Tiananmen reflections part two

People watching is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. And hands down one of the best places to people watch in Beijing is in Tiananmen square and you will no doubt see mostly Chinese tourists. If you want to check out another post about my Tiananmen reflections, check here. 

Many of these Chinese people are visiting in hoards of groups, with a majority of them being middle-aged or elderly. They usually are wearing a ball cap of some sort perhaps a yellow hat or red one. Their leader is carrying a Chinese flag and continually reminding them to follow accordingly. Most of the Chinese men are thin and wearing dark clothing that is ten sizes too big for them. Their skin is dark and they enjoy taking breaks to have some sunflower seeds and their wives are unpacking the food they cooked themselves perhaps brought all the way from home wherever that may be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how wide-eyed they are looking around like children in a candy shop which is the best way to look around.

I wondered how far these Chinese tourists had traveled to see Tiananmen square. Was this their first time in Beijing? Was this the first time they had left their home town? Did they like Beijing cuisine?  What is their home town like? Did they my shorts were inappropriate? These are the things I think about, y’all.

Right next to Tiananmen square is The National Museum which is fabulous to see. It’s exterior represents Stalinist Russia’s influence on 1950’s China. Its interior has some fabulous exhibitions, especially ancient China’s exhibition. But perhaps the most  striking thing was reading the captions of some of the exhibitions because they clearly had a flair of propaganda infused throughout. For example, This quote comes directly from the entrance to an exhibition:

” The current exhibition is presented in memory of the past and to warn future generations. Let us stand closely around the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as the general secretary of CPC and take efforts to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. We should stick to peaceful development and world peace. Let us continue our endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to build a strong democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country and to fulfill the Chinese dream of great renewal of Chinese nation! Let us continue our peace and development for all of human kind. ”

There were many other quotes similar to this and as I was reading it to myself in the museum, another foreigner walked up to me and said ” Don’t you find this all a little strange?” And while I did, after living in China for a year, I felt that I understood it.

I showed this quote to all of my Chinese colleagues and they  too thought  it sounded very propoganda-laden  and over the top but to a different generation, these words still ring so true.  As I was taking a photo of this quote, several elderly Chinese men and women walked up and proudly posed in front of the quote in Chinese and I could see them all smiling and nodding their heads. These were the same people I had seen so wide-eyed outside of Tiananmen.

The amount of change that this generation has experienced, still boggles my mind. Some of them have been alive to see  a country go from one of no centralized government to one of the most powerful nations in the world. They have seen their families quality of life improve more   in the span of one generation than six or seven generations prior. I’m sure some of them have suffered in different ways due to drastic changes in the country, but they still stand so very proud of their country.

And that’s pretty cool to see.

 

My one year anniversary with China

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beijing for 365 days. Well, if we want to get technical, I haven’t been in China for exactly that long, as with a few trips here and there, but I’ve spent 350 days in this country. So, how to bottle up all those experiences into some sort of reflective essay? Well it’s damn near impossible, but it’s worth a shot. I know this is a milestone in my life, so below I’ve tried my best to make sense of all my experiences.

Before i came to China, I thought “Ok, a year in China will be enough for me to understand the language and culture on a deep level.” While I wholeheartedly agree that I’ve peeled back layers of this culture to better understand it, I believe that there isn’t  such a thing as setting a time limit on how well you understand something. You can check out another one of my blog posts about China’s cultural layers here. Just as a I tell my students that learning a language will always be a process, so will understanding different cultures. I think as humans, we like to set benchmarks for ourselves as to better  organize the thousands of thoughts that go through our head. Benchmarks are good. They are great in fact. But, it shouldn’t deter us from continuing the process of understanding something, even if we feel it’s been understood. That’s why even though I’m heading back to the states in a few months, I’m going to continue to find ways to be immersed in Chinese culture, whether that’s through taking more classes at a university or joining in a Chinese cooking class on the weekends. I never want to stop learning more about this culture.

