A Peek into a Walmart in China

You might think that like McDonalds, Walmarts of the world are all the same. I’m here to tell you that nope, they definitely are not. And going to a Walmart in China is nothing like going to one in America. Sometimes it’s downright freaky.

Just for the record, I hate Walmart. I think they are an evil company and in America, I don’t go. But in China it is the only reliable source of butter, cheese and Twinings Tea. I have a fancy supermarket near me, that has pretty much everything I need….except butter, cheese and Twinings Tea. So off to Walmart I go.

Walmart caters their shops to a local taste. So it’s not like I can get the same stuff in China that you get in America. No trident gum, or mead notebooks. Instead the store is filled with Chinese brands. The clothes are Chinese style (in Chinese sizes) and the food is made with Chinese tastes in mind. There is a small shelf with “international goods” but in China that means more Korean and Japanese food than American. (Though it is where I get my Twinings tea.)

In China the food isn’t especially cheap. It’s also not crazy expensive, but it’s not known for being dirt cheap like America. Also, one time I saw a kid taking a dump in the aisles. (Ironically it was in the cleaning supplies aisle.)

Without further ado, a peek inside a Chinese Walmart (disclaimer: I tried to take all these pics ‘on the sly’ so sometimes they are a little blurry. Sorry.)

The clothes are just as ugly and cheap as in America, but in a different way. For the most part the english on the clothes is proper, no problems. And technically this is proper English too...

The clothes are just as ugly and cheap as in America, but in a different way. For the most part the english on the clothes is proper, no problems. And technically this is proper English too…

A lot of squatting in Chinese Walmarts.

A lot of squatting in Chinese Walmarts.

Not all the food is just Chinese brands. There are plenty of international companies that operate here. Notice the different flavors of oreas here such as green tea ice cream and

Not all the food is just Chinese brands. There are plenty of international companies that operate here. Notice the different flavors of oreos here such as green tea ice cream. Also, just the regular oreo’s taste different here.

There are 2 entire rows filled with instant noodles. More than just a cheap eat for broke students, instant noodles are a big deal here eaten by everyone. In fact, the president of China recently put out an appeal for Chinese people abroad to eat less of them.

There are 2 entire rows filled with instant noodles. More than just a cheap eat for broke students, instant noodles are a big deal here eaten by everyone. In fact, the president of China recently put out an appeal for Chinese people to eat less of them while traveling.

Contrary to popular belief Chinese drink a lot of milk (and eat a lot of yogurt--it's just the other dairy items, like cheese that isn't popular here.) The weird thing is in China milk isn't usually refrigerated and is just out on the shelf. I've drank plenty of it in my time and have never gotten sick, so I know it's okay. But still a little weird.

Contrary to popular belief Chinese drink a lot of milk (and eat a lot of yogurt–it’s just the other dairy items, like cheese that isn’t popular here.) The weird thing is in China milk isn’t usually refrigerated and is just out on the shelf. I’ve drank plenty of it in my time and have never gotten sick, so I know it’s okay. But still a little weird.

The coveted cheese and butter aisle. yes, it might seem pitifully small to you, but to me it is heaven!

The coveted cheese and butter aisle. yes, it might seem pitifully small to you, but to me it is heaven!

No chinese supermarket is complete without the vats of rice. I've seen too many people sneeze/touch/play with the rice to make me comfortable buying it. But I do want to run my fingers through it.

No chinese supermarket is complete without the vats of rice. I’ve seen too many people sneeze/touch/play with the rice to make me comfortable buying it. But I do want to run my fingers through it.

The meat aisle isn't as scary as an open market, but it still is surprising what you'll see there. Chicken feet next to chicken breasts, next to chicken hearts. All nicely laid out.

The meat aisle isn’t as scary as an open market, but it still is surprising what you’ll see there. Chicken feet next to chicken breasts, next to chicken hearts. All nicely laid out.

Intestines anyone?

Intestines anyone? At least in Walmart they are packaged nicely.

Even the frozen food section holds some surprises.

Even the frozen food section holds some surprises.

Unlike the lumpy, tasteless tofu in America, tofu in China comes in all different styles. *drool*

Unlike the lumpy, tasteless tofu in America, tofu in China comes in all different styles. *drool*

There are some weak attempts at "western style" food like this pizza. But as you can see, they miss the mark by a mile.

There are some weak attempts at “western style” food like this pizza. But as you can see, they miss the mark by a mile. I pity the sucker that ate those 3 slices. 

There are a lot more open bins in China, with everything from candy to beans to dried fruit. This is a bin of dried mushrooms you can pick at freely.

There are a lot more open bins in China, with everything from candy to beans to dried fruit. This is a bin of dried mushrooms you can pick at freely.

In America we are used to muffin tops, butt cracks and other terrible outfits. You don't see that much in China but you will see couples wearing matching outfits to show their love.

In America we are used to muffin tops, butt cracks and other terrible outfits in Walmart. You don’t see that much in China but you will see couples wearing matching outfits to show their love.

 

 

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Xiamen, China — An Intro to my New Hometown

Because it's an island, the ocean is everywhere in Xiamen.

Because it’s an island, the ocean is everywhere in Xiamen.

I thought I’d give you a small tour of my new hometown, so you can understand the place that I’m now living. I’ve been here before, way back in 2012, but I had no inkling at that time I’d be moving here, and seeing things as a traveler is very different than a resident. So I’m learning about this place all over again.

The first important thing to know, is Xiamen is an island. It’s connected to the mainland by several bridges, and I live in a part that is right across the bridge (on the mainland, I don’t live on the island.) According to Wikipedia the population is 4 million, with about 2 million actually living on the island. I know this whole on the island/off the island (we say dao nei 岛内 and dao wai 岛外) is confusing, but in reality it’s not. The island is actually only 2 bus stops away from my school, so it’s all interconnected (same city buses) and close.

One of the reasons I chose to come here was for the weather. This place is a paradise. The air is clean (3rd cleanest in china), and in winter the temps are warm and inviting. Summer is another thing altogether though. It is hot as hell, though I’ll admit, living in Hangzhou was hotter. At least here in Xiamen we have the ocean breeze making it a bit more comfortable. (Though the temps are in the 90’s everyday with a heat index in the 100’s. Makes teaching without a/c a bit of a chore.)

