Contrary to what you might have heard, there are no traffic laws here in China, there are only suggestions. Lights exist merely to give you an approximation of when you can continue on your path. One must look both ways and walk carefully to avoid being hit by buses and motorcycles alike. Also, motorcycles can drive (legally?) on the sidewalk, so there is no completely safe place to walk while outdoors. How do people continue to think this is a good idea?
You never have to go hungry in China, there’s street vendors everywhere. On top of that, every corner has six or seven restaurants where you can easily eat for less than $1.50. Much of what they’ve got to offer is fried in oil just the way an American like me likes it. But there seems to be no one above them regulating what is and isn’t okay to put into innocent mouths. Everyone I know has at least one embarrassing “I got so sick that…” story that they only tell when drunk. I’ve got mine as well, but that’s for a later post. Which brings me to my next topic…
Think of the grossest truck stop bathroom you can and then imagine wishing for something so refreshing by comparison to the average squatter you find in metro stations. I’m not sure that all Chinese are used to the idea of “flushing” and the embarrassment western women are passively endowed with which dictates what is and isn’t okay to do in public restrooms seems to be largely lost on the Chinese. Seriously, sometimes when I enter a stall after a little old lady, I’m surprised by the capacity of her intestines. On top of this, the plumbing here in China leaves much to be desired and even in some homes (thankfully mine not included) have issues with flushing toilet paper. It just isn’t done. So if you can’t speak Chinese, never fear. You never have to wonder where the toilets are. The powerful stench of an entire’s day’s worth used 卫生纸will lure you straight to it.
Sometimes I come close to pimp-slapping those who shameless cut in line. But it’s just a cultural practice here in the Middle Kingdom, and you get used to it in time. You even find yourself cutting ahead of the patiently formed line when you yourself are running late for work and absolutely need to catch the next train. But spitting in public and holding your children over trash cans so that they can relieve themselves… I can’t quite get used to. Which reminds me…
You never realize how nice it is to not be noticed until there’s absolutely NOTHING you can do to avoid being stared at the entire day except for staring in your bedroom. When I walk through my tiny, poor neighborhood, there’s no shame when I see people tap their friends on the shoulder “Here she comes!” and they smile, sometimes shout a “Ni hao!” but many times are quiet and giggle about the foreigner who has entered the neighborhood. This even happens when I’m in the city center, an area crawling with foreigners. I suppose this is the case largely due to the rarity of my physical appearance; even I stare when I see another black person. It would also be great if, upon meeting strangers, their first questions weren’t “where are you from? America? How much money do you make?”
But perhaps what I miss the most is my family and friends. I’ve met a lot of people here in Shanghai, but none of them are as irreplaceable as those I’ve left behind. In this fast-paced rat race on the ocean, I don’t really have the time I wish I had to talk with those back at home, but know that I think about you every day, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. At least not until the above list gets the attention of the Chinese government.