I could see the F-word tumbling out of my mouth like Russian bread off a factory conveyor belt.
"Hey! Where is the dough hook*? Did you wash it?" Pointless accusations followed. I ducked under and around sofas and sofa chairs and reached into the cockroach factory behind the fridge. I found a lot of Qing Dynasty dirt and broken glass under a layer of dust, some leaky post-Mao batteries, something that might have been edible some time ago, bits of trash and old packaging. But no dough hook. Logic eliminated every possible hideout for that little piece of bent metal. I vocally suspected her of having dropping it in the sink, unintentionally or otherwise.
I had a big dinner arranged a couple of days later and bread was to play an essential part of it. Excellent timing. Where does one obtain a replacement dough hook for a second- to third-class German bread machine in this second-tier Chinese city during the aftermath of Spring Festival? German eBay lists them starting at RMB200. I checked Taobao for rip-offs of my model, and it looked like there were some suitable replicas; however, I couldn't find anybody selling just the dough hook. I know you want me to buy a new machine just because one part is missing, but I ain't playing your game.
I was committed to my decision to just "borrow it" for an undefined period of time. But I had no previous shoplifting experience, so preparations and advance research were in order. I went through online tutorials for shoplifting and some excerpts of '70s shoplifting bible "Steal this Book."
A whole new world opened up, a world I knew only from movies. On half-dark forums, pros would exchange their tricks, and shop clerks would chime in with insider tips. It was an easy enough task: Walk in, snatch the metal, walk out (touted as "the walk-out method"). Nah, that wouldn't fly with me, way too simple. My scheme involved causing distraction by buying batteries (and relieving some guilt along the way by handing over money for some stuff).
Attempt No. 1: The electronics store next to B&Q. CCTV camera, check; clerks, check; no guards at the door, check. I find the bread machine on the bottom shelf. I open the lid. Bingo. I feel like a gold digger. I touch the hook. I look around. The employee in that aisle is staring at me. I start sweating, my face changing colors. She looks away—here's my chance. I hold it for a second, and then I drop the blood diamond.
Where is the battery section? I walk around and realize it's at the other end, far away from the entrance and ruining my scheme. I panic. Let's get out of here, quick. Shame: I can't even nab a piece of bent metal from Gome, that mammoth retailer whose very CEO is in prison for ripping off billions! But it's not because I'm honest: The truth that I learn that day is that I'm a coward!
On the plus side, I learned how to say "bread machine" in Chinese. Blame my educational background. I hung out with the wrong guys; I can't even hijack a car. Returning to the office for a back-up call. But how can two laowais be better than one? The Woody-Allenesque masquerade, the prowling around, the stupid questions we ask the clerks about all kinds of machines—none of it works out. But we did succeed in getting the number of a guy who could sell me a dough hook. Great! But not before next week! I hate you, Spring Festival!
Finally the pestering compels my girlfriend to go out for the hunt (not before rolling her eyes at me no less than 50 times). [Success! One woman succeeds in five minutes what two men cannot in two days! —ed.] She didn't technically steal it. She asked one of the shop clerks if she could buy the dough hook on its own. And that helpfully corrupt young lady sold it off, after some brief consultation with a colleague, for RMB30, which went directly into her purse. Probably the most personal birthday gift I was ever given, and right when I needed it.
P.S. Next time you copy blueprints, make sure you get the size right! Thanks.
*What's a dough hook anyway? The arguably most vital part of a bread machine. It measures no more than 3 centimeters in any direction, but its purpose is to knead the dough, which is the step of bread making that most people compelled to buy bread machines are trying to avoid.