Xiamen, called Amoy in ancient times, was, and is, a port. And as such, it has enjoyed a lot of prosperity, and a large influence. In fact, the word tea seems to have come from the local language. They had been doing trade here since the 1500’s. Also, as a rich port town, it had a lot of prosperity, back in the day.

Xiamen city at nigth as seen from Gulangyu.

Xiamen city at night as seen from Gulangyu.

But it’s not all tea and roses. The British took over Xiamen during the opium wars. This had some positive effects. Foreigners poured into the area (while most of china was closed to them) and they built prosperous places like Gulangyu (which was called the richest square mile on earth at one point. It’s still a beautiful pace, a car-free island filled with hundreds of british built mansions. It’s a major tourist attraction now, and even I stayed there for 3 days last time I was here.)

As foreigners came in, chinese were allowed out. Industrious chinese left to make their fortunes elsewhere, sending back money to their families left behind. So many Chinese left it was estimated that 2/3rd as many people from this area were outside china as inside.

Of course, not everyone who left found their fortune. Due to the British control, a small sort of slave trade began as well. The chinese were offered jobs abroad (including in America) and their future employers would “pay” for their boat trip. Then the Chinese would need to pay back that money before they were free to work elsewhere, and their employers would make sure that would never happen. Also, they packed the boats so tight that 40-50% of Chinese died before they arrived. And as money was being exchanged it wasn’t technically considered slavery so legally it couldn’t be stopped (though I read one story of a crew so disgusted of their “cargo” — hundreds of young girls– they turned themselves into the government before delivery.)

Then, in World War 2 the Japanese took it over for 7 years. And of course, the nearby “enemy” of Taiwan has put the government on alert.  Xiamen is located directly across from Taiwan, and as a result, it was left underdeveloped for decades because of fears of an attack.

Not anymore though. Xiamen is one of those special economic zones now and this place is clearly flourishing from prosperity. It got quite dirty in the “race for prosperity” but they cleaned it up and in 2011 it won an award for the #1 best destination in China.

And if oceans aren’t your thing (they’re not really mine), Xiamen has mountains to boot. The Wuiyi Mountains, a UNESCO world Heritage site is within a few hours reach. As I’m trying to see every UNESCO world heritage site in China, I’ll let you know what it’s like when I go there.

The food here is, you guessed it, seafood. Not my favorite food. I thought I could avoid it, but just about everything here has fish mixed in. I even got some fried noodles and was expecting little pieces of pork, like normal. Only, it was little pieces of fish. Sigh…Something I’ll just have to get used to. Luckily the cuisine isn’t too spicy here or I’s really be in trouble. (Unluckily most of my friends prefer spicy food, so ordering can be tough.)

This is a common dish in china called "homestyle tofu." In Hangzhou it was mixed with vegetables, but here in Xiamen? Seafood, or in this case...tentacles.

This is a common dish in china called “homestyle tofu.” In Hangzhou it was mixed with vegetables, but here in Xiamen? Seafood, or in this case…tentacles.

My impressions overall are quite good. Even though I’ve only been here for 3 weeks I feel like people are friendlier than in Hangzhou. On one of my first nights I was coming back from the store carrying heavy bags. The plastic was digging into my hands so I put them down a minute to give me a break. Two older women were walking by and asked me, in Chinese, if I needed any help carrying the bags. I was flabbergasted! (And refused of course.)

I also love living in a bigger city. Even though I don’t live downtown, there is enough stuff within walking distance to keep me occupied and a trip to the far side of the island is a quick 30 minutes. And there is a ton to do. I played frisbee with the frisbee team last night (I just played for fun), there’s toasmasters, yoga, monthly beach parties, chinese classes and just a ton of stuff I didn’t have the opportunity for before.

Origami in Xiamen

My friend and I walked into a cafe one evening and met this old guy teaching people origami. We later asked the owner and she said he just talks a walk at night and stops by. They keep a box of paper and an origami book for him so he can do it. Meanwhile, an outdoor movie played across the street for anyone to watch. This kinda stuff never happened to me before. (And I made an origami flower–or half made it. It got a bit difficult at the end and a girl had to help me.)

In fact, there only seems to be one major problem about living here. If even half the people who have told me they are going to come visit me, then I’ll be busy entertaining almost every weekend. Xiamen is the kind of place everyone wants to go visit and I’m a sitting duck for visitors. But that’s a good problem to have. So if you’re in the area, stop on by and I’ll show you around.

 

Categories: China, Chinese Food, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Fit Life in China

One of the things I love, love, love about living in China is how fit you get. Some foreigners come to China and get fatter, and I just don’t even get how that’s possible.

You need to walk everywhere, the food is much healthier and aside from the poisoned air and gutter oil, life is very healthy here. Don’t believe me? I have quantifiable proof this time.

When I was in America, I used my credit card points to get a fitbit. It’s a fitness bracelet, like a fancy pedometer, that measures not just your steps, but your level of activity, calories burned and even measures your sleep at night. It’s pretty awesome.

You can also set goals, and the fitbit default goal is 10,000 steps. You get a little “wrist-gasm” when you accomplish your goals. (It buzzes, the lights flash and it’s super exciting.) 10,000 steps a day is what most experts say is a good baseline for making sure you have a healthy, active lifestyle. It’s about 4.5 miles.

The dashboard of my fitbit showing a typical day in china. I not only meet my step goal but my calories and active minutes goals as well.

The dashboard of my fitbit showing a typical day in china. I not only meet my step goal but my calories and active minutes goals as well.

I wore the fit bit everyday for weeks in America so I got a pretty good baseline for the American lifestyle. In the three weeks I wore it, the only times I accomplished the 10,000 goal was when I was in a city, either New York of Boston. In the days I traveled the most physically, like drove a few hundred miles, were the days I barely broke 4,000steps. I even tried to walk places instead of driving in America, but breaking 10,000 steps was just too hard without blocking off a big amount of time to take a hike somewhere.

