Some things are absurdly difficult to find in Beijing, for completely random reasons. You’ll look all over the place and be unable to find something, and it’ll drive you completely nuts because you know that whatever it is, it’s made in China, but you just can’t buy it here.

Extension cables, for example. You can buy them anywhere in the US, good quality ones, usually made in China, but you can’t find them here. Only cheap low quality power strips attached to a too-short, thin-gauge cable. Sometimes you can find higher quality power strips, but always lower quality than you’ll find in the US. No breakers, no UL listing here. Items sold on the domestic market aren’t even dollar store quality much of the time, and foreign-branded items are usually just domestic products with a different label. Philips and Top Electric, for example. One is foreign branded, one domestic, exactly the same product made in the same factory (and you can probably guess which one is more expensive).

So I suppose it’s not particularly surprising that I wanted a bottle opener and found myself completely unable to find one. I walked all over Wal-Mart looking for one. Kitchen stuff? No, not there, although someone aggressively tried to sell me a wok. I didn’t need a wok, I needed a bottle opener, but I’m not sure how to explain that in Chinese, maybe “Kai Ping” like “open bottle,” but the confused look on the clerk’s face and her insistent motions toward the wok she was trying to sell me made it clear that attempting to communicate further with her was an exercise in futility. OK, so maybe in the housewares section I can find one. No, but on the way there, someone really wanted to sell me fabric softener. Thanks, but no thanks, I really don’t need fabric softener, I just need a bottle opener. And so is the retail experience in China, if you stop for more than a few seconds someone is tugging on your sleeve trying to sell you something that you absolutely do not want. Even if your Chinese is good enough to ask for what you actually want, the answer is usually “mei you” anyway. If you get lucky, the person saying “mei you” is standing right in front of the item you actually want.

OK, fine. Maybe in the grocery section. I walked to bottled beverages, thinking maybe I’d find a bottle opener cleverly merchandised next to the bottles that require them. No such luck, although a young sales clerk aggressively tried to sell me a bottle of Moutai. I’m sure it’s nectar from the gods, distilled from the fresh waters of the mountains of Guizhou, but bai jiu–Moutai or not–is devil piss and I’ll have nothing to do with it. Just a bottle opener please, I tried to explain, holding a bottle and making the motion. Indifferent stare, a shrug, “mei you,” and it was clear that I was defeated. Nowhere in Wal-Mart was there a bottle opener to be found. I picked up some cans of beer, since these didn’t require bottle openers, and dejectedly made my way to the inclinator.

Wal-Mart is three floors. You start on the third floor, work your way down to the first floor (where the groceries are) on these inclinators. They’re like an escalator, but without the steps. Shopping carts are cleverly designed so they stop when they’re on an incline, and you make your way down (or up) slowly with giant piles of merchandise stacked in trays next to you. Sometimes there are good deals, so I keep my eye on the merchandise on the journey upstairs or downstairs. There is a random assortment of stuff, anything from toilet cleaner to kitchen wrap to paper products, anything that Wal-Mart happens to be featuring at the time.

On the inclinator on the way up, I spotted it. A bottle opener! There was only one catch: it was attached as a bonus premium to a mega double pack of Jissbon condoms. Birth control is ridiculously cheap in China, so the whole thing cost about $3. I was after a bottle opener, and there was the only one in all of Wal-Mart, and I had to buy a giant pack of condoms to go with it. That’s just how it was, and how it was going to be. I grabbed it and threw it into my basket, and now I can open bottles in my house.

Clothing in China runs in smaller sizes. If you prefer a snug fit for your *ahem* socks, let me know. I definitely have use for the bottle opener, but won’t have much use for the other items. Yours free!