Monthly Archives: June 2010

10 Things You Won’t Miss Until They’re Gone

There are some things in life you simply don’t notice until they’re not there.

Take toilet paper, for example. After 3 months of living and traveling in China, I’ve become a outspoken advocate—OK, maybe not that outspoken—of toilet paper in public restrooms, because it simply wasn’t there. Even when you don’t need it, it’s comforting to know that your ass is covered (pun intended), that you can waltz into the nearest restroom and grab a few squares of 2-ply just in case you spill some soymilk on yourself or realize that the street food you ate really doesn’t want to stay in your stomach.

On a related note, you can’t just walk into a public restroom in China. If you’re in a part of town where you look around and see more foreigners than you can count on one hand, there’s about a 65% chance that a trip to the toilet will cost you 1¥ RMB, paid in cash to the little old man sitting outside the restroom door. Sure, with a $1 to 6.8¥ exchange rate, it’s a drop in the bucket, but it still pains the Patrick Henry in me just a little to be taxed without representation for an act that stray dogs on the streets of Beijing perform free of charge, anywhere, to their hearts’ content. At least I don’t have to worry about getting eaten. Fair’s fair.

And they're not even that great…

Here are 10 things that you don’t fully appreciate until they disappear from your life, derived from my recent travels (travails?) in China:

1. Toilet paper – Enough said.

1A. Free restrooms

2. Personal space – As necessitated by their country’s 9-digit population count, Chinese people are quite comfortable living, eating, and working in extremely close quarters with complete strangers. I am not. We Americans like our “personal space,” the couple-foot-radius bubble of open air around us that gives us the sensation of independence and safety, and we defend it with suspicious stares and reflexive backpedaling. In China, such strategies are hopeless. Say you’re at a market in Beijing, and the shopkeeper gets a bit too close for comfort. You could back away, but your Pyrrhic escape wouldn’t be worth the energy, because two things would surely happen the moment you took a step back: 1) You’d run into 2 other strangers, and 2) The shopkeeper would pursue you. Leaving you in a circle of 3 random Chinese people. Fantastic.

2.1. Silence – Every once in a while, you just want the world to leave you alone. In Beijing, that’s the cue for someone nearby to make a thunderous choking sound and spit. I think it’s a Pavlovian response to excessive silence.

3. Clean water – When you have to use waterless hand sanitizer after you wash your hands under the faucet, you know you’re in China.

4. Breathable air – As the home of over 20 million people, Beijing has a little problem: Its air cannot sustain human life. Even after the government pulled a large proportion of the city’s cars off the road, the situation is hopeless. Running outdoors is out of the question. One of my friends tried it and immediately got sick. And the particulates in the air are so small that you can never escape them, even indoors: I would wake up in my bed each morning blanketed in a fine layer of dust that had settled overnight. After one week in Beijing, I couldn’t tell if my lungs were still alive, not until we went on an excursion to the Great Wall and I found myself marveling at my ability to take full breaths.

4+. The Sun – The pollution has a way of blotting out the sun. I felt like a dinosaur awaiting the Great Extinction.

5. Grass – As a son of the Midwest and its sprawling farmland, I’m pretty fond of grass. It’s great for relaxing, running, playing soccer, wrestling with your siblings… Too bad people in China don’t really do any of those things. (To find out why, see #2, #4, the 2010 World Cup, and the One-Child Policy, respectively)

6. Guns and Obesity – China has neither.

The real 6. Non-oily food – It seems all the food in China—at least for us commoners—is stir-fried or deep-fried. Can’t I just have a salad? Oh wait, lettuce is 95% water and washed in water, and water in China is poisonous… Darn.

7. Facebook – Sometimes you just want to Poke someone. But, oh no… You can’t. Because you’re in China. And the CCP took away the Internet.

7-and-3/4. Did I mention that the government censors texts too?

Chinese censors work a lot like this…

8. Democracy – Because it’s good to be free.

9. English – Even though I speak Mandarin somewhat fluently, my reading skills aren’t quite up to primary school standards. I never realized how exhausting everyday life can be, when even reading a restaurant menu requires intense concentration and a bilingual dictionary.

10. Family and friends – I missed you all. A lot.

The takeaway lesson? If you’re in China, always go to the bathroom before you leave home. If you’re traveling to China in the near future, practice holding it in, starting now.

Thanks for reading!

