Five Months in China

Well, its been awhile since I have written about my life in good ol’ Beijing (Bei-town, The Jing, Bae-Town) and I have a lot to say.

I am going to separate this between the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

The food

Oh GOD, the food. I loved Chinese food before I came to China, but the stuff you can get here will never compare to any Chinese food in the United States.

First of all, they use more garlic and ginger than any restaurant I’ve ever been to in the States…I consider this an amazing thing. Also, there are things I’ve tried in China that I probably won’t try again in the U.S. Number one on my list: chicken feet. At first I was *hella* scared to try this, but after the first bite I was hooked. On the GOOD kind, NOT the kind you find in corner stores. Its like a bite of fatty chicken skin, every.single.time. What is not to love? Beyond that, in Beijing you can get a bite to eat from every part of the world. Ive had amazing Thai, Indian, Southeast Asian, Mexican, and American cuisine. You really cant lose, IF you know the right places.

The People

If you are friendly and excited to be in China, you will be greeted with an equal level of curiosity and friendliness. If you at least TRY to speak Chinese the reaction of the people is great. They are so happy to see foreigners trying to speak their language, and it is refreshing. I can say “Ni hao!” (hello) to a person, and (I swear) 75% of them will respond with “Wow your Chinese is so good!” I have to laugh every time they say this, because my Chinese is OK, but I still appreciate the sentiment.

I have also found that many Chinese people mingle in circles with expats, which makes all of the different “scenes” really diverse and interesting. The foodie scene, the music scene, the craft beer scene, the design scene, everything is full of really interesting Chinese people who are happy to make a lot of western friends and make their “scenes” particularly interesting. Beijing is a thriving city, which I don’t think lacks much. If you want to find dance, comedy, poetry, music, drinking, raves, art…anything, there will be multiple places to look.

Even nature…Beijing is surrounded by incredible landscape; mountains, rivers, lakes, the ocean…On clear days the views around the city can be absolutely astounding.

The Freedom

Full disclosure, I have drank a lot in Beijing. And the best part? They do not have any type of open container law in China. You can grab a beer on the corner store and walk home no problem, no questions asked. Because of this, groups of people can have big beer drinkin, song singin, circles in the middle of Beijing (read more about the Beijing Hash House Harriers below). There is a sense of freedom walking the streets, I don’t feel intimidated by the police force or scared about being drunk in public. I will miss this type of freedom and air of nonchalance in the U.S.

There are other great things about China: the public transportation, being able to live cheaply, fast delivery services, everything is negotiable, a blooming craft beer scene, interesting start ups, and an amazing level of history and culture…I could talk about it all day. But as always, the good will come with the bad. For this portion, I try to outline why I believe these “bad” things are prominent in Chinese society today.

The Bad

Living in Beijing hasn’t always been rainbows and good tea. There are a few things that have gotten under my skin since being here. Besides the dirty streets, endless traffic, and constantly being shoved into the subway like a sardine; there are 4 things that really started to bother me.

1. People

This is a very broad generalization, and I don’t mean to say every Chinese person is like this at all. But as a whole, there are a few things that really differentiate certain Chinese people from Americans. This is from 5 months here in Beijing and what I have noticed based on my *extremely* different lifestyle in the U.S.

I believe that a lot of the habits that I outline below are a direct result of recent Chinese history. Most people don’t realize that China was more like North Korea, in terms of lifestyle and governance, up until roughly 40 years ago. Once China was opened up to the rest of the world in the late 70’s, things changed incredibly drastically. The economy revved up and China’s GDP and overall wealth has been growing exponentially since. Because of this, the Chinese people began experiencing things you have access to when your economy and culture is open to the rest of the world. And as a result, things like driving a car, having a nice house, owning property, etc… are extremely highly regarded. Despite the fact that owning a car in Beijing is the dumbest thing a person can do (because of traffic, it makes no sense), it is still a huge status symbol to have one. There is a desire by the Chinese to fulfill what they believe are the expectations of being a citizen in a well developed, rich, nation. In my opinion, the massive increase in wealth and acquirement of foreign status symbols is one of the causes for the behavior described in the following paragraphs about the people in China.

