Tag Archives: Culture 文化

My Trip to UPS, or Why Your Christmas Gift Is Going to Be Late

Photo credit UPS

Christmas is coming. We bought (spoiler alert!) a certain breakable gift for a certain set of grandparents, and I went to the Post Office to send it. The end. Just kidding! The Post Office won’t ship breakables outside China (even if you beg), so I went to UPS.

The taxi driver was silent for the first five minutes of our 40-minute journey. I was a little disappointed: if I’m going to be in the car for that long, I’d like to have a chat (especially since the pollution is so thick lately that there is literally nothing to see out the window). Lucky for me, he started up a conversation that lasted the entire ride. It went thusly:
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Physicality

Photo Credit: Physical

Our gym is called Physical. It’s located very conveniently near where we live. It is a fancy gym by Chinese standards, with a synchronized aerobics dance floor and a massage and reflexology parlor, but it also has weights and a squat rack and it does the trick. I’ve been wanting to write about my impressions of Physical for 18 months now, but not until tonight did I have a crystallization of my feelings about the place. Thus:

I went to work out after putting Owen to bed. It’s Sunday night, a busy time at Physical. Lots of 80-pound women in spandex booty shorts dancing seductively in front of the mirrors (easy to do—every wall is a floor-to-ceiling mirror), lots of men pumping a little iron, and one lone woman jogging on the treadmill in a dress and high heels (she must have come straight from work–respect). I did my workout as quickly as possible to avoid interacting too much with our friend B, the beefiest man either Nick or I has ever seen in China. Each of his pecs is easily the size of a watermelon, and he wears a skimpy pink tank top that comes down to just above his bellybutton. B’s pecs are for all the world to see, and they are marvelous. He is Manchurian, and is always rather to quick to point out how the skinny-jeans-wearing men of southern China are all pathetic girly boys. Thus he can be somewhat intimidating when working out, so I try to say hello and then get on with my sweating. Continue reading

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Currency Events

Counterfeits everywhereWe are back in Hangzhou, and the small tasks of daily life are upon us. Last week I endeavored to do something quick during Owen’s morning snooze: Nick had accidentally laundered a 100 RMB ($15USD) bill, and it tore clean in half. I taped it back up and tried to buy something with it at the corner store, but no dice. So to the bank I strode, taped-up bill and passport in hand (you never know). The nearest branch of the Industrial Commercial Bank of China is a mere two blocks away, and I lucked out and walked right up to a teller upon entering (no lines). I was making great time. Continue reading

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Xiao Hu’s Mom May or May Not Have it Goin’ On

When we moved into our apartment nearly a year ago, we were happy to meet a baby just a little older than Owen, who was introduced to us as Xiao Hu (“little Hu,” a common way to call someone surnamed ‘Hu’ who’s younger than everyone else in the room). The woman who introduced him worked at the reception desk of our building. She was young, pretty, and endlessly loving towards the baby. Every time we saw them together, she was nuzzling him, or disciplining him, or helping him learn to walk. She and I shared the bond of new mothers, and we asked each other questions about the babies’ respective nap schedules, eating habits, and ability to communicate. I gave her a present for Xiao Hu’s first birthday (a soccer ball), and she gave me one for Owen’s (a box of Legos). All was well and good, and the burgeoning friendship between Owen and Xiao Hu made me happy. A Chinese friend with a sweet mom for me to talk to: awesome.

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Shake Hands with Dirty

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I am no germaphobe. I practice the ten-second rule for food that falls on the floor on a daily basis, and I’ve been known to go a day, or, um, 30 without showering (hello, Appalachian Trail). But my laid-back attitude about all things filthy has been put to the test since moving to China. I think that most of it has to do with a general ignorance/lack of education about germ theory here, which is frankly distressing. But on I go, being critical, which is easy to do from my perspective, having been educated from a very early age about germs and such. Here:

When Owen meets a Chinese child, the first thing they do is shake hands. Or, rather, “shake hands,” because, honestly, nobody under the age of three is doing this thing on their own. What this amounts to is a lot of forced hand-on-hand rubbing between Owen and other babies. Continue reading

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One Size Fits Small

In China, almost no one is what we could call “fat,” at least not by American standards. I don’t want to get too deeply into a speculation about the causes of this, but I think it’s a combination of genetics, great attitude toward group exercise, and chopsticks. The end.

My sister-in-law Tina teaches at a high school in rural Hunan province, and reports than many of her students describe their friends as “a little fat,” even when the friend in question is clearly anything but. I suppose it’s because thinness is the norm here, so any extra pounds attract attention.  But it’s not considered rude or cruel, as it would be in the U.S., to point this out—perhaps because hardly anyone in China is actually fat. But I wonder why it’s not a taboo here—where obesity is rare—while it remains a horrible taboo in America—where obesity is endemic. In America, to be overweight is practically common, yet you would never call a pudgy friend “a little fat.” Ever! Here, it’s no big deal. It’d be like calling someone “pale” in America after a long winter spent indoors.

Some recent examples of attention towards body size that caught my attention: Continue reading

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My Standards Have Changed

Ten months ago, when we moved to China, we stayed at the illustrious Dragon Hotel while we searched for an apartment. Upon check-in, we were presented with flutes of champagne and tiny cheesecake bites. Our room was stocked with a bowl of fresh fruits. “That’s a nice touch,” I said to Nick.

Today, as we made the 12-hour journey home (via bus, ferry, taxi, bus, taxi) from some Nanxi River valley villages outside Wenzhou, I glanced up at the handles running along the ceiling of the bus. There hung clusters of small black plastic bags, perfect for grabbing if you needed to spit out a chicken bone or melon seed. I turned to Nick and said, “That’s a nice touch.”

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Everyday in the Park with Everyone

Spring has sprung. Okay, not quite. But the weather has gotten significantly nicer recently, and Owen and I have been spending a lot of time in the park across the street. It’s not much to write home about, really just a waypoint along the UNESCO World Heritage West Lake Scenic Area™. But #6 Gong Yuan (public park) is where it’s at for us these afternoons. Here is how it usually plays out.

We arrive, Owen (assisted by mom) walking/lurching where he pleases, which is usually straight to the bed of clovers. He proceeds to rip up as many as possible and stick his hands in the dirt as deeply as he can. Soon, we are approached by a grandma and her grandchild, for whom she is charged with caring during the day while the baby’s parents are at work. [Sidenote: going to the park with a young child here is like going to a bar already drunk: it’s extremely easy to meet people and get friendly, and there are no conversational barriers whatsoever.] Continue reading

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