As many expats living in China will tell you, it can be a love hate relationship at times. While most of my experiences in China have been ones of love, I would be lying if I said it was all peaches and cream. The pollution was truly terrible at times, and I’m pretty sure in february I felt like China was  a post apocalyptic world. The traffic and ever-present horn-honking drove me mad at times. Our never-ending saga with the apartment drama nearly drove me to curse at my Chinese landlord. People spitting near my feet made me clinch my fists. The meaning of quality and service in China is something completely different from the West. When you are living in a country of 1 billion people, quality just isn’t as important. At times I felt publicly embarrassed, like the time we were traveling on a crowded bus and were short one kuai. The bus attendant publicly called us out and insulted us in front of all the other Chinese passengers. And the worse feeling of all is the feeling of defeat. As my good expat friend said, “When you are frustrated and can’t communicate that in another language, you can’t let go of that stress. It stays with you and makes you even more frustrated.” Sometimes that feeling of defeat would creep up on me when I just couldn’t find the Chinese words to express my emotions. But all of these so-called “negatives” really are positives because do you really want to live abroad and have NO challenges. Of course not, that would be boring! And your stories definitely wouldn’t be as good. No but to be honest, the challenges of living in China is the good stuff. The challenges are what make your soul and self more resilient.

Speaking of challenges, living in China has made me understand the strains of population and environment. It still boggles my mind how many people are in China. That’s right, after 350 days, I still feel like there are a lot of people. The population is directly or indirectly related to every course of action in day-to-day life. Because of China’s population, the competition in education is fierce. There really isn’t a chance for every student to receive education. There especially isn’t enough room for everyone to receive higher education. Remember when George Bush famously said, “no child left behind” ? Well, in China tons of children are left behind in terms of their academic pursuits. My students have stressed to me how utterly stressful high school was.   This quote comes from one of my students. ” You know foreigners are always joking that Chinese teenagers have no free time and are always studying but what they don’t understand is that we have to. If we want to go to university, we must have the best scores in China.” This quote really it me hard because education is taken for granted in so many parts of the world. In the states, if you do relatively well in school, you will get into college. Heck if you  even do just ok you will get into university. I know if  If you want to read more about education in China, check out my blog post here. 

Living in China has not quenched my thirst for exploration, but i don’t think that thirst will ever be quenched. I know it’s ironic but, I don’t think you have to travel far to explore something new. Each city has endless possibilities of exploration! I hope that this idea of city exploration translates when I head back to the states.

The balance of tradition and modernization is always an important concept in this world and these two concepts are really fighting for space in China. There is still a huge population of elderly people in China that are trying to keep ancient traditions alive with the upbringing of their grandchildren. Beijing’s cherished hutongs are being destroyed left and right. Just the other day, I saw a very elderly man sitting on his stool playing with his grandchild, as a hutong was being torn apart with a jack hammer behind him. This country has one of the oldest history’s on the planet and there needs to be efforts to preserve the essence that is China and it’s “Chineseness.”

But, above all, being a teacher this past year has been the best experience. It really has been one of the greatest joys of my life thus far. Most of my students are from China, Libya and Saudi Arabia so I’ve seen and heard perspectives of China through different cultural lenses. My students are so eager to learn and  wanting to better themselves, better their lives and families through the study of English. Feeling like you have imparted knowledge,lasting knowledge on someone, that feeling just can’t be matched. But more importantly, my students don’t realize what they have taught me. They have taught me the true meaning of dedication and hard work. They have taught me to analyze why things are the way they are in China. They’ve encouraged me in my Chinese study and made me realize how learning a language is truly connected in how you understand the culture behind it. But I think the best feeling of all is they’ve shown me a kind of love that is unique to teachers. Tissues anyone? I know I’m pulling them out right now…  So for any of you who are  thinking about teaching or teaching in China, you should 100% do it.

I hope that my rambling has translated into some meaning and expresses what living and teaching in China has been like for the past year. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them! I’m always delighted to read and answer your thoughts about China. For those of you that read consistently, thank you for your love and support this past year and thank you for helping this little blog grow!

For those of you that live or have lived in China, what do you love most?

 

 

 

 

 

A Beijing Summer

As I feel the first pangs of an autumn wind in Beijing I thought it appropriate to reflect on a Beijing summer.

Summer in Beijing is quite different from its other seasons. For one thing, , dare I say this, it’s far more crowded. Tourists are flocking in from all corners of the globe to get their hands on some Peking duck and to have a go at The Great Wall. But, what I’m surprised about is the sheer number of Chinese tourists in Beijing. When I head home from work I see an armada of buses full of tourists unloading at the subway. As I crane my head upwards towards the massive buses I see tourists with little red hats and tour leaders frantically waving their yellow flags around to keep everyone in order.

