My last two months in China have been amazing! Since I had never been to another continent other than North America, I was sure to study up on cultural differences to prepare for all of the changes we would be experiencing. Youtube was a big one especially, I was watching vloggers that had already spent a considerable time in China to get a first-person account on what life was like here. However, I have come to realize that even the hundreds of videos and blogs I have read hasn’t fully prepared me for all of the shock I have experienced since coming to China! The experiences are both good and bad, so I hope you enjoy hearing about it! Please keep in mind these are my personal experiences in a small area of China and won’t apply to all places within China.
Many people think that the toilets are what would get to me, but I have only been able to use a squatty potty once. I personally thought the language barrier would be impossible, but most of my school’s teachers speak English and when I run into someone that doesn’t, my app is always handy. SO WHAT WAS MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH CULTURE SHOCK?!?! The dogs. I know what you are thinking, what?? Yes. In the United States, it is typically mandatory for all dogs to be leashed at all times in public. But that is not the case here in Beijing. Almost always, I see older Chinese people walking or riding their bikes…with a tiny dog running behind them off-leash. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, what if their dog attacks somebody? What if they run into the street and get hurt? But I have seen it more times than I can count. In fact, the dog in the picture above is a regular. He sits outside the small grocery store where his owner works (owns?) and just watches Calvin and I pass from school everyday. He has never been aggressive with us (though to the scooter riders, beware) and always lays patiently for his owner to leave. The most popular breed in this part of Beijing seems to be a small, brown poodle breed. Anyways, there are leashes of course but it only seems to apply for the bigger breeds. Even then, I have seen them off of them as well. No person/animal has been injured as far as I have seen, but it still makes me do a double-take every time I see it.
As the weather has been cooling down, I have noticed the older communities becoming more active, especially at the nearby parks. But this next one was surprising and awesome! I have gotten into the habit of leaving our bedroom windows open every night to let the cold air in. It has saved us a bundle in electricity and we never really got the opportunity to do it in Arizona. Anyways, the first morning I did it, I woke up to what sounded like a basketball intermittently hitting the ground. I went to the window and saw this man doing what looked like kung fu(don’t know what, honestly) in the alleyway below my window. The sound I heard was him raising his foot high above his head and slapping it down onto the asphalt. I was so amazed! He had obviously been doing this for a long time, but it felt like I had just been sucked into a Karate Kid movie! I watched him for a while, but eventually closed the windows and went back to sleep because my alarm hadn’t gone off yet. It has sort of become a daily routine with me now! He wakes me around 5:30am, I rise to the window and practice a few of his moves in the dark next to my sleeping husband. Once he does things my body can’t physically do, I close the windows and head back to sleep. I really wish I had the nerve to go down and talk to him about it, but what would I say? Hey I watch you every morning..yea, not going to happen. You could say I certainly wasn’t expecting that when I came to China.
Another thing that shocked me when I got to Beijing were the obvious displays of wealth in the Haidian district. I don’t know why, but I sort of thought I would work in a community that was similar to mine back home. Middle class, comfortable but certainly not anything like this. Well, it feels as if I somehow stumbled into rich people land! In China, if you see a Western brand, you know that the person paid more for it. Why? Well, tariffs I am pretty sure(?). Doritos at my market here cost 30 rmb, or $4.21 with current exchange rates. That doesn’t sound expensive in the USA, but compared to all the Chinese brands the difference is HUGE. When I see expensive car brands like Teslas (apparently not as expensive as the USA, but still), BMWs, Mercedes, etc, I know that the person has shelled out plenty of money for it. I have been told it also has a lot to do with the lower cost of living in China. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen a bunch of Chinese manufactured cars as well. But I have never called a Uber in the USA and been driven home in a brand new Mercedes, only China! Not only that, but many of the kids are used to their parents displays of wealth. I have seen little kids with smart watches, hover boards, iPhones, etc. Many of my child’s friends have private tennis lessons daily, vacations to Europe every summer, or private English tutors that email me about their work. Sure it may sound like parts of the USA, but certainly not where I came from. I haven’t had a chance to see any mega-mansions, but one of my friends has a job where she tutors a girl whose house has an elevator. Of course, this has led some of these little angels to be complete menaces to society, expecting to always get what they want. But most of them are absolutely darling and sweet to my kid, which is what is important to me.