There is an air of selfishness or entitlement that has gotten under my skin here. The selfishness comes into play on the streets of Beijing. People will disregard laws to the point of causing incredible traffic jams. For example; see that the light is green, and pull forward as much as possible even though the traffic is so bad you will clearly be blocking the intersection. And then do nothing to rectify the situation when the light turns red, even though dozens of cars are now trying to drive past you and you’re the sole asshole who is sitting there not moving. In addition, when you are getting on the subway or moving through an area with a lot of people, the amount of pushing and shoving can get really overwhelming. It seems like everyone is so focused on getting to their destination they don’t care about budging in line or running over people. It seems like people have blinders on that make them focus only on themselves and what they need to get done.

Sanlitun Soho in Beijing — next door to my office

The entitlement part really got to me when I was living with Chinese roommates. The way I’ve lived in the States is to clean up after myself, throw shit away that I don’t need, and do this while spending the least amount of money possible (ideally nothing). My Chinese roommates though, spent $130 a month for the entire apartment to have a maid, who comes twice a week to clean, do our dishes, and our laundry. I find it rather strange. I live with people who are in their mid-twenties and are more than capable of doing these things themselves. Another time…my Chinese roommate decided that she did not like all of the “clutter” that had built up in the apartment from people moving in and out all of the time. Instead of just spending an afternoon cleaning it all up, she hired someone to come in, clean the place and take everything away for her. And then expected me to chip in to pay for it. That was an interesting conversation...

I guess that showed me how my life in the United States is more focused on independence, rather than feeling entitled enough to hire someone to come and clean your apartment for you. I would feel a guilty paying someone to do something I am completely capable of doing myself, and maybe that is my own flaw. In China it can be more difficult for people to get rid of large objects or donate things, as it is unlikely that the average person has a car or a truck to haul away shit. So I partially understand, but I still would have done things differently.

The second thing that grinds my gears about the people here is a sense of complacency. There are things about the Chinese system of government that bother me (read more about this below),

Fairly empty Chinese subway

but it really doesn’t seem to bother the Chinese people. There are instances of injustice all the time, but the general belief seems to be that as long as it doesn’t effect your life, who cares? For example, there is a law in China that says if you are not married and have a baby, you are required pay a tax fee of just over $7,000. When I found this out, I got really heated. Personally I am all for freedom of “relationships,” you could call it. If someone doesn’t want to get married, then they should not have to get married. If they want to have a child out of wedlock, that is their own choice and they should NOT be punished by the government for that decision, in my opinion.

I found out about this law because there was a couple who had started a Kickstarter page to help them pay for the tax, as they had just had a baby and were not married. They got a lot of attention from the media. The typical response was something like “I cannot believe they are making such a big deal out of this. Just pay the money or get married.” Basically, follow the rules blindly, even if it is unjust. At this point I was getting mad. I think this is what really differentiates Americans from Chinese. Americans are angry for their justice. Chinese are happy to comply and live peacefully within the parameters set by the authorities.

Again, I believe the selfishness, entitlement, and general nonchalant attitude toward injustices is a direct cause of China’s extreme growth, it is the result of a society of millions of people directly influenced by an unprecedentedly fast change in culture. As long as there is access to the newest material goods and China continues to march toward becoming the largest economy in the world, everyone is happy.

2. Noise

I have found that Chinese people are not really bothered by random background noise. There is always a phone in our office that is ringing, because no one sets it to vibrate. I am sure I will have nightmares of these ringtones, but somehow, the locals hardly even notice whats going on.

