Thursday, November 7, 2013

Survivor: China

This is my almost-half-way-there evaluation of living in China and, in it, I have chosen to focus on the dangers and annoyances of this country in case any of you decide that you actually want to come. (And you should, because Jake and I love and miss you.)

Getting Around - Driving                                                                                        

 China has one-seventh of the world's population and there are correspondingly roughly one-seventh of the world's cars. In Qinhuangdao, a "small" Chinese city, most streets run 6 lanes of traffic. There are traffic cops stationed at every intersection, but I have not once seen them do anything except point and their "super cool" my-shift-is-over dance, which involves saluting the relief worker, turning on the heel, marching away like a toy soldier, saluting from the middle of traffic, and then leaving. Plus, the women have to wear outfits which make them look more like cowgirls, adding to their pointlessness. 

Anyway, despite there being 6 lanes of traffic, "lanes" are just a theory here, not actual rules, as are the signs that tell you not to text and drive and the speed limit. So, cars driving really friggin fast swerve between lanes and oftentimes hang in between to pass anyone going slower than them. There are no seatbelt laws nor any signs of common courtesy, because in a country of one billion, individual preservation and satisfaction is a top priority.

Getting Around - Bicycles                                                                                        

There are bike lanes here, but unfortunately they also function as the lane all the cars want to use during a traffic jam and a hangout space for street vendors and the place where Ducars (like a motorized rickshaw) park. Plus, the bike lanes don't indicate direction, and, like with the cars, people are more interested in their own travels than making sure travel in general goes smoothly, so there's a lot of stopping and starting and brakes screeching. To top it all of, I haven't seen a single helmet. Not one.

Getting Around - Walking                                                                                       

Yes, the bike lanes act as more than just bike lanes, but the sidewalks pull quadruple duty as a place to walk, a place to bike, parking lots, and that lane you really, really want to be in during rush hour when the actual street and the bike lane are full up. I was stepping from the crosswalk onto the sidewalk to day and some guy was angrily honking at me because he, too, wanted to be on the sidewalk and I dared to be in his way. I wish this were a rare occurrence, but it's more or less a daily thing.

As I mentioned, there are 6 lanes of traffic on average, and, much like in America, cars have the privilege of turning right even on a red light. However, unlike in America, cars take that to mean that they never ever ever have to yield for anyone. So, when the green pedestrian crossing light goes on, you still have to wait to make sure that no one is going to hit you from the right. This can result in one of two things: not being able to start crossing and not being able to stop crossing. When you cannot stop crossing, you have to wait precariously on the white line somewhere in 6 lanes of traffic while the cars whiz by you, often unaware of the concept of lines. This is a prime example of Social Darwinism, with pedestrians at the trough of the proverbial food chain.

Other People                                                                                                             

I can't say this enough: everyone here is self-centered. And not in a Paris Hilton "I'm hot and everybody needs to look at me way" but in a way like a 2-year-old is self-centered. You know how, when you see a toddler in a supermarket and they have no idea you're there and walk right into because they're two and they have tunnel vision? Imagine that, but multiply it by 3 million and then add adults. I have never ever encountered such a lack of courtesy that goes way beyond my American personal space needs, which obviously aren't being met. 

At home and in my travels, I always encounter a few people who have their heads so far up their butts that the rest of us always have to be aware, but everybody here seems to suffer from head-up-butt disease. It's part remarkable but most infuriating because everybody is cutting in front of you, cutting you off, bumping into you, stopping right in front of you, etc. 

Those Pesky Loose Bricks                                                                                       

The Achille's Heel of the klutzy and graceless, loose bricks are a huge annoyance in China. You would think that, in a Communist country where the belief is that everybody has the right to a job, they could find someone to fix the damn things, but no. Instead, we're left to trip over them while dodging cars, bicycles, scooters, and other people who have no seemingly no awareness. And if that wasn't bad enough, these loose bricks are like something out of a video game, and when you step on them, they shoot up ground water. Now, that would be annoying in America where you'd probably be pretty pissed that your pants and shoes got wet, but in China, that means you are now partially covered in diluted sewer water. 

