Archive | July, 2010

China Impressions: Domestic Flying

31 Jul
I’ve flown domestically in China a considerable amount, both during this trip and last year’s. It’s never a completely pleasant experience, but it’s never been a bad experience. Until yesterday.
We left our hotel in Dalian around 10:45am for our 12:40pm flight to Shenzhen. The Dalian airport is relatively small, with only one terminal. We arrived at the gate to find that our flight was delayed due to aircraft delay. This is not unusual in China, but of course, inconvienent. We were flying into Shenzhen because it was much cheaper than flying to Hong Kong. Once we arrived in Shenzhen a driver would pick us up and take us to the Hong Kong border, where we would board a train to take us into the city. That was the plan.
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China Impressions: Line Jumping

29 Jul
In a country where you can get arrested for shouting “Free Tibet!,” the government has banned Facebook, and people care so much about “saving face” and who pays the dinner bill, people are suprisingly not good at following rules and basic manners. They slurp their soup, expel phlegm everywhere on the sidewalk, and smoke anywhere, anytime, despite what any sign tells them. But the thing that really gets me is the line jumping.
Yesterday we flew from Beijing to Dalian. People were starting to hover at our gate, so Stephen said we should line up. “Why?” I asked. “We’re flying first class. Don’t we get to board first?” Stephen laughed. “Do you think Chinese people care about that?” He was right. The minute boarding began, people flocked to the gate like they were boarding the last ship on earth from the movie 2012. They seemed to forget it was assigned seating. It was absolute madness. Which brings me to a side topic–why are people, Americans included, always so anxious to get on the airplane? The only benefit to early boarding is being able to store your bag in the overhead bin by your seat. There’s no prize for being the first 50 to board. Why are we so excited to start breathing that recycled warm air?
We pushed our way to the first class line, which was filled with–you guessed it–passengers not flying first class. They would get in our line and at the last minute sneak under to the economy line. A guy pushed past us, almost shoving me against the wall, so that he could cut under to the other line. “That’s ok, sir, you go right ahead.” I told him. “After you.” That’s the beauty of being surrounded by people who don’t speak your language–you can talk about them to their face. It was strangely therapeutic. I know many people in China do speak English, and maybe this guy did. If so, I hope something I said sunk in.
Since we were flying first class, we were some of the first people off the plane, and thus first at baggage claim. We were in the perfect spot. “Do you think people will cut in front of us?” I asked Stephen. He thought we would be fine. He was wrong. The minute the first bag came onto the carosel, all hell broke loose. A man actually shoved me into Stephen in order to get in my spot. “No problem, sir.” I told him. “I know your bag is far more important than mine. You go right ahead.” He gave me the same blank stare I gave the flight attendant when I asked where the bathroom was and got a Chinese response.
China has been fun and interesting, but I’m looking forward to Hong Kong tomorrow. I’ve heard they actually have lines (“queues”) there.

China Impressions: Driving

25 Jul
Our first two days in China were spent riding in the car to cities 2 1/2 hours outside of Shanghai. It was during this time that I got to fully experience the wonder that is Chinese drivers. I’m currently reading “Lost on Planet China” by J. Maarten Troost. I couldn’t have brought a better book with me on this trip. He describes Chinese drivers perfectly:
“The bus to Ningbo was driven by a man with a fondness for swerving and blaring his horn, which could pretty well describe every driver in China. They are insane, these drivers; mad, crazy, dangerous. They drive angry, pissed off, aggressive. Cars, buses, trucks are just tools for them to say F*ck Off. That is how they drive in China: the F*uck Off school of driving. China has just three percent of the world’s drivers, but has a quarter of all people killed each year by cars. They don’t know how to drive in China. Really. Someone needs to teach them.”
There were at least 10 times that I thought my life was going to end right then and there, in the middle of the road out of Nantong. Still feeling a little jetlagged, I tried to sleep on our way back to Shanghai, only to be woken up and nearly thrown out of my seat every 10 minutes as our driver threw on the brakes to avoid being hit by a truck changing lanes. Trucks seem to believe they have full reign of the road, and can go wherever they please, even if there’s a car already there.
The Chinese also don’t seem to have any sense of lanes. It’s perfectly acceptable to pass on the shoulder and when the traffic is bad in the city, cars will try to squeeze in between other cars and ride on the lane line. I remember looking out the taxi window and seeing another car mere centimeters away.
And then there is the horn honking. Cars honk to signal they want to switch lanes. Then a car with honk to say “Ok, come over.” Another will honk to say “Hey, I’m here, don’t come over!” I can’t figure it out. An acceptable driving position seems to be 10 and horn instead of 10 and 2.
You loyal readers will remember that I am fond of analyzing the driver-pedestrian relationship in Chicago. In China there isn’t one. Cars have the rightaway all of the time, even when it’s a clear green man walking sign. I observed this first hand as I almost got plowed over by a bus tonight. It didn’t even slow down as it whisped by me. I was beginning to feel like Buddy the Elf–“The yellow ones don’t stop!” Except it’s not just cabs. No vehicle yields to pedestrians. I feel like I’m putting my life on the line every time I walk in China–or get into a vehicle, for that matter. Tomorrow we’re flying. I can only hope that’s safer.
Stay tuned for more China Impressions, including dining and–my favorite–bathrooms.

Ni hao, hao de, xie xie

24 Jul

Haibao is the 2010 Expo mascot. You cannot go anywhere in China without seeing him on something.