Although it’s crowded, it adds a whole new energy to the city. Students from all over the world are flocking to different parts of the city. My favorite areas like Shichahai  near Houhai and The Drum & Bell Tower are filled with families and children enjoying the summer sun. For anyone that has read my blog consistently, you know that Beijing’s hutongs have a special place in my heart and they come to life in the spring and summer.

Take a stroll down any hutong and you will see groups of elderly men and women waving their bamboo fans trying to cool themselves off . As they fan themselves they also sip tea from their thermos and comment on the quality of the food they’ve bought today. Lots of older men and women are wearing traditional Chinese slippers with high white socks and sitting on small Chinese stools that look child size but can hold the biggest of men. Their grandchildren are running around the alleyways pantless and looking for things that interest them. Occasionally their grandparents will yell at them “Guo lai!“Which means ” Come here!” Beijing’s three-wheeled silver box cars and bikes are fighting for space in the narrow hutongs ,weaving around children and their grandparents ambling about.  Sometimes I feel like Beijing is a world of babies and elderly people.

As the day slowly turns into night, little restaurants  haphazardly put table and chairs on the street. Men walk up to the restaurants rolling up their shirts and passing around their cigarrttes.  They take a seat on their little stools and order a round of Yanjing or Snow beers which only come in big bottles in Beijing. A small Chinese woman brings out ten bottles of beer single handedly and as the night goes on, the beers accumulate on the table and are never cleared until the party has left. It’s not uncommon to see fifteen beer bottles on a tiny little table on the street. Dish after dish is brought out to the table, which might leave you wondering how so few people can consume so much food . Head over to Gui Jie (Ghost Street) in the summer  and you will experience one of the best summer eating atmospheres in Beijing. Spicy crawfish and seafood  is a speciality on this street and as people wait for a table , they chew sun slower seeds and throw the shells on the ground. It’s not uncommon to feel like you are walking on a floor made entirely of shells.

Step out of any subway at night and your senses will be overwhelmed at the amount of little food stalls you see. Fried pancakes and  are being served up alongside my favorite freshly squeezed pomegranite juice. Mountains of grapes and peaches are being sold on little carts. Men and women are asking you to take a ride in their three-wheeled cart and the smell of cumin is intoxicating as raw meat is being rolled in the cumin and then put on an open-flame.

So for those of you that are hesitant to come to Beijing in the summer, you really shouldn’t. It’s a magical time  and you too will enjoy the pantless babies, crowded hutongs, oversized beer bottles and wonderful chaos.

The language of smoking in China

It’s 9:30 a.m. and I’m headed to work via my usual route. From my apartment to the bus stop i pass the usual characters. There is the security guard in his uniform which is way to big for him sitting in a leather chair that was once considered nice back in the 1980’s. He is puffing on a cigarette as the hot sun beats on his wrinkled tan face. There are the drivers of the dian dong san lun che ( three wheeled taxisall gathered in front of my building scratching their bellies and passing around cigarettes, waiting for someone to ask for their service. Even though they see me everyday, and i always take the bus, they still greet me with a “hellloooooo, taxi?”. These are the two words they know. Then as I walk down the street toward the bus stop I see a butcher outside of his restaurant cutting raw meat and alternating with his other hand to smoke his cigarette. Then adjacent to my bus stop is a car wash where every single employee somehow manages to give the customers car a wax while simultaneously balancing a cigarette in their mouths. True talent right there.

I’m sure you are seeing a pattern here. Smoking is pervasive in China. But it has a very different reputation than it does in the West. In America its stigmatized and seen by most as a very unhealthy and addicting habit. That’s about where the definition of smoking stops in the West. However, smoking is seen as something much more than an unhealthy past time in China. It’s a way to make introductions easier. It’s a way to make new relationships and even further solidify the relationships you already have. When I witness people meeting up together it’s almost like the cigarettes are coming out of their pockets before their hello’s are said to each other.

There have been multiple occasions in which we’ve met various Chinese people who have offered Billy a cigarette. Just the other day we were looking at apartments and as we walked to the place, the real estate agent offered Billy a cigarette. We’ve been negotiating cab prices in the late hours of the night and upon reaching a negotiation he was offered a cigarette. Rarely am I offered a cigarette because I believe there is still some sense of machismo associated with smoking, even if many Chinese women are smoking today.