-Joel

The Spring 2010 BOSP Beijing group at our graduation. Thanks for an awesome quarter, guys!

On our trip to Taiwan, I saw my grandparents and a bunch of relatives for the first time in more than a decade. Here's a "family picture" with my brother, me, and my parents' wedding picture in the background.

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An Ohio Yankee at Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo

I’m graduating tomorrow! From the BOSP Beijing study abroad program, that is. With the last finals and final papers of junior year turned in, I’m now officially a senior at Stanford.

In other news, my mom, my brother, and a friend are somewhere over the Pacific Ocean at this moment, on their way to Beijing to travel with me for the next 2 weeks. Except for the part where I speak Mandarin on par with a Chinese toddler, I’m basically a Beijing native at this point, so from now until Sunday, I’ll be showing Mom and Co. around Beijing and its many visual and gustatory attractions. We’ll then fly to Taipei, Taiwan, where I’ll get to see my grandparents and other relatives for the first time in over a decade. Then it’s back to the mainland, Shanghai and Hangzhou, for a few final days in the Orient, before we return to the US and life goes on…

I’ll be back in the US on June 23 and back at Stanford (living in Crothers) for research on June 28 (2 days before I turn 21!), but with everything that’s going on in my life (i.e., packing, eating, shopping, more packing), I don’t have enough time to write a full post right now. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures from the last couple weeks of my Beijing adventure, including a trip to Shanghai and the 2010 World Expo…

The 2010 Shanghai World Expo Mascot. With a blue "toothpaste thing" in the background. (They call him Haibao)

Mai, Me, Adriana, and Lili at the Tunisia Pavilion

Kelsey and the home of Messi

The US Pavilion. Surrounded, of course, by Chinese people trying to get in.

Half of our group (Chris, Kelsey, Lili, Adriana, Mai, Bill)

The other half (Dominik, Tarun, Amanda, Marty, Lianna)

Mexico, Stanford-style. (Photo courtesy of our resident photographer, Lianna)

People hopping fences to get INTO Mexico? Really?

Meet my friend, Frida Kahlo.

Usain, you're such a poser.

Romania's Greenopolis Pavilion

Reppin' Stanford.

Lunch at the Africa Pavilion: Ostrich wraps

Inside the Africa Pavilion. I don't understand...

The UK Pavilion. The shimmering effect comes from 60,000 transparent plastic rods that act like fiber-optic filaments in drawing light into the pavilion.

Marty, Me, and Adriana, playing in Australia

The host country China's spectacular pavilion, the only one that will be left standing after the Expo ends in October.

Taiwan and a Taiwanese.

Vietnam and a Vietnamese.

Burma and a... Chinese?

UFO? Nope, just the World Expo Performing Arts Center.

The Saudi Arabia Pavilion. Basically a gigantic lit-up bowl with palm trees on top. And a 4-hour wait to get in.

Nanxiang Xiaolongbao: The most famous steamed dumplings (baozi) in the world. No joke. They were invented here in Shanghai. The baozi are magically filled with soup, so you drink the soup with the straw before eating the rest.

On the Bund, looking over the Huangpu River to Pudong. Shanghai's iconic skyline is in the background.

The Shanghai skyline at night.

Stone Age weights. For real men only. (Let's go pump some... stone?)

Aww, how cute.

Even cuter.

Not quite as cute.

Ditto.

And we have a winner! The kitten in a box in a Shanghai alley was by far the cutest thing we saw all weekend.

An American-style diner in the French Concession was holding a contest: Eat a 1-kilogram burger in 10 minutes, and you don't have to pay for it. We convinced my roommate Bill to take on the challenge. At left is a normal-sized burger for comparison. Notice how the monster burger is bigger than Bill's head.

Chowing down.

Success!

Over 2 pounds of meat and bread (plus fries!) in 9 minutes. What a trooper. (I just noticed that I'm in the background of the Polaroid. Success.)

The Wall of Champions.

Me, Mai, Adriana, and Kelsey. Halfway up Xiangshan (Fragrant Mountain), on the outskirts of Beijing.

The girls, all looking amazingly happy for a candid shot.

Halfway up the mountain.

At the top of Xiangshan. Check out the view of Beijing in the background.

You just can't get away from those pandas. Sure, they're cute, but this is ridiculous... 🙂

Thanks for reading! Check back in 2 weeks for more new and exciting content. 🙂

-Joel

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