Another time, when I was at a medical check up for a visa (read more about that below), I had a terrible experience with this noise thing. I showed up about 30 minutes early and the place was empty besides a few Chinese workers preparing for the rush. I walked in, sat down, and immediately noticed there was a keyboard recording of Mary Had a Little Lamb, playing on repeat... I heard NON STOP Mary Had a Little Lamb for 30 minutes. After about 5 minutes I was ready to pull my hair out, and looked around the room for someone to share my pain, but it seemed the Chinese could not be bothered. This went on and on and on. I did the math, and I heard this awful rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb just under 400 times….

One last thing about noise. It has become my fantasy in life to disable all the car horns in China. It is incredible how often people honk their horns. Imagine every time you are upset about something on the road while you’re driving, then times that by 10. That is how often Chinese drivers actually honk their horns.

“Oh someone isn’t driving fast enough?” HOOONKKK. “Oh there is a pedestrian 10 feet away ?” HONK. “Oh I am upset that this traffic is at a deadstop.” HOOONK. Like, you guys, I cannot stress enough how ridiculous it is. I lay awake at night because of how much honking is going on outside my window. No one seems to understand that honking really doesn’t do anything to help the traffic situation…and it drives my crazy.

3. The System

This could be a whole Medium article on its own. I want to break this one down into a few categories to better showcase exactly what I mean; polluted skies, injustice, and procedure.

Polluted Skies

I am sure that many of you saw the military parade that was recently held in China. I am also sure some of you took note of the beautiful blue skies that were present this day. What I am not sure you know is that this is not how the skies normally look in Beijing.

Beautiful skies during the week of the Military Parade

The Chinese have a system where if there is an important event coming to town (say Track n Field Championships) or a big national event (like the military parade) they will shut off factories that produce smog in the area, to have pretty blue skies when the time is right. The worst part of it all is they will use the media to talk about how great the air quality has been lately, with no mention as to why. Complete bullshit. And then once the event is over, it is back to awful smoggy skies that in one year kill 1.2 million people prematurely in China. This is something that seriously bothers me. Once these blue-sky-inducing events were over, the AQI (Air Quality Index) skyrocketed to nearly 300. For reference, anything above 50 is considered unhealthy. Anything over 300 is considered hazardous. When I started to freak out about the AQI, people said “Oh you’re so cute, wait until they turn the heat on.” Because in the winter, when they have the heat running, the AQI can average around 700 in a week. SEVEN HUNDRED.

The AQI on my phone the last week I was in Beijing

Remember anything above 300 is hazardous. The government has so much concern about looking good (read: saving face) in front of foreign press, but seems to not care that hundreds of millions of people have to live and work in this smog every single day.

I do have to give a caveat that I know the Chinese are actively working on this problem, but I cannot give specifics about that work right now, as I do not know them!

Injustice

This category might as well just be called bullshit. China can be a corrupt place. They are very good at keeping the media in line, and not letting bad stories leak to the rest of the world. For example, every year there are a number of domestic terrorist attacks from groups in the western side of China. But foreigners never hear about this. It is interesting to me that people living in China hear about all of our shootings in the U.S., but in the States we rarely hear about the violence happening in China.

In addition, the Chinese government is notorious for reporting incorrect numbers for injured, missing or dead during tragic events (such as the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 or the Tianjin explosions earlier this year). This is because of laws regarding the dead. For example, a person can only receive benefits from the government if the body of a dead relative is found. And since a person cannot get any benefits for a missing person (regardless of how long they are missing), it is in the best interest of the government to play down the number of people missing. Because if that number stays that high, Chinese citizens will become angry for not receiving any type of benefit from the (assumed) death of their relative.