In my opinion, cigarettes are also like a type of currency. Smoking cigarettes isn’t perspired to a certain class. Everyone is doing it from the migrant worker to the business executive.However the range of brands in China varies greatly. In Beijing there are hundreds upon thousands of little stores that sell cigarettes in a big glass case where it’s easy for you to glance over the brands. There are probably fifty different brands of them in these cases. It’s seen as a status symbol to have certain brands of cigarettes. As my favorite author Peter Hesler states so perfectly:

“For entrepreneurs, the give-and take of cigarettes represents a kind of semaphore.” Each brand has “a distinct identity and an unspoken exchange rate. Around Beijing, peasants smoke Red Plum Blossoms. Red Pagoda Mountain can be found in the pockets of average city men. Low level entrepreneurs like Zhongnanhai Lights. A nouveau-rich businessman tosses out Chunghwas as if they were rice. Pandas are the rarest and best of all…government quotas make them hard to find.”

Smoking is seen everywhere, I mean everywhere. In my apartment sometimes I glance down and see men flicking open their a box, putting a cigarette in their mouth and lighting up as soon as the door opens. Husbands puff away together as they sit in a circles together and bounce their babies on their laps. Smoking is done before, during and after dinners. My favorite is seeing very elderly men walking around Beijing’s hutongs in their pajamas, having one last smoke before bed time.

Although I have mixed feelings about so many people smoking all of the time, you can’t help but witness some magical way cigarettes seem to bring together groups of people in China. If there is an altercation or a disagreement you can feel the tension melt away as soon as one party offers another a cigarette. If there is a death, attendants will gather together and smoke in honor of their loved ones who have passed. It’s perhaps the most second most used language next to Mandarin.

 

My top 10 favorite foods in China

If you are thinking about coming to China or are getting ready to come to China, I hope this post gets your taste buds warmed up. You could travel to China, skip all the sites , and solely do a culinary trip because the range of cuisine is as vast as the country itself. Everything revolves around food in China and food pulses in the veins of this country. The question ” Ni chi le ma?” which means ,”Have you eaten?”, is sometimes more often used to greet people than hello. Food is always a topic of conversation and rightly so because this country has so much culinary delights to offer. Without further ado, let’s dig in to some of my favorite dishes in China.

1. Jioazi (Dumplings) 饺子

A staple Chinese food that is eaten all around China. The great think about jiaozi is there are so many fillings! Endless possibilities. During the Spring festival you will see everyone eating them! Have em’ steamed, have em’ fried, have em boiled. (Boiled are the best!). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had jioazi in China and I never get tired of this savory dish. Make sure you get a side of vinegar and for the adventurous, drop a garlic clove in the vinegar to give it extra flavor. If you like spicy, mix in some of the red chilli peppers sitting on the table into your vinegar. And if you are alone or your company doesn’t mind bad breath, eat the garlic after it’s been soaked in vinegar. It even comes in different colors at some restaurants in Beijing!

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2. Chuàn 串 (In the North it’s pronounced “Chuar”)

Chuan is what Westerners would think of kebab and these”kebabs” can come in all sorts of ways. Vegetables, meat, chicken, bread, squids you name it. Usually the chuan is rolled in a delicious cumin/pepper concoction which smells divine and tastes even better. Look for a crescent moon outside of some restaurants and you can be sure they sell  Muslim chuan. Most of the chefs who cook chuan’r wear short, round, white caps. They are likely from Xinjiang, in the northwest of China, where chuan’r originated.

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3.Bei Jing Kao Ya (Roast Duck)  北京烤鸭

Beijing Kao Ya is truly that delicious. It’s fatty. It’s tender. It’s sweet. It’s perfect.  You absolutely can’t come to Beijing without having this dish. Fun Fact: Only until about 100 years ago, only noble people were allowed to consume this dish! So lucky for all of us common people today!

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4. Huo Guo (Hot Pot) 火锅

It’s said that this dish originated from Mongolian nomads who would boil hot water in their helmets and throw in whatever was around for their meals. If you are in Beijing during the winter, this is your go to dish. Imagine a huge pot full of flavorful broth and you get to decide what goes inside. Choose lots of raw meats, vegetables, fish etc. then put it in the pot until cooked. It’s heavenly and gives you the heat you need in a  cold Beijing winter.

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5. Má là tàng 麻辣 烫

This isn’t as much of a dish as it is a process. Walk into a small restaurant ,grab a tray and put as many raw vegetables, noodles, meat, eggs, etc. Then hand it to the server who will take it to the kitchen where they will cook it up into a noodle ish dish. The dish comes with a side of peanut sauce where you can dip your goodies in the peanut sauce. This is a great option for people who are looking to get a big vegetable serving for the day.

