The Ikea we visited on Sunday is new in Suzhou. We decided to take the bus there—a harrowing two-hour bus ride, complete with transfer—so we could see parts of old Suzhou. (To clarify: the part of town where we live/work/study is Suzhou Industrial Park, and is a relatively newish area. Old Suzhou is farther west from Jinji and Dushu Lakes and retains much of its old China charm, reminiscent of Beijing.) We saw old Suzhou out the window between the pressed bodies of our fellow passengers. We were lucky we got seats.
The air quality was bad that day, and we’ve both got some kind of cold or respiratory irritation going on, so we wore our heavy duty 3M respirators. (See photo; note that the respirators seem to really be helping with the degree of throat and nose irritation. For this we are grateful.) Upon entering Ikea, we realized that this was going to be a different kind of Ikea shopping trip than we were used to in the U.S.
At first, we took our time writing down the names and numbers of products we wanted. Then, after making it through the bathroom showrooms, where it was notably more crowded, we raced to find the dining area where it was notably more crowded. After a brief interlude of pointing and gesturing at cups and beverage dispensers, I paid for our plates of meatballs and potatoes and got access to the coveted lingonberry drink.
The remainder of the afternoon is a bit of a blur. We often made eye contact when, upon entering a new landscape of laissez faire displays overrun with curious shoppers, we wondered if what we wanted was worth the effort it would take to navigate the labyrinthine store with human booby traps. Someone ran over my foot with a cart. We chose silverware. We chose plates and bowls. We got those round cork coasters. We chose towels. It’s all stuff we need, but soon it will blend into the background of our lives as do so many other washcloths and doormats. We heaped our cart with goods, all the while knowing we would need to schlep said goods to a taxi and then schlep them into our apartment. We did well considering the volume of the goods, but not the mass.
Getting to a taxi was comical, in hindsight, because we carried everything we bought in two of those giant, blue tarp-like Ikea bags for purchase at the checkout. I’ve never used them because I’ve always had a car in which to unload my purchases. Not this time. No, we hauled our dishes and silverware and mugs and towels, coasters, pillows, and doormat, through the stupidly sized parking lot and towards the exit, hoping for a merciful taxi driver to notice our plight.
But we survived. And sometimes surviving is just about all one can do when faced with such conditions. Sadly, we have to return soon so we can get other household objects. Maybe this time it won’t be as bad. We realized too late that our timing for putting together our lives coincided with a national holiday weekend and that this may have hampered our efforts at sanity while shopping.