Also, the Chinese state will often censor, threaten or harass people that “spread rumors” about disasters. For example, during the Sichuan earthquake aftermath many parents were saying that their child died as a result of the schools not being built well (termed “tofu buildings”). The earthquake occurred at a time of day when many children were in school, and a lot of children died. The people who were particularly vocal about this injustice began receiving threats and being harrassed by the Chinese government, and Amnesty International even stepped in to help. The Chinese government also actively censors social media that discusses these “rumors.” They delete so much social media, there is an entire website dedicated to reposting censored content from the Chinese version of Twitter called Weibo. The unfortunate truth is, in China, if a person dedicates too much time fighting the system, they will disappear altogether.

On a more local level, the level of corruption in low police ranks is worth noting. In China it is very easy to get out of trouble if you have money. I learned that it is quite common for the police to be paid off by a rich person who does not want to lose their license over something like a drunk driving ticket. All you need is some money and a person who has less of a life than you to agree to take the blame for the offense.

Between these loopholes, state controlled media, and other things, China has a ways to go before the government can say they are not corrupt.

Procedure

Trying to get anything done officially in China is a big pain in the ass. When I was applying for my work visa, it seemed as if they would deny me for ANY reason they felt like. For example, if I wrote my 4’s in a different way than the computer does. Or if my letter from a previous employer did not have the right kind of ink. I EVEN had to have my mom ship me my official diploma to prove my degree is real…yes, the one that I have framed at my house. In addition, everything has to be fucking notarized. In the United States, you go to a notary, you sign the damn thing, get a stamp and leave. The whole process takes 15 minutes max, and you will pay maybe $10. In China though, you have to wait 5 days for the document to be processed, and it costs $70.

It seems to me that the Chinese really embrace process and procedure, in the sense that every document needs to be signed by the correct (important) people, which I believe is over the top. It is a trend I have seen after living in China and after working for a large Chinese company (Huawei). There is more emphasis on making sure the process is official, rather than efficient OR legitimate.

The reason I mention legitimate, is because of a specific experience I had in China that says a lot about how important it is for procedures to appear official, even if they aren’t.

In order to apply for a Work Visa (or a number of other visas such as student or business), you must go to a specific hospital in Beijing and get a medical exam done. There is only one hospital you can do this at in Beijing, and it is in the far outskirts of the city. So I cleared my morning and paid the $20 cab to get out there. Once I arrived I filled out paperwork, paid the fee of just over $100, and received a checklist with 10 or so things I needed to get done. So, I got in line to go get my blood drawn.

Super long and unorganized line for the train back from the Great Wall.

As I am waiting a doctor pulls me aside to go get my x-ray taken while I am in line for the blood draw (since that line was really long). I go into the room, and stand behind the machine…a big white light flashes, and I am escorted out of the room. Notice how I did not have to remove my bra (which had an underwire), I was not asked if I had a cell phone in my pocket (which I did), and I never removed the metal from my piercings (15 in total). This was strange…in every other x-ray I’ve had they’ve take those things pretty seriously…Well I get back in line and the woman in front of me appears to speak english, so I say “well that was the weirdest x-ray I’ve ever had” and she replies with “Yeah, because its fake.”

And then it all clicked. They really don’t care if you have any issues in the x-ray, they fake it so appears they are being official with issuing visas. 9 out of 10 tests I went through were faked. I am sure the only real one was the blood test, cuz they actually poked my arm and took blood out. While the eye exam was hilarious…it took a total of 3 seconds and I honestly read the biggest line of text. I even had an “ultrasound” done, which took less than a minute, and all the “nurse” did was rub some instrument on my belly and look at a computer with a STATIC image on it.

I was furious after this. It really blew my mind. If it hadn’t cost over $100 I maybe wouldn’t care. But to me it just seems like an extravagant way to fake legitimacy and procedure while making money off of people trying to work or study in China.

4. “Laowai”

And lastly — being a foreigner in China. What you’ll notice if you ever come to China is that there is still a sense of wonderment about foreigners in their country. At first it was kind of fun to be stared at on the street, to hear people say “laowai” or “waiguoren” (both meaning foreigner) and point at you. However, at this point I am definitely over it. I have been swindled in markets, taxis and pedi-cabs, and have even had someone’s baby shoved in my face while their parents say “ta shi laowai!!” (she is a foreigner!).