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6.  Baozi  

What eggs and bacon are to America, Baozi is to China. Baozi is similar to dumplings but the dough is more fluffy. Think of a small sausage ball. Forget your hotel breakfast or cereal.Go to any small shop early in the morning and dine with the locals. Make sure you eat your boazi with vinegar and chilli paste. Oh and  a plate of baozi will cost you all but $1 American dollar.

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7. Guillin Noodles 桂林米粉

These noodles come from the south of China and are to die for. If you like spicy noodles, this is your jam. Lots of meat and vegetables cooked in a spicy broth. It’s my absolute favorite noodle dish in China.

8. Lǘ ròu huǒ shāo (Donkey Sandwiches)驴肉火烧

The names don’t lie. It does come from donkey but please don’t let that get to you. Once I took a bite of the sand which I was sold and once you do, you will be too. This was actually one of the first dishes I had in China- approach the cuisine full speed ahead, right?I still remember how hesitant I was when I saw a picture of a donkey smiling at me as I took my first bite of the sandwich. But once I had that bite, there was no turning back.  For Sandwich lovers out there, you have to try these. They will change your perception of a sandwich. This is China’s answer to a hearty American meat sandwich. Don’t skip out on  your China experience without trying this piece of ass.

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9. Má pó dòu fu 麻婆豆腐 ( Mapo Tofu)

This is tofu done the right way. This tofu is cooked in a delicious sauce filled with lots of spice. If you are a vegetarian coming to China, this will be a go-to dish.

10. Gung Bao Ji Ding 宫保雞丁 (Kung Pao Chicken)

Any Kung Pao Chicken you’ve had in the west is nothing like the kung Pao chicken in China. This dish is one of the most well-known in China and it comes from the famous Sichuan province. This dish is full of intense sweet and spicy flavor due to the peanuts, pepper corns, scallions and sugar made with the dish. There are different variations around China, but i can promise you all of them are anything better than you have had at General Wang’s Chinese restaurant in the States.

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So, what is your favorite Chinese dish?

The Curious Chinese Way

Chinese people are curious.  Their curiosity isn’t subtle. It is overt and I’ve learned to love it.

This past weekend we headed to the coastal city of Beidaihe which is about a three-hour train ride from Beijing. Even though this was a short train ride, the only tickets left were in the sleeper section. This section is made up of a compartment consisting of six beds with three on each side. So you’re looking at a stack of three beds. As soon as my got on the train, the curious eyes fell upon us. In our compartment were three other people. Two middle-aged Chinese men and one middle-aged Chinese women. They had already made themselves comfortable by taking off their shoes and opening their tea thermos full of tea. They were sharing tea with each other when they noticed we had arrived. We said our hello’s and then sure enough the questions started to rattle off in Chinese.

Woman: “Where are you from?”

Me:“America. ”

Woman: ” You can speak Chinese?!”

Me:” Yes, but my pronunciation is bad.”

Woman: ” No, it’s really good!”

Woman:“Oh, you all look French!”

Woman:” Why are you in China?”

Me: ” We teach English in Beijing.”

Woman:” Really! How much money do you make?”

Woman:” How much is your apartment?”

All of these questions came within the first ten minutes of setting our bags down on our bunks. I was sitting on the bunk with the Chinese woman and Billy was sitting across from me with the middle-aged man. I  took my shoes off and crossed my legs and we all continued chatting. At this point other Chinese people from other bunks had peered their heads into our compartment. Three little Chinese boys were especially curious about Billy. They came over to our bunk and just stared at him and smiled.

While some Westerners might find this invasive, I have grown to love the natural curiosity. It’s refreshing for people to be blunt about their thoughts without withholding any information. In the West, people might whisper to each other and wonder about the whereabouts of a person, but in China the questions are direct and to the point. It isn’t considered rude by any means, it’s just how things are.

We continued talking for another thirty min or so and with each coming question, my level of speaking was challenged. However, I tried my best at some of the more difficult vocabulary and continued speaking. I don’t know what it was about this whole scene, but it was a very reflective moment for my time here in China. Our of my whole beach weekend, this train ride was my favorite part because I felt like a part of a bigger community.  I was sharing tea with the Chinese woman and laughing about how expensive house prices are in Beijing.  I knew how to answer her questions.I felt like I truly have been living in China for a long enough time to begin to truly understand the culture, the questions, the people.