I’ve been in Shanghai for four days now, completely immersed in Chinese. I’m not sure how the immersion method works, but I don’t feel like I’m learning many new words. I like to compare my brain in China to a cell phone in the middle of the ocean–constantly working overdrive to find a signal, or in my case, something comprehensible. Every once in awhile I’ll pick up a weak signal, a word or phrase I understand. When this happens I get so excited I exclaim, “Hey, I understood that!” which usually blows my cover. I’ve gotten quite good at pretending to follow a conversation by looking at whoever is talking and laughing when everyone else laughs. I’m so convincing that waitresses and dinner guests will try to talk to me in Chinese. Asking Stephen “Are they talking to me?” usually blows my cover too.

 
Tonight I had my first official conversation in Chinese. Stephen went to the bathroom after dinner and told me to practice my Chinese with the two people we were dining with. They asked me where I was from and how long I would be in Shanghai. I was able to answer both questions with only a bit of stumbling. They have both studied English, but were too embarassed to speak it, just like me with Chinese.
 
The 2010 Expo is going on now in Shanghai. I bet you’ve never heard of it. I have a theory that Shanghai blew it’s entire advertising budget within China and forgot about the rest of the world. In China it’s like the Expo is the only thing going on in the world at the moment. But the rest of the world (America, at least) has no idea what it is, yet alone when and where. When I first saw the ads in Shanghai last summer I wanted to go, until I found out it involves standing in line for hours in the heat. No thanks. There’s also the bathroom issue, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.
More updates from China soon. Unless, of course, China decides to ban WordPress like they have Facebook and Twitter. I was not a happy waiguo ren when I typed in www.facebook.com and nothing came up. I might start exhibiting withdrawal symptoms soon.

Chinatown parking lot throwdown

18 Jul

You read that correctly–things almost got out of hand in Chinatown this afternoon…over a parking spot. Chicago’s Chinatown has an abundance of parking–paid lots, metered lots and street parking. But it also always has an abundance of tourists and locals so spots are always hard to come by. Today was particularly rough since there was a street festival going on. A street was closed (which meant less parking opportunities) and the place was abuzz with white people buying samurai swords and downing egg rolls. So I did what people normally do when there’s a shortage of parking–I waited. I lurked at the end of a metered lot, waiting for someone to leave. This is a common practice in Chinatown. Cars line up and as a spot becomes available, the first car in line puts on his turn signal to let everyone know he is through waiting and that is his spot. Stephen and I waited a good 10 minutes before a family came out and took their sweet time getting into their van. I moved up and put on my turn signal. But just then another car came into the lot from the other direction. A guy jumped out of the passenger seat and stood next to the spot in an attempt to prevent me from taking it. When my honking did nothing, Stephen jumped out and started yelling at the guy. “This is Chinatown,” the guy tried to use as his defense. I’m not sure if he meant that as it’s a free-for-all and human decency doesn’t apply, or white girls driving green Beetles shouldn’t get parking spots. Either way, I’m glad I had Stephen with me. After some arguing, the guy finally stepped aside and I pulled into the spot. He continued to stand next to my car as we went to get the pay-and-display slip. I was afraid we’d come back from lunch to find my car had been keyed or covered with bubble tea. Thankfully the little Chinese guy was all talk.

I guess that’s what we get for going to Chinatown two days before going to the real China. I’m not really sure what we were thinking.

Bug paranoia

15 Jul

I just killed a spider on the wall with my shoe. Immediately after I see a bug in my living space, my body always automatically assumes there are many more. I was convinced there was a bug on my leg just now. It was the sheet. Then I knew there was one on my arm. It was a strand of my hair. Then Stephen called from Connecticut to tell me the hotel he’s staying at has had bed bugs before.

Thanks for ruining my quiet night with Arrested Development, bugs.

This picture almost makes me feel bad about killing the spider. I was going to use a picture of a real spider, but it gave me the willies. I don’t want to scare people off my blog.

Hair highway robbery

13 Jul

Today, I did the unthinkable–I went to a hair salon in Chicago. I’ve been living here for six years and have always gone home to Kentucky to get my hair cut and colored. Part of it was an excuse to go home, part of it was my inability to sever ties with my stylist, and most importantly, I’m now realizing–my Kentucky stylist is cheaper. Much cheaper.

The salon today was nice, don’t get me wrong. My colorist and blow-dryer (yes, they have a separate person for that) were also nice. But the whole time I couldn’t help but feel like I was cheating on Amy.

I was expecting the price to be a little higher than I’m used to. When I called to make my appointment the receptionist quoted me $140 for highlights. In Kentucky I pay less than that and get color, a cut, blow-dry and style. In the Chicago salon all of those are a la carte and performed by a different stylist. One woman did my color, then shuffled me off to another woman who blow dried my hair and curled it–for an additional cost. That is the biggest rip off to me–did they really expect me to get on the L with wet hair? So I got a blow dry…for $45. $45! I can get a whole hair cut for less than that in Kentucky!

It was hard not to let out a “Are you kidding me?!” when the receptionist told me my total was $220–twice what I normally pay, and I didn’t even get a hair cut. My hair looks good, but I’m not sure if I’d go back. If London prices are even higher, it may actually be cheaper to fly to Kentucky for a cut and color!

So Amy, I’m sorry I found solace behind the comb and foil of another stylist. I just wanted to have nice hair for my China trip next week and couldn’t make it back to Kentucky. I hope you will take me back and do my hair when I’m home for Christmas.