Another bit of culture shock I had was when it came to cleanliness in China. I had expected to see piles of trash, a large homeless population, and people pooping all over (thanks Youtube bloggers). I had been to LA a month before I had arrived and was appalled by how much trash was clogging up sewer grates and filling the streets. Los Angeles had a ton of homeless people laying directly on the sidewalks or running around half-naked. I even told my husband that we better get used to it because a city of 20 million was bound to be worse. Nothing could be farther from the truth in Beijing’s Haidian district. It could be different in other parts of Beijing, but I was amazed at the pride city workers took in their streets. I have rarely seen trash on the streets because there is a team of workers on scooter-carts with their Chinese brooms constantly cleaning up! I managed to get a good picture of this one after he ran into the street to pick up a plastic bag that had blown into traffic. Of course this street is bigger and has a lot of both car and foot traffic, but I have seen similar incidents on smaller streets. This does not apply to apartment complexes or anything, I have also been equally shocked by the amounts of trash I have seen in some of those. In most of the places though, the trash is minimal. Unfortunately though, I have noticed a weird odor in these cleaner alleyways and streets and think I know what it might be…
I am a little sad to say that the poop thing has a degree of truth to it. I remember the first few weeks my family lived in our Chinese apartment. We left to see what was in walking distance and came upon a whole complex of restaurants. I began to cut across the parking lot to see what was around…when we came upon a 4 or 5 year old boy squatting to poop in the middle of the parking lot. He wasn’t hidden by cars or anything! Then he had the gall to yell at us in Mandarin and cover his body, as if we were invading his privacy! My family quickly backpedalled and made our get away, but I couldn’t believe that 1. this kid felt comfortable enough to do this in public and 2. his parents were not there to stop it. I mean this was 8 o’clock at night! It had me reeling for the next twenty minutes and looking around every corner before I continued so I wouldn’t disturb someone else! That is the only public defecation I have seen in-person, but it was certainly memorable. Now when I see feces that looks a little larger than your average poodle’s, I can’t help but wonder who left it! I have seen a few more instances of public urination, all by men that were either drunk or working construction and pissed on the front of their own vehicles. Actually, I take that back! There was one little baby boy whose mother was kind enough to pull him into the corner of a mall (outside) before allowing him to finish his business. Either way, not exactly happy about this one.
Now that you are grossed out…LETS EAT! The last thing that I have been shocked about was the food here in China. I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it would be this good! For the first time ever I have had duck, eggplant, spiced pork belly, and so much more! The Chinese really know how to cook and I even have started to eat vegetables by accident. Sure they have some things that I would never touch (unrefrigerated milk? No way) but for the most part I have been impressed. Not only that, but food here is cheap!! I swear, we haven’t spent more than $400-$500 a month on groceries and eating out PUT TOGETHER. Plus, food delivery is equally cheap. I will explain more about that in my next post, but getting pizza or other Western comforts is not hard. Especially when we don’t have a car, it is much simpler to have it delivered then taking a Didi to or from pizza joints. I feel like I have been eating so much, but I continue to lose weight here! It must be from all of the walking because I don’t feel like my consumption has gone down too much. However, I am also shocked by the things I can’t get too easily. I have been searching in vain for ground beef. It has to be around here somewhere, how would they use the taco kits I have found? Ground pork isn’t an issue, just the beef. Maybe it looks different? I don’t know. But it continues to elude me and makes me sad. The same can be said for grape jelly and Mac n’ Cheese. There are a ton of jellies I have never seen before. Peach, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, etc. But no grape! The Mac n’ Cheese one is depressing me hardcore though. You never know what you have until it is gone, I guess…