But in china?! No problem. My wrist starts buzzing sometimes in the early evening, and I have been surpassing 10,000 steps almost everyday. The only day I didn’t meet the goal was the day I had 6 hours of class. I was so exhausted afterwards (the damn heat wears me out) I stayed home that night. It was my least active day but I still passed 8,000 steps. In America my least active day was a mere 1,500 steps.

Just doing the basic necessities here requires a lot of walking and moving. I sat in a cute little cafe to do some writing the other day and it took me about 3,000 steps just to get there. In America I’d drive, sit, and drive back, averaging very few steps. But here? I have a workout both before and after more than making up for the thick mango smoothie I ordered.

And not to mention the awesome sights you see when you walk around. I admit that walking in suburban America can be boring. All you see is houses, lawns and a few shops (usually closed if your walking at night). But in China you get to see so much. Families sitting on plastic stools chatting away, old ladies dancing, fruit sellers trying to get you to buy their stuff, and families not only cooking outside, but sitting around the pot eating on the sidewalk.

On my walk last night my friend and I saw something quite unusual...a fire, begining to engulf a building. The building was dark and closed and as foreigners we had no idea who to call or how to tell them there was a fire there. We just hoped the locals would do it. Within a few minutes some fire trucks blew by us and we were relieved knowing they were going to take care of it. You never know what you are going to see on a walk!

On my walk last night my friend and I saw something quite unusual…a fire, begining to engulf a building. The building was dark and closed and as foreigners we had no idea who to call or how to tell them there was a fire there. We just hoped the locals would do it. Within a few minutes some fire trucks blew by us and we were relieved knowing they were going to take care of it. You never know what you are going to see on a walk!

After the excitement of the fire, the fruit market seemed almost tame.

After the excitement of the fire, the fruit market seemed almost tame.

And that’s just the physical part of it. Meanwhile my eating has improved drastically. Sure, you can get chips and cookies here, but they are pretty dry and tasteless and even in America I don’t eat much of that. Instead my dinners are mostly veggies with a little meat, and snacks tend to be fruit related.

In fact, one of my favorite snacks here is the “fruit salad bar.” Available at almost every fruit shop it’s a cooler filled with cut and peeled fruit. You just choose what you want and weigh it. It’s one buck for half a kilo. Because of the size of the container I have never paid more than 1.50. And it doesn’t just have the “cheap” fruit like watermelon and apples, but mango, dragonfruit, kiwis and some local chinese stuff. It’s awesomely convenient and delicious. The last place I lived didn’t have these, and I think it’s a genius idea.

The cooler with all the fruit. Since this is China, cucumber and totmates are included in the fruiot selection, and if you want, there are squeeze bottles of mayonnaise you can add to the salad. I just go for the straight fruit.

The cooler with all the cut fruit. Since this is China, cucumber and tomatoes are included in the fruit selection, and if you want, there are squeeze bottles of mayonnaise you can add to the salad. I just go for the straight fruit.

I know that China isn’t the first place people think of when you think of “healthy lifestyle” but for me, it’s great for my health. In fact, I’ve lost almost 9 pounds of my american flab since arriving here 2 weeks ago. At some point my body will acclimatize to all the exercise but until then I’ll milk it for all it’s worth.

 

Categories: China, Chinese Culture, Chinese Food | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Starting Over Again

Palm trees everywhere!

Palm trees everywhere!

As my plane was landing into Xiamen Gaoqi International airport, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar situation that happened exactly 5 years prior. Me, a backpack and a suitcase arriving in a place I had never been, ready to start a new life.

But this time was different. I wasn’t a nervous newbie. I knew the culture, the language and it was a place I had been eagerly looking forward to returning to all summer.

But first more similarities.  5 years ago, someone from the school met me at the airport, filled me in on the drive to my apartment, helped me move my stuff, and treated me to lunch. But then, that was it. 5 years ago, the first few days were a flurry of activity. I had to do things like, get a cell phone, hook up internet, go to meetings, have meals with the other foreign teachers to meet them.

But at this school? Nothing.

Partially because I’m organized (I have a bank account and cell phone), partially because they’re organized (internet was already paid and set-up). They gave me a sheet of everyone’s name and room number (we all live in the same building). But that was it. No meetings, no dinners. Some of the other teachers hadn’t even come back from their travels yet.

So what to do with all this alone time? Wander of course. The most logical place to go in this town is the mall. It’s a huge mall, and I saw it all shiny and lit up almost the minute I stepped out of my building that night. Like a moth to a porch light, I was drawn.

The campus.

The campus.

It’s so close, actually right across from the school gate, and it is as fancy as most of the malls in Shanghai. There’s lots of food places, a cinema, supermarket, and worse of all, my two favorite clothing shops. (H&M and Uniqlo–pretty much the only shops in China that carry my size. I’m going to have to show some serious restraint if I want to save money.) My first night I just walked around in a sweaty, jet-lagged haze and bought a few essentials before crashing for the night.

The next day I met the woman that hired me and we had a nice long chat. She told me where I could go to get a local SIM card and I walked around town and managed to do that complicated process in Chinese all by myself. I rewarded my hard work with lunch at a muslim restaurant, one of my favorite kinds of food in China.  I also walked around town a bit, but I was sweaty and disgusting and finally went back to my air conditioned abode.

Meanwhile I had run into a few teachers in the buildings entrance and one offered to show me around. So, on my second full day I got shown the campus (a huge sprawling complex made up of 2 schools) and the area immediately surrounding it. I fell in love. At my old school we had one fun part outside the gate. The area known as the west gate, with little shops and restaurants and such.

On cheap street, a place with tons of little noodle shops, fruit stalls, iphone case sellers and more.

On cheap street, a place with tons of little noodle shops, fruit stalls, iphone case sellers and more.

Well, the area around this school is even more immense with hundreds of fruit sellers, hair cutters, milk tea places and small eateries. There is even a store called ‘cheap street’ which opens late to the wee hours of the night. I loved the hustle and bustle of it.

I also got to meet a few other teachers, one of whom I actually knew. He is a friend of a friend I met several years ago. I also met my next door neighbor who is not only from the same home state as me, but also a writer. What a coincidence.

