Posted by: Heather | December 30, 2008

Questions and Assumptions

Well, the new bunk bed in the girls’ room is useless as a bed, but it’s making a wonderful “ship” in the pretend world of the kids.

One of them is the captain in the “lookout” on the top bunk.  I hear others “bailing” the water out of the lower bunk to keep them from “sinking”.  I think they’re trying to escape from the “pirate” – a role enthusiastically being played by Daniel.

I’ll back up a little.  I went shopping at a furniture store a couple of weeks ago with an American who is fluent in Chinese and who has bought a loft for her son at a particular store.  The “store” of interest is actually a small stall in a large wholesale furniture place.  They only have room for a limited number of items, but they have photos of all the other items they could sell you.  After considering the various options, we decided to purchase a simple bunk bed that we saw in one of the pictures, and we went back to the store last Friday to order it.  We had no translator available, but we had some a Chinese friend on the phone who helped us negotiate the price and delivery etc.

We had previously purchased mattresses at a different store so that the girls would have something to sleep on while we shopped for the actual beds.  We bought “standard” single mattresses, 1 meter by 1.9 meters.  The bunk bed place told us the beds were 1 meter by 2 meters, so we figured we were all set.


We’ve been told to ask lots of questions and to make no assumptions.  We are trying, but we still carry our cultural baggage and our inexperience which prevents us from knowing which questions to ask and which assumptions not to make.  There’s the additional reality of the language barrier.

The bunk bed was delivered yesterday.  It looks beautiful, and after the workers got it all assembled, I happily hoisted one of the mattresses onto it.  To my dismay, I found that the mattress is about 6cm too wide and 2cm too long for the bed.

We had specifically asked the size of the bed when we were at the store.  They said 1 meter by 2 meters.  We thought we were asking the proper questions.  Our American brains made the assumption that our mattresses would fit on such a bed.  The Chinese store clerks were evidently talking about the outer measurements of the bed, the total area the bed takes up in the room, not the size of the mattress area.  Arrgh!!!

Xiao Wang vehemently pointed out the problem to the delivery guys.  From what I observed, they basically shrugged and said there was nothing they could do.  They left.  Xiao Wang called the furniture store.  They said we were “mistaken”.  My stress level was rising.  A Chinese friend from LIGHT called the furniture store.  Through her we were presented with two options.  One, they would be happy to sell us two new mattresses that fit the bed.  (They would be undoubtedly lower quality than the ones we have, and besides, what do we do with these two practically brand new ones we already bought?)  Or they will build us a new bed, the right size for our mattresses, bring it over in about 8 days and take away the too-small-one, all for only an additional $22.  Ahh, now there’s a good solution.  It’s a bummer that the girls have to wait another week-plus to sleep in their new beds, and meanwhile their small room’s floorspace is completely covered with the bunk and the two mattresses.  But you know what?  They don’t seem to care, and they have a pretend ship to boot.

Lessons learned(from this incident and several others) :

1) make no assumptions

2) ask lots of questions, even ones you can’t think of and don’t know to ask

3) problems will still come up, almost every time

4) don’t stress prematurely about the problems, because…

5) Chinese people usually come up with a good solution eventually

6) patience, flexibility, perseverance and humor are essential for survival here!



  1. Interesting experience and good lessons. Bless you, hope all goes well.

  2. Su – Thank you for reading my blog and commenting. I often think of you and my other Chinese friends in the US and wonder what kinds of stories you could write during your adjustment to American life! There must be so many confusing and frustrating things you’ve had to get used to, but I think the fun of knowing a new culture far outweighs the hardships.

  3. […] bath and beyond So today I want to update you on the bunk bed story, tell you a bathroom story (don’t worry, it’s not gross!) and share a few other […]

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