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Not-So-Ancient Chinese Secrets

Unsurprising Things About China:

Crowds, loogie hawking (as opposed to persistent hawking of artwork, shoe shines, watches and postcards) pushing and the inability to stand in orderly lines. (I loved–and by loved I mean was defeated yet still amused–the elderly couple at immigration in Newark that ducked under the rope barriers and ran to the front of the snaking line.) Cutting has no meaning in China, which only makes the grade school concept of “Chinese cuts” ring truer.

Finding shoes or clothing in my size was futile. Shoes top out at 39 and the XLs at Uniqlo (yes, we tracked down a Uniqlo as well as H&M) looked very un-large.

The number of babies, pregnant women, SUVs and pet dogs was considerably lower than in my neck of the woods. Pets seem to be a semi-new thing and the few dogs I saw were small Pomeranian types, many in clothes. I liked the elderly woman who kept her tiny mutt in line like a donkey or circus animal while waving a small tree branch.

That I would be faced with two Robin Williams vehicles on the flight back, License to Wed and Mork and Mindy reruns (I was tortured by R.V. while stuck on the runway for two hours last summer).

That melon (my least favorite food in the world) is considered a dessert. I didn’t realize what a sweet tooth I had until faced with nonstop fruit and red beans—thankfully Pocky and Dove bars from the 24-hour Alldays kept me sane.

Surprising Things About China:

Spotting Steve Buscemi at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Shanghai when I’ve never once seen him in Brooklyn.

A mania for Halloween, or at least decorating with pumpkins and that mask from Scream.

How painfully hard the beds are. I’d read about too firm mattresses on travel sites but didn’t quite understand the magnitude. I’m not a fussy sleeper, as I’ve mentioned before I spent three years on a disgusting left behind mattress in my first NYC apartment, but these Chinese mattresses nearly caused nerve damage. I got bruises from trying to lie on my side and had shooting leg pains the entire week and a half.

Their fixation with mopping and sweeping. Sure, cleanliness is next to godliness, but the Chinese are out of control. (I got charged $1.80 by a hotel for a towel that I supposedly permanently ruined. “You cleaned your shoes with it.” I finally figured out that it was a tiny patch of mascara they were referring to.) Sweepers with old-fashioned brooms were permanent fixtures on every street and overzealous moppers occupied every indoor surface and had no qualms about including your too-slow feet in the scrubbing process. I was stupid enough to bring along a pair of boots I’d never worn before and the smooth soles were completely powerless over the abnormally clean and slick surfaces indoors and out. I’m more used to grit and grime and kept skidding out.

How good I got with the squat toilets. Despite the mattress-induced leg pains, my thigh muscles proved up to the task. But what I still don’t understand is what you do about #2. Luckily, I never had to contend with that problem, but squat toilets don’t flush and you have to throw your self-provided toilet paper into a basket.

Gray smog. I’m not sure if it was fog or smog, but Beijing was so bleak and dreary you literally couldn’t see buildings across the street. The sun finally came out on our last day and was accompanied by bitter near-freezing temperatures. Thankfully, it was time to head to Shanghai because I hadn’t brought a coat with me and was frightened by what my outerwear prospects might be like in China.

How many brands and stores I’d never heard of. Some I’ve seen in Asia before like G2000 and Goldlion, but most were completely unknown to me. I don’t mean weird knock offs or bastardizations like Vony using a Sony logo but “real” stores in malls like Septwolves and Valued Squirrel.

As mullets are to Barcelona, bad frizzy ‘80s perms are to Beijing. I was too polite to take photos, though now I regret that error. I’m not sure if this unfortunate style seen on males and females was intentional or not. I didn’t see anyone on TV or in ads looking like that. Hip, irony seems severely lacking in China so I don’t think it was tongue in cheek. I’m not even sure what their sense of humor is, or if they have one. I had this sort of hair in grade school, mine was a result of home perms that rapidly faded into saggy kinks rather than full curls.

That I'm not sick of Chinese food. Usually, when I get back from an Asian vacation all I want is American or Mexican food for the first few days, but I could totally eat noodle soup or dumplings no problem. What I really want right now is something Sichuan, swimming in chile oil, but that kind of thwarts my plan to drop ten pounds by the end of the year (I originally had 25 in mind by end of 2007 but that's just not happening) and then I read, "Overindulging in Sichuan Cuisine May Harm Your Health" on the plane back to NYC. Bah.

So, onto my not-terribly-poignant food-centric photos with as little of myself in them as possible. I have to force myself to take pictures because it doesn’t feel natural, though I’ve definitely improved since my first visit to S.E. Asia in 2003 when I only managed eight pictures in two weeks. I suspect that my posts will be consumed with food in China for a while, so if you hate that sort of thing I’m afraid you’ll be tormented for the next few weeks.

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  1. Mikey #

    Those pictures are really great (how were the Italian red meat chips?) looking forward to your posts.

    November 6, 2007
  2. driggs #

    Perhaps Mr Buscemi was in China for this

    Or perhaps they are just doing Monsters Inc goes to China….

    November 6, 2007
  3. Mikey: I actually preferred the “finger licking braised pork” Lay’s. Strangely enough, they really tasted like Chinese food.

    emigre: I’m not sensitive to pollution at all, but I was afraid my lungs were turning black. I wasn’t ready wear one of those face masks, though. All of my self photos are pretty scruffy–whenever I’m dressed up I forget to take pictures because I’m preoccupied.

    driggs: That could be it. Mr. Buscemi was in the company of a twentysomething Asian girl/woman, though I suspected she was more of a guide than an actress.

    November 7, 2007

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