I also got to check out a few other apartments. Each one has an identical layout, but other people did a great job decorating it. They got rid of the furniture from the school and did their places up nice, with sofas from Ikea and standing desks. It kinda made me a little jealous because I’m too cheap and lazy to spend the time/money to fix up my place, but I loved their places.

The view from my apartment at night.

The view from my apartment at night.

And that brings me to another point. The teachers here all seem serious. Like, not serious boring people, but serious about teaching, serious about speaking Chinese (I’m not the only one anymore!), and even serious about having a good comfortable night. No staying up all night and rolling into class hungover, or banging students. Several told me this was a great place to work, and everyone kind of lives up to the job to stay here. What a shocker.

So, while school hasn’t started yet, and I don’t know what level my students are at (though I apparently lucked out in the teaching departments. Some teachers have a 15 minute bike ride to their classrooms, while I have a 5 minute walk. I can see my teaching building from my window) but so far I’m really digging it.

The city is a small place, easily accessible by walking, filled with cute little coffee shops I’m going to make use of, as well as other convenient shops. There’s even a western owned microbrew bar down the street in which the owner makes his own buns and pizza crust from scratch and sources his meat from America. I’ve already gotten to know him and I can tell I’m going to waste spend many an hour in that place.

The Brewhouse

The Brewhouse

It hasn’t even been a week yet, but the reviews are in: two thumbs up!

 

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m Back *Exhales Deeply*

Looking down at New York and central park.

Looking down at New York and central park.

So I’m back in the big silly and it feels so good to be here. of course I’m at my new school in Xiamen, and as of yet I havent really met too many people (I’ve been dealing with jet-lag, setting up my new apartment and meeting my new bosses.)

So before I go into what it’s like at my new job I thought I’d do a quick wrap up post on my summer in America.

I’ll admit the first half was rough. To save money I stayed at my mom’s house, a town I no longer have many friends, and didn’t do much. I wasn’t happy to be back and everything was bugging me, especially the food. I had a non-stop stomach ache for almost the whole time, though eventually it got better. I missed China, I missed my friends and the summer seemed so damn long. Not all was lost though, I did make some new friends, and I made a few trips to see friends in various parts of New England. I also got to spend a bunch of time with my brother and his kids.

The second half though, was better. Jason came, and he likes to take credit for making the trip better, but actually that wasn’t it. Something in me clicked. Partially it was the culture shock wearing off, partially the fact that I was seeing friends again, but I began to appreciate the places I had lived. You see, I was sick of my hometown, and sick of all the same old thing when I left. And every time I have been back since then I felt like nothing had changed and everything was still boring. But now 5 years have passed, I’m beginning to appreciate the fact that nothing changes and everyone is the same. I went to the library, the bookstore, the post office and ran into people that I really like.

So, overall, I didn’t hate it. I don’t suddenly feel all warm and fuzzy about going home (It will be at least 2 or 3 years till I go back again) but it wasn’t the nightmare that it had been in the past. It was good to see everyone again, and do things like eat turkey and Ben & Jerry’s.

Here’s a quick picture re-cap of my summer:

One thing I appreciated, the whole time, was the beautiful sky. It seemed crushing at times, but the colors it presented was amazing.

One thing I appreciated, the whole time, was the beautiful sky. It seemed crushing at times, but the colors it presented was amazing.

 

Since I had plenty of free time on my hands in the first month, I went into New York several times. At the NY Public Library they had a display of children's books including the ORIGINAL Winnie-The-Pooh dolls. Like, the one the real Christopher Robin played with and the books were based on. Ah-maaazing.

Since I had plenty of free time on my hands in the first month, I went into New York several times. At the NY Public Library they had a display of children’s books including the ORIGINAL Winnie-The-Pooh dolls. Like, the one the real Christopher Robin played with and the books were based on. Ah-maaazing.

I got to spend a lot of time with my nephews. They're finally at the fun age where I really liked hanging out with them. When i see them next time, they'll be teenagers! Scary.

I got to spend a lot of time with my nephews. They’re finally at the fun age where I really liked hanging out with them. When I see them next time, they’ll be teenagers! Scary.

Jason finally came forcing me to go out and about and do touristy stuff.

Jason finally came forcing me to go out and about and do touristy stuff. This was us on our way to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. 

We also did other things like Times Square, Chinatown (which Jason hated), Central Park, the Guggenheim (pictured above), and everything a tourist would do. We even got cupcakes from magnolia bakery. *drool*

We also did other things like Times Square, Chinatown (which Jason hated), Central Park, the Guggenheim (pictured above), and everything a tourist would do. We even got cupcakes from magnolia bakery. *drool*

My friend Liz was nice enough to cook a homemade italian dinner for us. Beforehand she tried to make me feel guilty for forcing her to bake in the hot summer, but the weather was unseasonably cool and it wasn't an issue. But her lasagna, and homemade meatballs (with sausage) was sooo good.

In my hometown in NH, My friend Liz was nice enough to cook a homemade italian dinner for us. Beforehand she tried to make me feel guilty for forcing her to bake in the hot summer, but the weather was unseasonably cool and it wasn’t an issue. But her lasagna, and homemade meatballs (with sausage) was sooo good. She also has some new gardens and this was her first cucumber, fresh off the vine. 

As if that wasn't enough, I asked my friend Beth to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. You see, for several years when I was still in America I always went to Beth's house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and any other special holiday dinner. Her cooking is amazing, and I haven't had a turkey dinner for 5 years. She went all out, cooking several casseroles, mashed potatoes, fresh rolls, veggies in addition to the turkey. She also made a pumpkin pie and chocolate pecan pie for dessert. We invited a bunch of people over and had a real thanksgiving dinner, complete with saying what we were thankful for. (I was thankful I had friends who were willing to cook a dinner like that for me.) I was staying at beth's house, so I eneded up eating leftovers for breakfast for the next two days, including the pies. I will dream of this dinner for the next 5 years until my next thanksgiving dinner.