E.N. and T (and H and S)                                                                                       

Ears: Noise pollution. They've got it. Horns honking, brakes screeching, loogies being hocked, stores right next to each other that each blare music, construction, street vendors shouting at you to buy whatever they have. It's endless, and almost impossible to carry on a conversation walking outdoors.

Nose: Smell. It's awful. Between the trash and constant smell of sewage in the air, I always find it a rare, noteworthy moment when we step by a bakery or a coffee shop or get a whiff of gasoline.

Throat: See "Loogies" and "The Air."

Hair: China's killing mine. See "The Water."

Skin: Dry and simultaneously oily. Has always been a little like this, but China has exacerbated the problem. See "The Air" and "The Water."


I'm having flashbacks to high school English when Mr. Devino used to hock up loogies into a tissue during silent reading...or any other time he felt the need to clear his throat. I'm having flashbacks, and wishing I was there. At least he had the relative courtesy to spit up into a tissue, which he would then discard on his desk. Here, it's a national pastime to spit and hock loogies onto the street. I cringe every time I hear it, which - and I am not exaggerating - is every time I leave the house and sometimes from the living room because the street is right outside. 

Beyond being a very irksome noise, it's so unhygienic. And this is the country that wears surgical masks when they're sick or worried that other people are sick! 

Betcha Can Eat Just One...                                                                                      

...because it's individually wrapped. I've explained to a lot of you the annoyance of buying things in stores and having a pile of trash that accompanies any grocery run. So, when you buy produce, you have to put it in a bag, even if it's just one lemon, it has to go in a bag so they can weigh it and put a sticker on it then staple it should so you have to rip the bag to open it and never be able to use it again. If you buy cookies, candies, or other processed food, be prepared to have to open normally one packet per two cookies. With chips, if you buy a Pringles can, you get two individually wrapped sections. You can even buy an individually wrapped, uncooked egg. Hey, no one ever accused the Chinese of overeating...

By the way, I did a Google Image search of individually wrapped eggs and I got images of Easter candy. Because there is no other time where one needs to individually wrap an egg. 

Roadside Fires                                                                                                          

No permit, no license, no problem. Just light your fire on the road and watch it burn. Or don't. You can leave your fire unattended and nothing happens.

Fire Escapes                                                                                                              

Many of our friends here teach at a school called English First, and they recently had a building fire. It was pointed out to me that EF doesn't have fire escapes, which got me wondering whether or not other buildings here had fire escapes. I haven't found one yet. To be fair, most of the buildings are just concrete slabs, which is are fairly difficult to set ablaze, but I'm going to go with not impossible.

Freelance Welding                                                                                                    

This one throws me for a loop. I think that, in America, we take safety to a ridiculous level, with hand sanitizer and uber-padding for kids who play sports, but I don't think that safety visors and gloves are superfluous for welding. But they do in China. Here, people weld sans gloves or safety visors ON THE SIDEWALK. I have been temporarily blinded several times by a freelance welder. 

Man Holes                                                                                                              

This isn't a huge one, but it's one worth noting. There are times when man holes need to be uncovered to do some work, and normally they are completely barricaded by flags or signs so people don't walk into them and fall into the sewer. China succeeds in barricading them partially but not fully. Plus, there are many man holes here that have small holes or loose areas where you probably wouldn't fall in but you might lose a shoe or get your foot stuck. These aren't marked at all. You just have to know.

The Water                                                                                                                

I'd take a picture of the river near our school or the river near our house, but I don't want to disgust you. Great, grey-green, greasy does not begin to describe the river, as we must add garbage, grim, grody, gruesome, and noxious. 

I'm not sure how purified the water is that we use in our shower, but my hair is falling out more than it ever has, my skin is dry and flaky, yet I'm breaking out, and unless I wash my hair everyday it gets noticeably greasy. At home, my hair doesn't get noticeably greasy until the third day.

The Air                                                                                                                     

Pretty much think of the water, but evaporate the liquid to a gas and add in car pollutants and then pump it directly into your lungs. 


  1. my dear girl~~i will go for a walk in the woods and soak up the fresh clean air and magical calm~~and send it to you both~~~you need it asap!!

  2. Yes, I couldn't agree more! Please and thank you!