Luckily by the end of my stay I have learned enough Chinese to know when I am being swindled, and to call them out. But it feels…almost…borderline…racist at this point. I get so frustrated when I hear bits of conversation walking down the street that are about me. I don’t blame the people for this, because China was so recently opened up to the rest of the world and many are still genuinely taken aback at seeing foreigners. Because I understand this, I have taken the staring and pictures while biting my tongue, however it is definitely draining the life out of me slowly.

The Ugly

Alright, lets get down to my favorite part of my time in China. I am a sarcastic person, so, no this is not really “the ugly” but I don’t think it would be appropriate to put this part in any other section.

Have you ever heard of the Hash House Harriers? A group of belligerent, drunken assholes that run around cities with no care in the world. There is a group of Hash House Harriers in every major city in the world, and my introduction to them was this summer in Beijing.

Group picture of the Hash House Harriers in a park in Beijing (I am front row farthest right)

My reason for meeting them was through a love of live music. I decided on a whim to go to a show where this band called The Groove Collective was playing. I was one of two foreigners in the audience. I had a great time, loved their set, and was probably a little too loud (drunk) for the Chinese audience. However, the other foreigner in the audience came up to me and started chit chatting. This guy has been in Beijing for 19 years or so, is a bass and guitar player in a number of bands, and generally knows his shit. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Oh! I can hear your accent, you must be British.
Other Foreigner: Well, you must be American, because I am Australian.

From there we became fast friends. He introduced me to all the great live music venues in Beijing, and more importantly to the Hash House Harriers.

This awesome group of foreigners and Chinese have helped me keep my head on straight while I have been in Beijing. They are really like a tight nit family; of the strangest, most awesome, most drunk, people in the city.

Through my Sunday runs with these folks, I have explored more of Beijing than I ever would have without them, I made some friends that I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life, and I got a little exercise in too. I actually ran further with this group than I ever had previously in my life.

I love the Hash. Actually, I love and hate the Hash for how much beer I’ve drank and how many late nights I have had at the local pub, Paddy’s. But I will never forget these people, their friendship and camaraderie has meant everything to me.

Thanks

I could write another 10 pages about my time in China, but this will have to suffice. Its already way longer than I wanted it to be. I hope you enjoyed reading this snapshot into my experience. I had an amazing time, and I cannot wait to get back!

Gotta give a big shout out to my employer, Beijing MIC Technology Co. ltd for the opportunity to live and work in Beijing. They made my time in China fantastic and a simple transition. Cheers to Tings!

Thanks to everyone from the Hash (nicknames, of course): Blowjob, Agent Orgy, Fetus Envy, Bangs with No Mercy, Just Kristen, Just Emmy, Blister Fister, Pickle Boy, Pussy Nibble, Dickmocracy, 6 Kuai Short, Godzilla Butt, Just Charlie, Sink and Destroy, Shit Head, Rainblow Bush, Just the Tip, Finger my Dough, Dry Hole, Bearded Clam, Bjorn Again, Pikachu, Melon Drama…and everyone else I forgot from the Hash. I seriously love you guys!!

Thanks to my non-hash friends; Laura (aka Shameless China) and company, Ning and Babe friend, Kevin, Miya, Xiaobai, Doudou (for all of the Americanos every day at work), and every member of The Rotten 5 for being the best band in Beijing!!!

Lastly, thanks to my awesome boyfriend for putting up with my adventures in China while he was at home in Minnesota — you’re the BEST! xoxoxo.

Tings — Dare to Voice

Tings is an anonymous social networking app centered around our most human form of expression — Voice. “Dare to Voice” is Tings’ motto; encouraging users to anonymously share content that may not be better expressed in other forms, with regard to emotion and personality.

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