As if that wasn’t enough, I asked my friend Beth to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. You see, for several years when I was still in America I always went to Beth’s house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and any other special holiday dinner. Her cooking is amazing, and I haven’t had a turkey dinner for 5 years. She went all out, cooking several casseroles, mashed potatoes, fresh rolls and veggies in addition to the turkey. She also made a pumpkin pie and chocolate pecan pie for dessert. We invited a bunch of people over and had a real thanksgiving dinner, complete with saying what we were thankful for. (I was thankful I had friends who were willing to cook a dinner like that for me.) I was staying at beth’s house, so I ended up eating leftovers for breakfast for the next two days, including the pies. I will dream of this dinner for the next 5 years until my next thanksgiving dinner.

We went to Boston a few times, and ended up at a Red Sox game. I am not the biggest ball fan, but the Red Sox are my team, and despite their terrible season, the place was packed and the atmopshere was so fun. Luckily my nephews, who play baseball, filled Jason in on the rules beforehand, so he understood how the game was played. (It's not popular in China.)

We went to Boston a few times, and ended up at a Red Sox game. I am not the biggest ball fan, but the Red Sox are my team, and despite their terrible season, the place was packed and the atmosphere was awesome. Luckily my nephews, who play baseball, filled Jason in on the rules beforehand, so he understood how the game was played. (It’s not popular in China.)

So that was my summer. Now, eyes forward to look at the future. Next post? My new life in China!

Categories: At Home | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chinese Things in America that Aren’t Actually Chinese

So I’m still stuck in America. It’s been a month so culture shock is a thing of the past (people are back to being assholes and driving like maniacs.)

Basically I’m homesick for China. Very homesick, and to make myself feel better I’ve been looking for Chinese things in America. But, just like American things in China, they aren’t quite right.

So here are some “Chinese” things I’ve noticed in America that just aren’t really Chinese.

Chinese Food

I think you knew this one was coming. Chinese food in America is about as authentic as a “bloomin’ onion” is to Australian cuisine. (Which is to say, not at all.) In China, the food is fresh, sometimes a little oily, but bursting with flavors. Not so much so in America. It’s fried, sweet, and covered in thick sauces. Personally, I’m finding it quite gross. I’ve only been to a few of the fast food style chinese restaurants and maybe I should go to a nice one for comparison, but I’m not impressed.

Beef with broccoli was always my favorite dish at a chinese food restaurant, but isn't a dish in china. First off, Chinese people don't really eat broccoli, you can find it, but its' not common. Second, the meat pieces seem insanely huge to me (in china they would be smaller or have bones in them) and the sauce is thick and too sweet.

Beef with broccoli was always my favorite dish at a chinese food restaurant, but isn’t a dish in china. First off, Chinese people don’t really eat broccoli, you can find it, but its’ not common. Second, the meat pieces seem insanely huge to me (in china they would be smaller or have bones in them) and the sauce is thick and too sweet.

You can find spring rolls in china, but they have a thin crispy shell and are filled with delicious fresh ingredients, not this unidentified white stuff american ones are filled with.

You can find spring rolls in china, but they have a thin crispy shell and are filled with delicious fresh ingredients, not this unidentified shredded cardboard american ones are filled with.

In China shrimp are much smaller, and come fully cooked their shell (or whatever their body is called...exoskeleton?) and their eyes, legs and antenna are still attached. You pop them in your mouth, chew out the meat and then spit the rest n the table. I think most americans would never eat shrimp if thats what we had to do to eat them.

In China shrimp are much smaller, and come fully cooked their shell (or whatever their body is called…exoskeleton?) and their eyes, legs and antenna are still attached. You pop them in your mouth, chew out the meat and then spit the rest on the table. I think most americans would never eat shrimp if thats what we had to do to eat them.

You know those crispy fried things you get to put in your soup or eat with sauce? Never seen them in china. And the sauces, well, I've never seen them in china either. In fact mustard is hard to find even at the bigger supermarkets (you need to go to the import supermarkets to find it).

You know those crispy fried things you get to put in your soup or eat with sauce? Never seen them in china. And the sauces, well, I’ve never seen them in china either. In fact mustard is hard to find even at the bigger supermarkets (you need to go to the import supermarkets to find it).

Bubble Tea/Milk Tea

I’ve written a few times about the sweet, delicious drink that is milk tea. Part tea, part milky/sugary thing, it can really quench your thirst on a hot summers day, or warm your belly on a cold winters night. It’s one of my favorite things in China. In America it’s called bubble tea. but again, it’s not totally the same.

First off the “bubble” name comes from tapioca pearls they add. In China, if you want it added, you ask for “pearl milk tea.” So it’s not like there is one kind of bubble tea, and the rest is milk tea. It’s just milk tea, and you can add the pearls if you want or not. But in America, it seems like the purpose of “bubble tea” is the pearls. Also, the flavors in America try to be all asian inspired, like lychee and what-not, which is obviously not done in china. If I wanted lychee “bubble” tea in china, I’d ask for lychee fruit juice and ask them to add pearls. In my opinion, if something is called ‘tea’ it should have some form of tea in it, not just fruit juice.

More like fruit juice with tapioca pearls in it.

Bubble tea? No, more like fruit juice with tapioca pearls in it.

Chinese Buffets/Chinese Take-away Containers

As I’m sure you can imagine that an all-you-can-eat buffets is much more an american thing, though I have been to some in China. The funny thing is that yes, while they do have chinese food (naturally) they also usually have a lot of western food. Like, a buffet is more of a western way to eat food then a chinese way.

And the take out boxes? Nope, not such thing. In China when you get food to-go it comes in normal round containers, with a plastic lid on top. No white box with chinese scrawled on the sides.

A real chinese take-away box. Not even square, and not built in top (it had a thin plastic top, like a soda cup top). And it's not even square! For some reason all the to-go bowls I see in china come round.

A real chinese take-away box. Not even square, and no built in top to fold over (it had a thin plastic top, like a soda cup top). And it’s not even square! For some reason all the to-go bowls I see in china come round.

Szechwan Stuff

Szechwan chicken, szechwan sauce. No such place, it’s called Sichuan in real life. Chinese people know that foreigners used to call Beijing Peking, or Guangzhou Canton. But Szechwan? Totally american.

Szechwan Sauce

Real Chinese Things!!