I’ve read several books about China, I speak an elementary level of Chinese, I have Chinese friends and I live in a Chinese apartment but I’m still going to say that understanding China and Chinese people is very complicated. It’s almost as if the more I live here the more complicated it gets in some ways. Perhaps complicated isn’t the right word, but  I realize that every culture has many layers, especially China, and each passing day is a way to peel back a layer and discover something new.

 

 

China’s fleeting spaces

Today was the fourth time our refrigerator has broken down in the ten months we have been here. When I told Billy that it had broken, neither of us showed an ounce of surprise. On top of that, the panel beneath our sink is slowly withering away due to a water leakage from our sink. Our air conditioning system has lost its cooling and our bathtub constantly leaks when we take a shower. The kitchen doors have been falling off their hinges. Oh and we have had an electrician come to our house several times to fix our lighting.

But, if you look at our apartment, both exterior and interior, I’m assuming that most people would think it’s a pretty nice apartment. The entire complex consists of four buildings, all of which have thirty-two floors and more than a dozen elevators. The complex itself can be seen from very far away because of its size. One time I was describing my apartment to a taxi driver in Chinese and as soon as i said, “ The one with the green Chinese characters.” He said, “Oh i know that one.”

We were thrilled when we got our apartment in Beijing. But over the next few months, the problems started to settle in. By the time April rolled around, it was like we consistently had a pesky little friend staying with us.

And let me clarify, it’s not like we have ignored the problems. We probably had six or seven visits from electricians over the course of our stay. Each time they come in very quickly and fix the problem and then a month or two later, it breaks again. I know i’m not the only one who has been having these problems. My other co-workers have repeatedly told me that they have problems with their apartments. They too have had electricians quickly come in, fix the problem and leave. Only to leave them with a broken sink one month later.

So what is the underlying problem in our Beijing apartments? Why do I repeatedly hear stories of people’s “nice” apartments slowly falling apart?

When my parents visited China, they hired a great guide for their stay in Beijing. His major was in fact Chinese architecture so what more knowledgeable person to ask a question about my crumbling apartment. He didn’t even have to think for a second before he said, “ Your apartment was built-in the early 90’s. It will probably be torn down in a few years.” My jaw fell open. “ So wait, my apartment complex has a 20 year shelf life?”. This couldn’t be. He then said, “ Many apartment buildings in China are built very poorly, even if they seemingly are nice.”

I am no expert on property foundation but I know that very large apartment complexes are built to last more than 20 years. I went on and did a little research and found a very interesting tidbit about the construction industry in China.

“Chinese researchers have suggested that many buildings could reach the end of their lifespan in as little as 20 years. The average lifespan of a Chinese building is 35 years, according to property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield. That’s abysmal compared to the average 74 year life span of US buildings and 132 year lifespan of buildings in the UK.At the end of the day, [if] construction companies and developers can get away with current practices, they tend to do that,” she said. “I would say a combination of high demand, low compliance tests [and] legislation that is lagging behind.” – China economic Review

So I found my answer. That’s why my apartment is slowly following apart.

But why?

It isn’t just my apartment, to be honest. In my time in China, I have witnessed this mentality of, “Fix it quick. Let it break. Fix it quick. Let it break.” It’s a mentality of impermanence.

Our bikes constantly break down and we constantly get them fixed. I had one expat friend who began seeing a bike repair man once every single week. Our printers have broken down more than a dozen times in our office. Each time it is efficiently fixed. And each time it slowly breaks down again. This can even be applied to restaurants and shops. I  see restaurants Beijing built just as quickly as they are Beijing renovated and turned into something else. Restaurants turn into massage parlors, massage parlors turn into pet stores in the blink of an eye.

I’m currently reading a book titled “ Country Driving.” It’s by Peter Hessler and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in wrapping their heads around today’s China. In parts of his book he essentially says that because China is constantly changing, many people are only concerned with the quick fix the quick buck. They aren’t sure if  He says that “ It’s the nature of a country that is in transition. something is always being abandoned while something else is always being built.”

So what does this idea of impermanence mean for China’s future?

If you take a train over a long distance in China, you are probably bound to see rows upon rows of mega apartment complexes being built. It almost looked like a combination of a post apocalyptic/ futuristic situation. It was almost eerie to see so many empty apartment buildings with no site of being inhabited.  You will see more construction cranes in your time in China, than in any other country in the world. This is actually a fact. But are these buildings being built to last? Will those buildings succumb to the same problems as my building in 20 years?

