Happy Chinese New Year – Year of the Horse!
The fireworks two nights ago were absolutely incredible. From dusk until about 1am any direction we looked on the horizon we saw fireworks of all different kinds. And our ears! They were bombarded with the most ridiculous combinations of popping, cracking, and exploding noises in varying levels of frequency. At 11:30pm the people right outside the school (and the school guards) starting setting off huge fireworks that sounded like canon fire and lit up everything in a bright white light. I thought they were on the roof at one point so I ran out of our room to try to find a way up there to join them and while out there (they weren’t on the roof by the way) I looked out a window facing a direction we can’t see from our rooms, and called Duncan to come quick. The intensity of the fireworks, cracklers, noisemakers, bottle-rockets, and random poppers increased until the grand finale at midnight when there was a symphony of bangs and a lightshow on every skyline. It was perfect and very possibly one of my favorite moments from life in China so far.
The past two days have been uneventful and filled with coffee/easy Internet time at QLH and then online TV shows at night. The food situation has worked itself out since our day of dumplings. We’ve eaten leftovers, we’ve cooked ramen with sausage added, eaten a fair number of peanut butter sandwiches and chips, and have visited the two “Western fast-food” places next door to QLH – Popland and CNKLS. CNKLS (we read “cankles”) has a Chinese name but we don’t know it and next to its Chinese sign are the letters CNKLS. In China, especially in Baoding, random letters strung together are frequent – on clothing, on signs, even as titles of chain restaurants. The letters don’t mean anything but, I suppose, when you can’t read English, any combination of letters could be a word to you. Popland, on the other hand, is a blatant rip off of Chick-Fil-A complete with the three cows holding up signs and doing ridiculous things. One Chick-Fil-A – oops, I mean Popland – had a sign that said no pictures allowed (a clear sign that they know they are breaking some copyright laws even though they don’t really seem to care as long as they don’t get caught). Popland and CNKLS are both like KFC only better and cheaper (CNKLS is the lesser of the two in both ways). Tired of these options (and unwilling to face the inevitable crowds and nonsensical slowness of the supermarket) we decided Pizza Hut was a good option for dinner tonight.
Overall, we’ve had a really positive experience with Pizza Huts in China and because of this it is usually our first meal in a new place and a once-a-month break from Chinese food for us. Baoding, however, just seems to get worse and worse with every experience. It took us thirty minutes to get seated (despite there being a “hostess”), and an additional thirty minutes just for someone to come take our order (and that’s only after I waved three different waiters down). Then they informed us that they did not have pan pizzas they only had cheese-stuffed crust pizzas, which we said was fine. But, because Chinese people seem to order one of everything off the menu in Pizza Huts (I’m not kidding; we are always the only customers in the entire restaurant that order just pizza; everyone else orders a steak, a rice dish, two or three appetizers, two or three different kinds of drinks, a pizza, and two or three desserts for two or three people!), our waitress was confused and kept repeating “anything else?” and we kept having to repeat “no, just this. No, just this. Yes, this kind of large pizza. Yes, that crust is fine. No, just this.” Another thirty minutes later and another waiter comes over to inform us “oh, by the way, we don’t have large pizzas. Are you ok with two mediums?” After we acquiesce and want to say “well, yeah, I guess we have to be ok with that because there’s no where else to eat in the city and we’ve already been here for an hour and a half” (and watched a kid break his finger by getting it stuck in the door), we wondered what they’d been doing in the kitchen for the past thirty minutes to just now let us know they don’t have the right pan size (why would we be so presumptuous as to assume a pizza restaurant would have the pan sizes they advertise?). We eventually got our pizza, ate and paid in about fifteen minutes, decided we needed to splurge on some chestnut macchiatos from Starbucks next door (we were genuinely astonished they had the newest White Chocolate Chesnut Mocha advertised as their seasonal special because every Starbucks we went into in Chengdu and Guilin did not have it – silly me again, assuming they would stock what they advertise and is on special), and (after noticing the temperature dropped quite a lot) made it home. It’s times like that when I wish tipping were a thing here just so I could demonstrate my dissatisfaction in some way that would be understood despite linguistic or cultural barriers.
Despite that very frustrating and patience-trying experience, I’m happy and in a good mood. We discovered how to clean the AC vents in our apartment, I cooked last night, we cleaned the apartment a bit, the laundry is done, some fireworks are still going off, and (assuming the ticket bureaucracy goes according to plan) we’ll be in Beijing again Monday afternoon.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how China is perceived in the West (and vice versa) and especially about cultural differences that can be very frustrating and difficult for Americans to get used to dealing with. Clearly, the 1.5 billion Chinese people deal with life in China just fine, so it’s clearly my rejection of norms and standards here based on my American upbringing and subsequent expectations that’s causing the problem. But what are these things, exactly, and what leads most foreigners coming to teach in China to break their contracts and go home early (and why do those people feel the urge to throw tantrums about China as loudly as they can on Internet forums and to anyone who will listen to them)?
Part of my initial intention for this blog was to show what life is like in China from China (obviously somewhat skewed and biased but based in fact nonetheless). I’ve discovered that people in the US know surprisingly little about what modern China actually is (and vice versa) and I hoped (and still do hope) to remedy that void of information. And since I’ve been here (all over the country) for over five months now – observing, thinking, discussing, rejoicing, and complaining – I’m beginning to feel confident and knowledgeable enough to make some cultural commentaries in this blog. Hopefully, I can add to the China void that exists in the “Western” world and maybe even shed some light on American customs (by looking at how they seem ridiculous to Chinese people).
Thank you for reading and until next time,