I have stumbled upon a few real chinese things in America which has made me happy. For instance I saw a chinese guy using weixin/wechat on the train the other day, using hanzi to type. I wanted to start talking to him just to speak chinese again, but I held back.

I might have been to shy to talk to him, but I wasn't too shy to take a picture.

I might have been to shy to talk to him, but I wasn’t too shy to take a picture.

In the chaotic jumble of flashing advertisements that is Times Square I noticed a Chinese ad right at the very tippy, top of the most prominent spot (where they drop the ball from). It circulated through several different chinese ads for different places and some xinhua news, so I guess the government controls it? Anyway, it made me happy.

Its got to be the most expensive spot in Times square to advertise. I'm just guessing...

Its got to be the most expensive spot in Times square to advertise. I’m just guessing…

I officially have 22 days left until I head back to the middle kingdom, but in less than a week my pal Jason is gonna arrive to spend the last 2 weeks with me. Needless to say I’m excited.

Categories: At Home, Chinese Food, Tea | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Good Chinese Wife Review and a Chance to Win a Free Book!!

Good Chinese Wife CoverThere’s a new book out about a western woman asian man relationship and I was lucky enough to get a review copy ahead of time to tell you, my dear readers, about.

And even cooler I was picked to give away one of the free books! Woot! But I’mma gonna make you read my review first.

It’s called Good Chinese Wife, written by Susan Blumberg-Kason, and is the true story of how she met, fell in love with, and ultimately divorced her Chinese husband Cai.

The books starts with Susan, a shy mid-westerner, moving to Hong Kong, and meeting the man that would become her husband. I think their courtship might shock some people over the dryness. Like, they talk about dating and getting marriage like other people talk about the weather; without much feeling or passion. Personally I was a bit shocked myself even though I know it happens all the time in China. I just kinda thought no western woman would agree to marriage without some passion and love beforehand.

But this is where the book comes off as brave. Susan, the author and main character, comes off incredibly weak. From the dubious beginnings to her descent into total passiveness (while I was reading the book I started underlying sentences in which she said she “I was hesitant to make a scene,” or “I didn’t want to appear jealous or insecure.” There are more than 20 such marks until I gave up realizing there was too many for me to keep track of) while her husband gets increasingly abusive. While the book deals with cultural misunderstanding, all of her justifications could have come straight out of the “abused woman handbook.” It was hard to read at times, and to her credit she doesn’t sugar coat it.

You know how you want to yell at horror movie actresses to “not go into the basement?” Well that’s how I kinda felt reading this book. As a loudmouth myself, I wanted to yell at her for being so weak and passive. For instance there is one part where she is looking forward to going to an english language bookstore on a trip to Shanghai. She said she was looking forward to it for weeks, and it would be the last thing they do before they left on the train. Only, it doesn’t happen because her husband is selfish and tells her there is no time. She passively accepts it while seething underneath and I just wanted to yell at the book, “just go woman! Piss off this idiot, don’t reward his behavior!” She even admitted to the thinking that “having a child will make everything better,” which is the ultimate abused woman thought pattern. (Spoiler alert: it only makes things worse.)

All biographies are written from the future, and usually the writers recognize their weakness from the vantage point of hindsight. But Susan never did that which began to make me wonder if she even knew how passive she was being. Sometimes people reveal parts of themselves in writing that they don’t understand themselves. But of course, the end redeems it all, and I finally realized she did.

The author, Susan Blumberg-Kason

The author, Susan Blumberg-Kason

I read a lot of books about China and they tend to fall into two categories. Either the grand sweeping epic of a Wild Swans, or the lyrical poetry of a Peter Hesler book. This is neither and actually the writing is quite plain, which, I’ll admit threw me a bit. This is a small story, focusing just on her life, and not in any grander picture of China’s place in the world. But I liked it for that. And the last few chapters had me gripping my kindle in nervousness, despite knowing what happens. So obviously I was hooked.

In fact the only major criticism I can offer of this book is it is a negative portrayal of an asian man. There is a lot of negative images of chinese guys, and on my blog I try to show the positive aspects, or how the stereotypes aren’t true. So it’s a little annoying that once again the villain is a chinese man. But it’s real life so whatchagonnado?

Did I pique your interest? Good! I don’t want to talk too much about the book itself and ruin the story for you. But now comes the fun part!! I was given the opportunity to give away a free book to one of you!! All you have to do is……

Leave a comment!

Yep, that’s right, leave a comment on this post. It’s that simple people. You can write your thoughts about the book, or asian male/western women relationships, or just write anything you want. The only rule is you need to leave a comment. I’m going to have my friend Jason randomly pick a winner at midnight on Tuesday August 12th (cause he’ll be in america visiting me then).

Also, you have to be in the USA or Canada. (Sorry everyone in china!)

And, well, I don’t wanna make myself sound like to TOTAL loser but it’s not like I got a million readers or anything, so your chances of winning and probably pretty high.

And if you don’t win the free book I still recommend you pick one up yourself. Of course I suggest that you go to your local bookshop to order it, but if you are lazy (or even sadder maybe you don’t have a local book shop?!) I’ll give you an affiliated link to the Amazon page. Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong. Go support a new writer and get this interesting book!

 

Categories: China, Chinese Culture | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

Trying Not to Be THAT Person

Nothing more American than watching a little league game my nephew played. I think we’ve all had a friend who went to England for the summer, and came back with a terrible fake accent. Or the totally white friend (who can’t speak another language and has never been out of the country) who says Puerto Rico with deep rolling R’s and a strong accent. Little things that make us roll our eyes and think “yeesh.”

I’m afraid I’m that person now.  I’m trying not to, but it’s hard. Last time I was conscious of the word “Shanghai.” The American pronunciation is a sharp A, like “hang” and “shang” rhyme. But the real pronunciation is a softer sound. More like, Shhong-hai.

Last time I was here I changed my pronunciation to match the American way, but this time I just can’t. It feel too wrong. I kinda stumble over saying the word now, I can’t decide between the two pronunciations and I probably sound like a douche.