 

Oh those summer nights

It’s late Friday night and our power is out. Billy  opens our electricity closet to check our electricity card. In China, electricity is administered through cards and we have to re-charge them every once in a while at our bank. So, back to the card. Billy checked our card and then we put in another card just to be safe. Still no power. Cristina is sweating and we have work tomorrow.

12:00 AM. We call our agents a few times. No answer. We call some other people. No answer. We decide to throw in the towel for the evening and decide to tackle it the next day.

9:00 AM Saturday.- Billy goes to the bank to re-charge our card. The bank tells him that our card is broken. Well $%@t

2:00 P.M. At work my colleagus say I will have to have my agent help me. Agent isn’t answering her phone.

4:00 P.M.- The idea of a staying in a hotel for the night is sounding ever so  appealing…

8:00 P.M.- Our agent finally sends us a text, NOT  a return call, and gives us an address  in Chinese that tells us wear we can get a new electricity card.

9:30 P.M.- Billy gets in a cab and tells the driver wear to go. Billy goes to the boonies and gets a new electricity card.

10:00 P.M.- Crisitna is packing an overnight pack in case we have to stay in a hotel. Because that would be so bad and all…

10:30 P.M.- Billy comes back with the electricity card and puts it into our slot. Still no electricity. A few more $%# are thrown around.

11:00 P.M.- Billy miraculously finds an electrician somewhere. He didn’t quite tell me how he found him but I’m grateful nonetheless.

11:15 P.M.- The electrician has a very thick northern Chinese accent so it’s difficult for me to understand some of his words. He fiddles with our box for a while, presses some buttons and then, voila! WE HAVE AIR. In Beijing, I’m much more concerned with air conditioning than with light.

11:30 P.M.- The electrician laughs and tells us what was wrong and we smile and laugh with him having absolutely no idea what he is telling us. We thank him, walk inside ,and are in fits of laughter and thankful for Chinese electricians.

 

 

American weddings vs. Chinese weddings

Having just come back from an American wedding, I thought it appropriate to talk about the differences and similarities in Chinese & American weddings. Just as the Western world has influenced many other facets of Chinese culture, it has also influenced some facets of Chinese wedding culture.  All of the information presented below is from a few of my Chinese colleagues reflections on their own weddings.

Let’s start with the Wedding Dress

 Nowadays, many brides in large tier cities like Beijing wear white dresses due to the influence of Western culture. In Chinese history, the  bride’s dress is a deep Chinese red throughout the ceremony and reception. Now the bride will slip into a red dress after the ceremony. These dresses are just as elaborate, if not more, than western dresses. Traditionally, Chinese brides will have something red accompany their outfit, just as some American brides wear “something blue” to accompany their dress. The bride will change into a couple of dresses throughout the evening of celebration.

 Venue

A traditional Chinese wedding is held in a very large banquet hall within a restaurant that is rented out before hand. Nowadays, some couples are choosing to have their events in outdoor locations or other picturesque places. However this is much less common in smaller cities.

The Ceremony & Reception

Unlike American weddings, the Chinese groom & bride are able to see each other throughout the day and between everything leading up the ceremony. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and the bride and groom can be seen talking with each other and guests before everyone is seated for dinner. 

 For the American bride and groom, the wedding ceremony, complete with the exchanging of vows of love, is the most significant part of the day which is done with ceremonial silence. However, for a Chinese couple the most important part of the day is the wedding reception replete with a feast and wishes for prosperity and there is no ceremonial silence.  Unlike American weddings, the ceremony and reception are wrapped up in one event which takes place in one event space.

Both Chinese and American banquets have formalized seating arrangements with the most important tables set together at the party’s front or on a stage.However,  a Chinese menu is very much more expansive than the American wedding feast. In some cases, there is a 10-course meal with starters, shark’s fin soup, Peking duck and lobster, crab claws, fish, sweet red bean soup and sweet buns; each dish holds symbolic meaning. Guests often take a bag or box of leftovers home with them as a sign of appreciation for the good food.

Entertainment

Entertainment at Chinese weddings revolves around playful games and efforts to embarrass the newlyweds.  However, after talking to my two Chinese colleagues who recently got married, these games are becoming less and less popular in mainstream Chinese wedding culture. Western entertainment has put a lot of emphasis on doing different forms of entertainment like dancing or having photo booths at weddings.

