It is so much fun to read restaurant menus here, with very imaginative phrases and horrible spelling, like “fried agg“, and “sana wish”. My favorite so far is “this seafood will pierce your body”- the picture of the dish did not look bad, but the title was scary enough that I didn’t want to order it. I am collecting photos of all kinds of bizarre English. Some of them are really funny.
Since my last post I went to the Great Wall, Tienanmen Square, the Beijing Zoo, the Olympic area (there was so much fog that it was hard to see much though) , the marketplace at Wanfujing, and then spent last weekend at Shanghai and Hangzhou, so it is hard to summarize everything. All I can do is spew disorganised observations. I liked the Great Wall (at Badaling), but this section was touristy and overcrowded, so I want to go back again to a different section sometime.
The sky is bluer these days, and the weather not as hot- is is quite pleasant. The other day I went to a small noodle restaurant down the street, whose name I can’t remember, and had to order these enormous noodles called “biang biang” noodles, because they were the only dish that was not written in characters. “Biang biang” noodles are a dish from Shaanxi province famous because the character for “biang” requires a huge number of strokes to write. This is how it looks like:
Since then I have learnt how to say “noodle”, “chicken”, “beef”, “pork” and a few other things, which should help in the future. It is still odd being a westerner in China: sometimes people stare at you, or ask you to pose in a photo with their friends as if you were a celebrity. However, I am getting used to the large crowds of people everywhere: there is rarely a time in Beijing when you cannot find anyone on the street – there are people everywhere, at all times. Many places also seem to be overstaffed. (As soon as we enter a restaurant, about 4 or 5 waiters come to greet us at the door.) In the subway in Shanghai, there was one particular station where the people were crammed in the train like sardines, and new passengers had to push very hard against the masses to enter, or otherwise the doors would not be able to close.
The subway system in Beijing is quite good, one of the better ones that I have been to. It is the first subway I have been in where there is a security check for people to put their bags through, like in airports. The only thing I dislike about it is the masses of people that are crammed in there at certain times. I have heard that the subway here developed very quickly and was improved a lot because of the Olympics. (I wonder how different the city was before the Olympics?)
Two weeks ago I was invited to give a talk on cultural differences – so I talked about the US, about my perceptions of China, but mainly about Ecuador (it felt odd, since I have not been back there in almost 2 years now). I cannot generalize about Chinese people (it is impossible to generalize about any group of people; and I believe that we are all really not so different- the differences are often superficial, not fundamental). But the repeated behavior of people on the street made me notice a few things:
- Lots of men love sticking their bellies out, they just pull their shirts up for everyone to see (“look at my fat belly!”). I suppose it helps with the heat.
- Many people on the street also love to spit (and loudly too!) : a few times I have heard 2 or 3 people around me spit within a 5 second interval.
- So many women (and a few men) carry parasols to keep their skin as white as possible. Apparently having darker skin means that you are of a lower social class and people try to avoid this. But in Europe or the US, people go to tanning salons!
- They love to take afternoon naps (due to the heat I suppose). It is quite like Spain in this sense. Here even schoolchildren are allowed to go home for an hour or two for their afternoon nap.
Most of the Chinese interns I have met at work are also incredibly hard working. I think it just has to do with a very different educational system and culture. At each stage of the educational process (high school, college, graduate school) they must take very hard and competitive examinations, which determine which schools they can go to. Some people just give up if they cannot make it to the top universities. As a result of this, I think many students who cannot understand things in a short period of time must resort to memorization, and so they become very good at this. In order to pass the examinations, the students often spend many more hours studying than their counterparts in the US.
This system does not seem very good to me, because it rewards rote memorization and not necessarily understanding. Of course, education in many US high schools and colleges is quite horrible too – really, education in most places is so far from where it should be. I think it is sad, because one of the worst things a school or teacher can do is to undermine someone’s potential.