And then there is the old, “In China…” I know it’s annoying to start every sentence with “in China,” but I kinda can’t help it. Like, it’s been my home for 5 years, so if I talk about anything recent it’s probably gonna be in china. I know people get bored and tired with hearing it, so I try to drop it from sentences, but I can’t do it totally. Or it’s even worse when I say, “The time I went to Thailand,” or “When I was in Hong Kong.” Douche city.

I brought back some bai jiu,  or chinese rice wine, for my friends to try. Several people tried it and as you can tell, they didn't exactly enjoy it, haha. It's an acquired taste.

I brought back some bai jiu, or chinese rice wine, for my friends to try. Several people tried it and as you can tell, they didn’t exactly enjoy it, haha. It’s an acquired taste.

And then there is chinese. I don’t wanna be that person that says chinese words, cause it’s not a language most people understand. English is already peppered with words from other languages, but it’s things we all can understand. Mi casa e su casa, and arrivaderci, are two examples that come to mind.

But chinese isn’t like that. I can even say just ni hao, which means hello, and almost no one has any idea what I’m talking about. So I have to be careful. Some things just slip out, like when I bump into someone I habitually say bu hao yi si, which means sorry. Or when a store clerk offers me something I’ve (twice now) replied bu yao, which means I don’t want it. You see, these are just common things that pop out. Like, it took me years to get out of the habit of saying god bless you, when someone sneezed in China, its taking time to stop myself from saying the things I normally do in china. But I know to reply to someone in Chinese is, yep, douchy. So I’m trying to stop that too.

Some of this stuff maybe wouldn’t be a big deal and if I was just here for 2 weeks, like normal, I wouldn’t even try. But I’m here for the whole summer (still have a moth to go *grimace*) and like any good traveler I’m trying to fit in an “go native.”

I just hope I’m not a native douchebag.

I might try to be fitting in, but I'm not stopping doing the chinese "V" in pics which I've gotten so used to doing. I got some friends to do it with me, but for the most part, people make fun of me for it.

I might try to be fitting in, but I’m not stopping doing the chinese “V” in pics which I’ve gotten so used to doing. I got some friends to do it with me, but for the most part, people make fun of me for it.

Categories: At Home, Traveling | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

No One is Staring, But Everyone’s Paying Attention–and Other Culture Shocks of Being in America

'Murica!!

‘Murica!!

So I’ve been home a few days and it’s definitely weird. Here are some of the biggest things I’ve noticed.

 No one is looking at me, but everyone’s paying attention

I’ve said again and again how much I dislike being stared at in China. What I haven’t said though, is how there is a certain freedom in it. If I speak normally and quietly people will look at me. If I scream and swear people will look at me. If I walk down the street at a typical pace, people will look at me. If I walk backwards, clapping my hands and singing at the top of my lungs, people will look at me. But despite being the center of attention, there is no judgement. They’re curious about a foreigner and how we look and act. When I sing they don’t snigger or roll their eyes. If I walk with a little bit of swagger they don’t laugh at me and say I look stupid. I’m pretty sure I could take a dump in the middle of the street and they would only look to see if a foreigners shit was different from theirs.

But in America it is different. No one stares at me, but everyone is aware of me. I have to be conscious of things like personal space (which is different in china, and something I need to readjust) I have to be aware to not sing out loud or even hum a little (or else I’d look like a crazy person) and I have to be on high alert and know where everyone is around me so I can act accordingly. A person a few paces behind me? I better notice them so I can hold open the door lest I look like a jerk. Someone two seats down from me sneeze? I better pay attention so I can say ‘gesundheit.’ Drop a tiny piece of paper? I better pick itup right away before someone tsk’s at me.

I was in a store and I accidentally clipped a ladies heels with my cart. Not rammed, just kinda nudged. I immediately said sorry and she kinda rolled her eyes at me. Then another guy nearby said to the woman, “You getting run over today?” in a friendly tone but I wanted to be like, “WTF, did everyone notice?!”

So while people stare at me in China, and I can’t be incognito like I can I’m America, I still have this new added pressure to behave properly in America. It’s a little tough being thrown back into that after you’ve been out of it so long.

Everything is BIG

This needs to be explained because to know big is to know China. Population, buildings, even the worlds longest escalator, china has it. But there is also a compactness and efficiency to it all, because they have to fit so much stuff in a relatively small place. America has the opposite problem. Every building, from the bank to Home Depot, has a huge parking lot surrounded by a huge well manicured lawn. Everything takes up so much space, it seems like an awful waste.

But it doesn’t just stop there. On my way home from the airport my dad and I stopped off to get dinner at a chicken place. They gave me a soda and the cup was the size of my head. Literally the entire length of my head. The toilet paper rolls are huge, the garbage cans are big enough to hide in, and the size of a sandwich is frightening.

Also, why do our toilets have SO MUCH WATER?! I have a western toilet in China, so I’m used to that, but I feel like the toilets in my mom have an inordinate amount of water. It’s almost obscene.

Toilet paper rolls the size of my head. Only in America.

Toilet paper rolls the size of my head. Only in America.

It’s So Quiet and Empty

Maybe this would be different if I lived in New York City, but my parents live in a suburb outside New York and this place is s-o-o-o-o-o-o quiet. I used to hate the constant noise in China, but like most things, I got used to it. And I find china so 热闹 re nao, like, active and fun and exciting. I love my nightly walks where kids are skateboarding, ladies are dancing, lovers are walking hand in hand. Even at 2, 3, 4am you can find people out and about on the street, hanging out playing cards, selling BBQ, (eating BBQ). In America it gets so deathly quiet at night and I’m afraid if I go out someones gonna call the cops on me. It feels lonelier. I was walking in the downtown street of my parents hometown at 8:30 pm and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Spooky

Not even dark and totally quiet and empty. Spooky.

Not even dark and totally quiet and empty. It’s never this quiet and empty in China. 

 

We are Nice and Good Drivers

I know, when I lived in America I thought everyone drove like assholes, but the courtesy on the road is shocking to me. There is lots of waving to each other to go first, stopping to let someone enter the road, stopping at stop signs. It’s actually quite nice, like it feels like people are being courteous to each other.

