Two months of traveling this land have left us with no other conclusion than China is moving in a different plane, a parallel universe to the one we are moving in in the West. A land of contradictions, of extreme consumerism with a communist government, of jaw-dropping modernism side by side with old traditions, futurist architecture with ancient superstitions. Here are some examples we gathered in the last two months.
Privacy is out, sharing is in
The toilet experience is for us a personal one, this only time during office hours when we get to be with ourselves, our thoughts, and even to check our Instagram account (Giona one told me he didn’t get how people went before the invention of the iPad).
Public toilets in China are everywhere. In a country where everything is centralized and houses never had proper sewages, the toilets would be just around the corner for anyone to use. Toilet seats are a commodity and although experts insist squatting is healthier, they are heavily missed. This has become the custom and it hasn’t changed much, even in big cities like Beijing. This photo was taken in Beijing, and it spares you the smell and how it looks when the latrines are occupied.
Long gone are the times when grandma and grandpa would close the business for lunch and a short nap. A short sleep after a meal gives a boost for the rest of the day instead of dozing until the end of the workday. The Chinese have developed a rare ability to switch off, just like it sounds, in the middle of the day, at bright daylight, in the most unexpected places: cross your arms on a table, place your forehead on them, and switch off!
Places to chinap: restaurants, bars, subway, parks, and even on your work desk. I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to adopt chinapping as of now.
Lots have been written about the controversial One-Child-Policy in China, a bold step to curve the super-population in the country. One of the side-effects of the policy is in many cases the over caring for the only child, having six adults (two parents and four grandparents) to tend to him/her and a new affluence not experienced in previous generations, these are often called “Little Emperors”.
The obvious and most astonishing display for this is the control exerted on these children: Parents standing outside classrooms observing their little one’s performance in class through a T.V., GPS tracking clocks, and even leash in public places (yes, leash, like dogs).
Till the last bone
Forget anything you thought about Chinese food at home, it’s not Chinese, maybe it was invented by some guy in Chinatown in NYC. China has 34 provinces and each and every one of them is bigger in size and/or population than an average European country, together with its countless minorities provide a wide spectrum of flavors and tastes.
This variety sounds amazing in theory, but practically, when combined with our language barriers, become a big challenge, especially when you are a vegetarian A.K.A. Tal.
One thing can be said in favor of the Chinese food practices: they will utilize the animal at stake till the last of bones. It’s not unusual to see these delicacies offered in restaurants: goose blood, worms, crickets, live shrimp fried-omelet, chicken fingers, stinky tofu (smells like gym locker room), and pork’s brains, feet, ear…
Vomiting is part of journey
When Momo, our local friend, offered us some pills to prevent dizziness on the road we could avoid but wonder what the deal with vomiting on the buses was. And suddenly we started to pay attention, people were throwing up all around us, just like Lardass story in “Stand by Me”. Apparently Chinese aren’t genetically disposed to bus-traveling in the hills.
It used to be a joke, but in the higher altitudes in East China where oxygen levels go down, and the rushed tourists won’t allow some time to acclimatize, air bottles are offered everywhere.
QR and Ali-pay everywhere
The ubiquity of Cellphones is not a Chinese phenomenon, but in their thirst for new technologies and modernity, the Chinese developed the most effective and seamless digital payments we’ve ever seen. No credit cards, no NFC cards or phones, just QR. This odd assembly of black and white squares seldom seen or used in the west is everywhere.
People stopped carrying cash money and they are quick to show their phone’s screen at restaurants, taxis, vending machines, subway and even good old street carts.
Weekend Bachelors Market
Another side-effect of the one-child policy and preferred male-sex born kids, there’s a surplus of eligible bachelors in the market, in some places, reaching 113 to 100 females. Keeping with the tradition of prearranged marriages and the necessities of living in big cities, a weekend-market has developed, where mothers, aunts and even professionals attend public park fairs with folders and papers exposing their young ones’ pedigrees, hoping to find a suitable bride.