Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Funniest Things About China

China is kind of awesome in a weird, offbeat way. When I visited the Middle Kingdom for five weeks, I found plenty to make me laugh, smile, or just raise my eyebrows.

The Stares

One of my favorite things about China was the way I got stared at. This was particularly true in the middle of the country, where they don't see many foreign folk. I would be standing on the subway and notice people blatantly staring at me. People would also sneakily take pictures of me. I wonder how many Chinese people's social media accounts have my face plastered all over them.

The best thing about standing out was that people told me I'm beautiful. They loved my super white skin. Take that, sunbathers. Once, I was standing next to an old lady on the subway platform, and I noticed her staring. I said hello, and she proceeded to smile, point at her hand, point at her cheek, and then give me a big thumbs up.

One old man saw me sitting in the park, and he asked if he could take my picture. Of course, through his accent and rapid-fire pace of speaking, the only reason I knew what he was asking was because he had his camera out. I let him take my picture. Then he found someone to take a picture of us together. He kept talking and talking -- most of which I didn't understand --  and he told me he wanted to draw me. I thought he would just use the picture he took, but pretty soon he was gesturing for me to follow him. Earlier, he had invited me to eat a meal with him. I didn't want to, so I thought this was him trying to force me to go with him.

I followed him. It was impossible to say no. He didn't take me to food, but instead he took me to a booth in the park where they charge money to draw people's portraits. My first thought was, "I don't want to pay for you to draw me." Still, being the pushover that I am, I sat down. As he was drawing me, people trickled by. They would look at me, look at the picture, then look back at me, and they would give me their observations on if the portrait was good or not. One man shook my hand and said thank you. I still have no idea why that happened.

As it turned out, the old man didn't want my money. He just wanted to draw me for his own personal satisfaction.The picture isn't the most flattering representation of me, but it's still a cool memory.

The Filth

Dirt and grime doesn't seem funny most of the time, but it's part of China's character. You just have to embrace the dirtiness. And when you see toddlers pooping and peeing on the street (in some places, the parents whistle to let their kids know it's time to do their business), you come to accept it.

The air, which sometimes ceases to be air and becomes something else entirely, is perpetually plagued by billions of particles of ickiness. I should have worn a mask, but I reasoned that I wouldn't be in the country long enough for the pollution to kill me. Or turn me into some kind of mutant.

Public Transportation

I don't like public transportation -- well, the public part of public transportation. The transportation itself doesn't bother me. The subway system in China's cities is efficient and cheap. It's the best way to get around. That is, if you can abandon your regard for  personal space.

Once in Shanghai, I knew I was in trouble when I saw long lines of people on the subway station. Still, I continued on, knowing that I might not survive the next few minutes. I got physically pushed onto the train and shoved into a little corner. We were packed in there so tight that I couldn't move my arms. I literally had a girl leaning with her back against me between a couple of stops. I still can't decide if that experience was amusing or terrifying.

The Bargaining

In most places in China, you can bargain for what you want, whether you need a ride from the train station or you just want to buy some souvenirs. I'm pretty sure I got swindled a few times because when I would name a low price and the merchant would frown and make a noise like I had physically hurt him, I felt guilty. Grow a spine, Joy. I did manage to haggle some, but I could have done better. I should go back to China just to prove to myself that I can stand my ground.

The English Translations

It's fun to read things in China. Most of the translations are hilariously wrong.

Ice Water

So this is what I got when I asked for ice water: Hot water and a bowl full of ice.