 Gifts

There is no such thing as a wedding registry for Chinese couples. The gifts are all about lucky money given in small red envelopes. As my Chinese friends put it, ” China is all about the money.” And there are no checks or gift cards, just cold, hard, cash.  A couple can quite literally rack up an entire big box filled with paper notes. I’ve been told that some Chinese couples will spend their time after the reception counting how much money they have received from their family and friends.

 After the Reception

 There is no formal send off of the modern Chinese couple. No one lines up to make sure they get in the car that will help send them off to their honeymoon. In fact, the bride and the groom are usually the last people to leave the party. While honeymoons are becoming more popular among Chinese couples who live in big cities like Beijing, it’s not common in smaller cities and towns. Often the couple will head back to the house of their parents will they will relax with their family and friends.

One of  my colleagues decided to take her wedding party to sing karaoke after her reception! A chinese party is not complete without karaoke.

Have you been to a Chinese wedding? What was it like?

 

Back to America I go!

After eight months in China, I’m heading back home for a short bit. As I sit on my couch and drink  my Chinese tea and look at my Chinese plants,my head is swirling as to what America will feel like after being away for so long.

While I’m only returning for a short time, I think that is going to make it all the more strange. Here are some of my expectations of what America will be like.

1. The air will taste clean

I’m pretty sure I’ve adapted to a new normal here. I think one of Beijing’s most beautiful days looks something like an average day in the states at best. Having perfectly sunny days with no pollution, are few and far between so I have a feeling that everyday on the coast of North Carolina is going to seem like a brand new oxygen tank . I have this image in my head that I’m going to look like a person in a yoga class inhaling and exhaling deeply when I first arrive.

2. I will see far less elderly people

One of the reasons I love Beijing and China so much is the influence elderly people have in their children and their grand children’s lives. I see more grandparents in my apartment lobby than I do parents. It’s a wonderful sight to see grand parents toting their grandchildren around everywhere and teaching them about the ways of the world.

3. The world will seem MUCH quieter

As I’m writing this I can hear children and mothers shouting outside, men talking on their phones and motorcycles going by my apartment. Beijing is constantly noisy and there is constantly something going on one of the many charms of the city.

4. Southern Tide, Sperrys & Bowtie overload

I grew up in Texas and went to school in North Carolina so while I was in the states I was pretty accustomed to the “preppy” southern look. However, in China the style is nothing of the sort and I can’t quite put my finger on what the style is another post on that soon. It’s going to be strange and awesome  seeing men wear sear sucker suits with gin & tonics in their hands. Women will be wearing brightly colored printed dresses with cute clutches. I have a feeling my whole time in America will feel like I’m flipping the pages through a preppy catalogue.

5. There will be far fewer people using their phones

Even after living in China for eight months, i am still shocked at how much cell phone usage there is. It’s like American usage on steroids. I’m going to go ahead and say that Beijingers,I’m not saying Chinese people because Beijing is a wealthy city,between the ages of 15- 35 are never without their phones. My Chinese colleagues take pictures of absolutely everything that happens at all times. There are selfies galore and if you are out with young Chinese friends you might have to stop every few minutes to take a posed picture in front of a building.

6. I will have a sense of personal space when in public

I have gone ahead and thrown my personal space out the window while traveling on the bus and subway. I was expecting to do that prior to coming here. However, i think it’s going to be wild and thrilling to be sitting in the back seat of a nice car where i can roll down the window, stretch my legs  and feel that CLEAN air brush across my face.

7. Hugging won’t be awkward

I’m a hugger. I often hug people upon meeting them. I don’t see a lot of same-sex hugging in China. I”m really close with a couple of my Chinese colleagues and I continue to force hugs on them even when they don’t hug me back and they kind of feel like a limp noodle.

7. American sarcasm how I’ve missed you so

This one is hard to explain. The way Chinese people socialize amongst themselves in public is something very different from Western people. Many Chinese people rely on small talk in public and don’t bring up big pressing world issues, or topics where one would have a definitive opinion.Now I’m talking about the public sphere here, not when a Chinese person is in their own home.  It’s something I completely respect about Chinese culture and understand, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to being in a room where there is more than just three Americans. I”m looking forward to people telling jokes and hearing real American sarcasm although I do applaud my students for trying to understand sarcasm. I’m looking forward to people willingly express their worldly opinions in public.  Most of all, i’m looking forward to the good’ole belly aching American laughs.

These are my expectations, time will tell if I was right!