I’ve also been shocked at how nice people are. On my first day I went to the bank and the guy was making small talk but it wasn’t just rote, “how are you,” he actually listened and responded. Then when I had the wrong account number he helped me out and gave me a ton of information I didn’t know I wanted (but I actually did). Then I went to a deli and ordered a bagel and stood there for about 10 minutes talking with two of the workers. It seems like everyone here is happy to chit-chat at anytime.

Chinese people are friendly and as a foreigner they will often chit-chat with me. But its more out of curiosity then friendless I think. Here in America people just seem so nice. And this is in New England where we have a reputation of being cold and unfriendly.

Listening to English is Tedious

When you live in China you ear kinda hone in on English. You know how you could be in a loud room but someone says your name quietly you always hear it? Thats what hearing English is like in China. You are subconsciously always listening for it because when someone speaks it, there is a good chance they are addressing you.

So when you come back to America your senses are overwhelmed with English and you can’t block out everyones conversations for the first days. At restaurants, on the street, in the library I can’t help but overhear what people say. And guess what? It’s boring as shit. I listened to a 10 minute conversation about two peoples favorite Honda dealer in my hometown. Yeah, 10 minutes about Honda dealers. And that was one of the more interesting conversations because at least it was a little debate.

When I overhear a conversation in Chinese I’m just proud that I can understand them, regardless of the topic. Because it’s in another language it is somehow more interesting. But most conversations I’ve overheard in English? Tedious.

A few more observations:

Paper towels are insanely absorbent. 

Americans really are fat.

There are a lot of American flags everywhere.

The sky is wonderfully blue. 

My nephews are adorable.

Oh, and the food kinda sucks. It tastes good, but after the fresh chinese diet, trying to get readjusted to the american one is tough. My stomach has not felt good once since I got here and I’m eating about half what I do normally (which maybe is a good thing).

After eating this bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast I couldn't eat anything, even snacks, until the evening.

After eating this bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast I couldn’t eat anything, even snacks, until the evening.

And all of this reverse culture shock is from someone who spent the majority of their life in America, so nothing is new per say, but rather, things I forgot. I cant wait until Jason comes next month to see some real culture shock. And soon I’ll be used to everything again and when I go back to china I’ll have to deal with getting accustomed to things again (reverse-reverse culture shock).

Categories: At Home | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Farewell Tour of Zhejiang–The Final Phase

So I’m home now. Jet-laggy and culture shocked. I’ll write about that in a bit, but I first want to write about my last few days in Lin’an.

With just six days left after my Hangzhou bash, I had finally reached the center of my onion. I had been peeling the layers down closer and closer to home, and now I had arrived at the heart of it all.

Bazzi stayed in school so he could go to my party in Hangzhou, so the next day he took off for home. He's been my assistant this year and helped me a lot. We still chat often.

Bazzi stayed in school so he could go to my party in Hangzhou (even though he didn’t like it.) The next day he took off for home. He’s been my assistant this year and helped me a lot. We still chat often.

I had dinner with different co-workers the last few nights including Mark and Diana, and Myles. (For those of you that know Myles, let's just say he was "full blown" Myles for dinner and leave it at that.)

I had dinner with different co-workers the last few nights including Mark and Diana, and Myles. (For those of you that know Myles, let’s just say he was “full blown” Myles for dinner and leave it at that.) While I don’t see them often, they are still people that have known me for almost the whole time I’ve been here and especially this semester Mark has helped me out tremendously, which I can’t thank him enough for. 

Autumn was the chinese teacher in charge of the foreign teachers when I first arrived. She gave up that job, but she's still been a good friend, and has had my back these 5 years. I'll miss her!

Autumn was the chinese teacher in charge of the foreign teachers when I first arrived. She gave up that job, but she’s still been a good friend, and has had my back these 5 years. I’ll miss her!

Then came my last little party. There is a cafe/bar in Lin’an that we have been going to for years. We call it Ping’s (after the owner) and it seemed only fitting that we had one more late night party there. So after dinner, my co-workes and I walk over. School was over and the students were gone, but several of “my babies,” are living and working in Lin’an so they were coming too.

Only, when we got to the door, it was locked and the place was dark. During the summer most shops close, but I didn’t think our beloved Ping’s would close! Luckily, like I said we are regulars and friends with everyone that works there, so we called one of them up and she came to open it just for us. We had to plug everything back in, and she actually had to go to another bar to get us drinks, but we helped cleaned up and overpaid at the end of the night, and anyway, she’s more of a friend so I hope she wasn’t too annoyed.

How many foreign teachers does it take to plug in a speaker? 3 apparently.

How many foreign teachers does it take to plug in a speaker? 3 apparently.

It was a wednesday night, and most of my students had jobs to go to the next morning, so it wasn't a crazy late night. But it was fun to see them one last time.

It was a wednesday night, and most of my students had jobs to go to the next morning, so it wasn’t a crazy late night. But it was fun to see them one last time.

Lin'an, China

You probably think that I was getting sadder and sadder as the days went by. But I’m a traveler by nature and once I pack my bags I’m ready and eager to move on. Plus, at this point I had been saying goodbye for almost a month, and I just didn’t have it in me to keep up this sustained sense of sadness. Call me cold-hearted, but I was ready to move on.

Eating my favorite dish, tudou bing. It's a fried potato thing.

My last dinner was with my 3 co-workers that I’ve spent a lot of time with this semester. We went to out favorite place that we go to on a weekly basis (the owner is so nice she cooks us special dishes not even on the menu) Since it was my last dinner I was queen for the night and got to order anything I wanted. I often complain that my friends never want to try new things and always order the same dishes, but this time I ordered all of the usuals. Lin’an food is soooo good and I miss it already. Here I am eating my favorite dish, tudou bing. It’s a fried potato thing.

And that was that. I woke up at 3am, for a ride to the airport and 24 hours later I was landing in New York City, jet-lagged and exhausted (can’t sleep on the plane.)

After five years my Lin’an adventure is officially over. It was unexpected (I came for only 6-months, not intending to make a life in china) and it has changed me forever. It is a great place. But the road is calling and a new adventure awaits.

Categories: China, Teaching English | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment