Thursday, 21 March 2013

Relationships in China (must read)

                                         Pampered From Pampers

Relationships in China. They just FASCINATE me. I never knew.

This is a hefty category, and is further bloated by subcategories; so I am going to be “picky-choosy” here with what I discuss. Only having been here seven months, I already feel I could write a book about RELATIONSHIPS.

FOR THE RECORD, I am NOT trying to offend Chinese people or make fun of their culture. I am telling it like I see it. Anyone reading this should keep in mind that I come from an entirely different background and that this is all very new for me. I know I'd want to know what an outsider thinks of American people. Also, there are EXCEPTIONS to commonalities in all cultures. For example, you will never hear me supersizing anything at McDonald's or wearing spray tan from a can. 

Do I begin with the fundamentals? Should I start off with explaining the changes China is seeing in a new generation of relationships and why that it is? Maybe I should begin with the way domestic abuse is viewed and skewed here. Would people be interested in China’s one-child policy and how that law has effected today’s newest Chinese relationships? Are people interested in how “saving face” has set a platform not only for winning arguments, but also when it comes to dealing with relationship affairs? Perhaps people would be entertained by the role men take on to impress their girlfriends. Do people know what Chinese flirting involves? I’ve witnessed countless relationship arguments on the streets; care to know what I’ve seen? Maybe people want to know what the deal is with sex and what the norm is.

As you can see, I have a lot to say. I will condense this, and possibly write Relationships: Part 2 blog if you’re interested and anyone requests it.

What I  am telling you throughout this blog has come from personal accounts, personal experience of expatriates who have lived here for years (some of whom have been in relationships with Chinese men or women), explanations from my Chinese friends, and a little online statistical research.

                                               Traditional Chinese Relationships

I’m beginning with this for those of you who are like me and enjoy seeing how generations evolve.

I’m not getting too historic; I am only taking it back to the Mao generation (Mao Zedong proclaimed Communist China 1949-1966). In short, relationships during that period went something like this:
When you were finally in a relationship, it was automatically assumed that the two of you would be married. It was not necessary to have “the talk”. Women only had sex with one man, and no man wanted to hear that a woman had ever dated a man prior to them. Tainted. You would date and make love to one person all of your life and divorce was unheard of. Domestic abuse was ubiquitous and hush-hush in the home. Most women were housewives. They put their children to work whether it was around the kitchen or out in the fields. The End.

                                                 One-Child Policy

This one- child policy has paved new and various paths for the newest People’s Republic of China. The new generation is so unlike the previous and the effects this puts on their country (in so many spectrum's) is still up in the air. In the case of relationships, they’re screwed.

Get up to speed on this policy: Effective as of 1978, this policy is only 35 years old. There are exceptions to it: foreigners, the upper class, twins (if you can pay the fine) and parents who are both single children themselves. If you cannot pay, you will be forced into an abortion. The government will send people to your home and use force if you do not cooperate.

The children of this policy are China’s newest adults now. Let’s stop and think about how they were raised.

Prior generations had multiple children which meant more money was necessary to survive and parents needed a helping hand. All I really mean is that children had to pitch in and DO SOMETHING. Now, nearly every family is producing a child infected with only-child syndrome, but far worse than what we know of it.

I see it with my own eyes every single day. I see it in school, in homes, and on the streets. From the time these single-children are born, they are spoiled to no end by their parents and their two sets of grandparents. These kids do not have to do anything on their own except study and wipe their own ass (wait…I think they wipe their own ass). Again and again, I see parents hand feeding their grown kids. Parents wiping their faces. Parents carrying their belongings. Nowadays, you’ll actually see a handful of overweight (according to China’s standards) kids. This is probably because many of them barely even have to walk! Parents are constantly tending to the every need of their one child. Also, parents do all of the thinking for them (outside of their studies). Parents and grandparents even allow their young kids/grandkids to double-slap them in the face (in public). These kids never cook. These kids don’t have to clean. These kids are used to attention and are not reprimanded when they scream for what they want. In cases of an unhappy child, parents/grandparents are nearly panicking to please them whether they realize it or not. These kids are not equipped to do fend for themselves in any way, shape, or form. They are pampered from Pampers.

Fast forward to their first relationship. Men expect women to know how to cook for them, clean and take care of them in the same way their mother did for their father. Women, now holding college degrees and pursuing careers, not only do not have time for it, but they simply don’t know how. They don’t know how to take care of THEMSELVES let alone a home, and they too, require attention. These DEMANDS and NEEDS of attention bring me to my next topic.

                                                              Couple Interaction

What you see today was not what you would typically see fifty years ago. When I first saw what I am about to share with you, my eyes and mouth dropped, like those people in The Ring after they watched "the tape" and died. I couldn’t stop staring. I knew it was cancer to my mind, but I couldn't stop. The effects it has had on me are unknown until I am back to my homeland. You may find me scribbling in notebooks and pulling flies off tv screens. I wasn’t used to it. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all, a new couple proves me wrong.

So, you know they were spoiled and you know they (both) crave attention. It is also crucial to know that due to the one-child policy, a growing gender imbalance is screwing the male population.  As of right now, the ratio is 105 boys to 100 girls. In 2012, China’s male-to-female ratio between the ages of 15-64 was: male 505,326,577/female 477,953,883. With the policy in effect, those numbers will drastically widen (as older generations die off) which will increasingly apply pressure on the male population. Let the rat race begin! Now, take the ingredients of only-child syndrome, neediness, gender imbalance, and pour in the norms of their culture (nose picking, spitting, public urination, eating and talking with their mouth open, running with their arms whaling about, matching outfits, heavy platform shoes, Hello Kitty insanity, etc.). Suddenly relationship normalcy becomes a recipe for an unsettling, exploding, raunchy cluster-fart. Open a window for the love of God.

                                                              He Is Useful.

Couples are permanently locked in arms (or hands) at all times. Their bodies are never more than a few inches apart. In the presence of his girlfriend, he will never follow another female with his eyes. Should he do so, he is asking for a meltdown from his girlfriend (in public). He will carry her purse around all day. Guys, take notes. If you find him wearing pink or orange rimmed non-prescription glasses, the odds are his girlfriend is wearing the same pair.

Girlfriend or no girlfriend, most guys in China are not the type to “holla” at a female walking down the street, and in China, females are prancing around in stilettos, mini-skirts, and thigh highs. And yes, they fall down. With his girlfriend in sight, he will never look your way. She’s watching. He is just as obsessed with her as she is with him. It’s quite normal to see him playing or patting her hair in public. He gazes at her. He plays with her hands. He kisses her cheek again and again in public. If she so much has to walk over unleveled pavement, he holds her hand. I am not embellishing the truth. This-is-the-way-it-is.

Girls in this generation are used to spending the money their parents worked hard for and saved during the Mao period. This is a generation of spending thanks to current means of transportation, endless industrial progress, and the spoiling of only-children in hopes they will succeed in all they do. Girls expect the same luxury of their parents from their boyfriends. If a guy cannot put out the RMB, then she will have no problem finding another boyfriend thanks to the gender imbalance caused by the one-child policy.

The number one point to take from this is that guys have to give women what they want if they wish to reproduce. The simple fact is there aren’t enough women for all the men. If these guys don’t hold purses, feed her seedless grapes, play with her hair, eskimo kiss her bleached nose in public, and buy her trendy bow ties, they might be the last branch in their family tree.

                                                           She Does Have Power.

If her boyfriend has a visible pimple, she will pop it in public. She cannot stand still directly beside him; she always has to lean on him or lock her arms around his waist and look up at him while swaying about. She will let him take bites of her apple. She will push him and yell at him, but then jump on him with joy like that crazy chic in The Notebook. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. No wait, watching them playfully run together hand-in-hand is far weirder.

She purses her lips together and yells at him, making a public scene if she does not get her way. She will even take back and carry her own purse as if to say “you’re not good enough to hold my purse, fool!”  Those public fights are undoubtedly more entertaining than the infamous Jerry Springer because it just doesn’t seem like real life. Punching a home wrecker is far more realistic than a couple skipping together.

Together they collide, and once it starts, they are inseparable. Really. They start doing things that we would find scary and obsessive in America. What would you think if your best friend and their significant other arrived (unjokingly) at your doorstep in matching outfits, head to toe? Imagine what I was thinking. I’m talking matching hats, shirts, pants and shoes. The overly spirited ones include matching glasses and some sort of wristband. It’s never over because then when they reproduce, they include their child—passing this frightful idea to the next generation.

If that doesn’t scare you, then maybe the fact that the rich ones with cars flaunt their relationship status on their  windows and/or hoods, and pile on heart stickers and other cheesy love-related paraphernalia. I am not even in their relationship and I feel myself choking. “My Damon” “I love you Mary” “Love Kisses Joe” ---YACK!
Funny side note, they always write their English name. I have yet to see a name on a car in Chinese.

                                                                 Couple Fights

The funniest damn thing I’ve seen since Sweet Brown’s “Oh Lord Jesus, there’s a fire” interview. What I am about to tell you may sound like I am joking or fabricating reality for entertainment purposes, but that is false. “Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!”

When a girl is upset with her boyfriend, she lets the world know it. I suppose it’s common for people to mind their business and keep walking, but for people like me, that is impossible. I will stop everything I’m doing and just stare at them. My eyes and mouth just fall.

You know how a child will huff and puff when they don’t get what they want? Children will actually stomp their feet, quiver their lips, and whine. It’s so bad that half the parents out there give in to them. Well, that is exactly what grown girls do here. They puff their lips, stomp their feet, cross or throw up their arms, and whine (loudly) to no end. The Chinese have a very nasal-based language, so when they whine, it’s three times as irritating.

Not only that, they hit. The whole scenario is like some learned routine amongst all Chinese women. First they pull away from their boyfriend. Oh snap, pass the popcorn. Then they take their purse back or cross their arms. Smack him with it, do it, do it!  That’s when the whining starts. Ohhh, shutup. The boyfriend will say a few words and that’s when the girlfriend’s pouty lips, stomping, and arm flailing goes full force. Crap, where’s my camera? If the boyfriend does not give in, then she’ll smack him with her bony arm on his chest and yell at him. You tell him girl! Her head will tilt with the tone of every other syllable she yells, and when she cries aloud, it sounds like a few hyenas were just pinched in the ass.

He stands there the entire argument with a puppy dog-I’m sorry look on his face. He just takes everything she says. He tries to comfort her, but usually she’ll pull away and purse her lips. Sometimes he’ll get down on his knees. She will usually quiet down at that point and give a really ugly, forgiving facial expression that irks every fiber of my being. It’s worse than the sun; I have to look away. Sometimes he will stand there looking away from her while she just lets him have it. It usually looks as if he’s looking away from her because if he faces her, he’ll cry. He looks like someone just killed his dog.

The ultimate Kodak moment is when she won’t stop whining and he tears up. He will just stand there and tear up in public. It is unbelievable. Sometimes they will both cry and touch each other’s faces. It’s disgusting. Get a room! Go to your car! Go to a bench! Most importantly, stop watching Chinese soap operas!

                                                  Dating/Flirting/Mind Games

This is where many more of my personal experiences come in. I had a few cases where I thought I befriended a few obsessive weirdo’s and I was going to have to change my phone number or carry my pepper spray at all times. Though one or two of them were truly out of their minds, the others were no different from any other man in China.

First off, there is minimal flirting here. If I'm wrong, they do it so differently, I don't recognize it. Housing a burger, fries and ice cream in under five minutes on a date is less than vamp (I've seen it) in my opinion. The closest thing to "flirting" is sex appeal, and they use it. One of my good friends (I’ll call him A for now) explained his unawareness of “flirting” to me after I unintentionally “broke his heart” (he quickly got over it). They don’t understand the concept of flirting/guessing games/mind games/mind reading, etc. Deny if you must, but we are all guilty. You should never assume they know what you’re implying. And to you, they will imply nothing; they’ll just say it. For example, A could not understand how winking could be sexy. He also couldn’t figure out why he shouldn’t put himself completely out there to a western girl if he takes her on a date. We had dinner once and he pointed out that I ate more soup than him. Bad move son. He also had all kinds of imposing questions that I didn't wish to talk about! I had a different guy TELL me where to sit, what I should eat, and to keep eating when I was picking at my plate. He would not let up and looked frustrated when I did not listen to him. If he knew anything about "flirting" or "the game" then he'd have understood why it ended early. Awkward, and so was not knowing when you’re out alone with a Chinese guy, they think it’s a date. WHERE WAS THAT IN THE TRAVELER BOOKS?

They can bat their eyes, giggle, and attempt to swoon each other, but they do not hide their feelings like we do. To date a western girl, they are too open for their own good. Flowers and text messages (My Dear Alexa) will not cut it. Call me fat, you’re dead. This goes for both genders. They are extremely upfront and honest about how they feel. If he tells you he loves you on the second date, it’s not weird. If she tells you she wants to see you 7 days out of the 7 days there are in a week, it is okay. They will come out and tell you if something is wrong, if you look fat, or if you need to fix your hair. It is a truly romantic world over here.

Once I had an American (from New Jersey) call my phone up to 20 times a day. It went on (on and off) for three weeks. I hoped every day I would not bump into this guy (and of course I did). When I told A about this, he didn’t understand why I was annoyed. Chinese people always answer their phone (it’s true). If they don’t, it might mean something is seriously wrong. It is not “crazy” or “stalker-ish” to blow up someone’s phone. I gave my number out a lot in the beginning, and every single person I befriended blew up my phone at some point. Here I thought I was just that damn good looking.

Most of my Chinese friends are guys and they share a lot of the same relationship views which I’d like to share with you.

Most of the younger generation watches way too much American television and they get the wrong idea. They think all American women are “easy” because in the shows/movies they watch, women are unfailingly having casual sex. Many of my friendships ended because they tried getting in my “apartment.” Also, they are jealous of the kind of “meaningful love” we share because it’s nothing like what exists in China. They little understand the lines between one night stand/dating/in a relationship. These statuses do not apply here. You’re either single or in a relationship. How could “love” in America be more meaningful and sought after? They run holding hands and wear matching outfits for goodness sake!

It was explained to me that meeting women is difficult, unless you go online and meet up for sex (it exists). Guys do not typically approach women at bars and most Chinese women are shy towards men. Oftentimes, parents might arrange a date or perhaps you will meet someone in school. Regardless how you end up on your first date, unless you’re rich, it is a disaster. Apparently it is known among every Chinese citizen that if you do not have a house, you will never get married. Girls enter relationships assuming marriage, so good luck. You can be the most charming, handsome, intelligent man there is; if you cannot afford your own house, she has no time for you.

I hear that dates are more like business meetings. Remember, there is no flirting. Women straight-up ask men what they do for a living, how much money they make, where they live, and are eyeing up their shoes which apparently reflects their status in society.

Men here are openly more sensitive than at home. They have a huge problem with the pressure dating brings. Some of them like to hide the money they have because they do not want a girlfriend who is solely with him for that reason. They see “American love” in movies and sitcoms and are envious, though I do inform them that gold diggers are universal. I was told about a Chinese reality television show that aired recently. They took a handsome/charming guy and girls competed for his hand in marriage. In the end, the winner claimed she loved him from the beginning and balled her eyes out of finding the love her life. Such a dramatic culture. There was a twist to the show, of course. He had a mediocre (not bad) job and still lived with his parents (common for his age). On live television, she took back everything she said and chose not to marry him.

I’m going to end it here, but honestly, I have so much more I could add. If anyone would like to hear more (lol), let me know and my next blog will be a continuation.

Pen Pal Letters :p

Earlier in October I had an idea to set up a pen pal partnership with my 2nd graders and a primary school from America. I wrote of this idea in a previous blog. The more I thought it through, the more enticed I was to get the ball rolling; however, mountains stood in my way. Pitching the idea to my school was intimidating to say the least. Keep in mind that only two of my coworkers fluently understand me and only one of them speaks Chinese (to report to the principal) and the one who knows Chinese rarely catches a break. The second mountain was (quickly) finding a school that wished to participate. Had this idea come about a few months prior, the idea of finding a school would have seemed much easier. For those of you unfamiliar, in America you need teacher approval, principal approval, board approval, and adequate funding. There's also this hope that your number of students matches with theirs and that there is a gender balance. Also, it makes a difference when you can walk into a school versus hoping e-mails would suffice. Let’s not forget that by this time most teachers had already laid out their lesson plans. With the pressures of Standardized Testing these days, many might not welcome a cultural exchange at this time;
for NJ's ASK do not offer international questions! Last I checked, Standardized Testing begins in 3rd grade, so maybe I stood a chance.

My first attempt with this pitch was a fail (?). I’m not sure what it was---this happens often. I cannot interpret what people are trying to tell me around here. I ran the idea over with the Vice Principal during lunch. We were not on the same page. He liked the “idea” of it and in a vaguely disapproving manner, rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and nodded his head as if pen pals were a commonality or fatal attempt to execute. He went on to say in his quickish-British accent,
“Yew knoyw how these thins gew.  Everythin stots uff wayll, but then they fugget you see and it becoomes quite boaring if ya know what I mane….”
He pressed on with his “sage” ideas of E-MAILING versus written letters. We were NOT on the same page. He did not offer any help, unless you consider dumbing-down my well thought out “program” was helpful.
Pssh, "e-mail."

My collaborating teacher-I’ll just say it- was impressed with the idea. Good girl!  Now, I did reassure her that I would be willing to handle half-to-all of the work involved if I had to because I did not want to load her up with anymore work. I also made it sound easier than it would be in actuality. I also reassured her I would find a partnering school and take care of the matching of students, etc. She ran the idea by the principal and the principal apparently was immediately attracted to the idea. I suppose something like this looks excellent at an International School... The principal had to confirm with our accountant that the funds were there and within 3 days, it was a done deal! I felt silly for worrying over it and was relieved that they were not interested in "e-mailing".

That night, I sent my first e-mail out to my nephew’s primary school. It warmed my heart that there was a possibility my little nephew would have a pen pal from China AND a pen pal who was one of my students! I can hear him bragging to his classmates now. Really trying to perfect this e-mail, it took me a good hour (or longer) to write. Afterwards, I was in search of alternative schools.

Side note: A huge THANK YOU to those of you who assisted me by inquiring with primary schools and to teachers who pitched the idea to schools they worked in and got it APPROVED. Also, those of you who simply “shared” my idea through social networking; it was all helpful. Seriously, you’re so awesome and somehow I would like to return the favor!

For reasons I will not dive into, my nephews school did not work out (as much as I REALLYYY wanted it to). I sent e-mails to six schools in one night and heard back from three within a week’s time. Thank you: Captain James Lawrence School, Hamilton Primary School, and Delran Primary School. After endless e-mails, I am pleased to announce that Delran Primary School is now united with You Fu Xie Jie’s Pen Pal Partnership Program (PPPP). That’s a mouthful.

It was more difficult than I imagined-mainly because the school I work at does not run the way you might imagine. A lot of it had to do with the CONSTANT language barrier, and the other had to do with the fact that things were always changing and I was not aware. Students English names were permanently changing, lesson plans were never definite, students were taken out of my classroom for various reasons, I did not have the same resources I would at home, and there is no such thing as a "deadline" in China. I’ve learned if I need to implement a deadline, to do so two weeks prior to the “real” deadline date.

After FINALLY receiving an updated attendance list, I had to match students, which sounds simple right? It's not.  Honestly, with the name changes, I didn’t even know who some of them were (I teach A LOT of students, okay, and at different schools) and trying to explain to some of them why they had two pen pals (more work) in a different language was not an easy task. Still, I was grateful it was moving along.


                                                  First Letters Sent

We sent the first round. My collaborating teacher explained to them what a pen pal was, etc. She told me they understood. I still question that, but at least they understood a letter was expected of them to be sent to America. I gave Delran a date our letters would be sent by, but they were actually sent out 3 weeks later.

When "The Great Wall" of parents caught wind that their kids were making an “American” friend, they took it very seriously. Under a dome of persistent parents, our lesson plans suddenly changed and our delivery date would be pushed back. First off, (according to parents) something this “serious” should not be assigned during the Standardized Testing week in their other subjects. Here I thought it would be a refreshing BREAK for them. Due to opinions of the parents, the letters were automatically pushed back one week until testing was over. Then, parents demanded to read these letters before they were sent out. On a more positive note, even with these demands, at least it aroused interest.

Some of the issues I faced were as follows:

1. In every class, you have a handful of students who need assistance. It was difficult to assist these students between the communication barrier and the fact that now they were writing their letters at home. Who knew what they would turn in?

2. There are always a handful of students who do not return what they take home. It would take days before we received every letter.

3. Some parents were such perfectionists that they would 100% write their child’s pen pal letter for them.

4. Random expressions they used would ignite some confusion to a second grader from America.  Examples from letters we sent included:
I love you very much, I can’t wait to play with you, what is your phone number…my phone number is….,I come to school on foot, my favorite food is meat, I miss you very much.

Obviously the culture here is very different, so when a boy named Jacky or Sandy (heck, even John) wrote a letter on neatly folded pink paper with dancing pigs all over it, there was bound to be some gender confusion (which was expressed in some of their replies). 

6. The second semester (February) would bring in three new female students and1 new male.

To alleviate some of these problems, we devised a framework for some students to follow. It was completely optional and could be copied word-for-word, or used to activate some prior knowledge. In this framework, we used vocabulary and phrases they learned throughout the semester.


“Hello, how are you? I am super! I am 10 years old. How old are you? I am from China (some from Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Canada). I live in Nanjing. I come to school by bike. My mother is a nurse. My favorite subject is Maths…. “   (Maths=British English)

I tried to alleviate further problems by alerting Delran of a few of our disadvantages and by spending quite a bit of extra time with certain students and making much-needed adjustments. After some time, I was ready to hand over a batch of letters to my very appreciate collaborating teacher.

We gave them an entire weekend to work on these letters with their parents. I have to say, I was a little afraid to see what we would get back! Would they remember to turn them in? Would they be covered in milk tea? Would they make any sense? I kept my expectations low and hoped for the best.

The outcome was a joyous one. Most importantly, for me, they were SO EXCITED to turn their letters in. That was EXACTLY what I wanted. It was turning into such a heavy assignment and all I really wanted was for them to look forward to writing and sending these letters, just as I was when I had a pen pal, years ago.

90% of them were turned in and maybe 80% were ready to be sent out. Some of them needed work and some students really needed assistance. Also, it took time for the students who were absent or not feeling well to get their letters in. I took them home, and in one night, read through each one (not an easy task) and made notes to what needed adjusting. I also sent Delran an e-mail explaining what they would find in these letters PRIOR to receiving them just so that they were not overwhelmed with bewilderment.

Here are some of the letters my students sent out:

Sent from one boy to another boy. This was FINE, but there was confusion later.

I would like to add that Delran Primary School has been very patient and helpful through this process. It would be a first for the both of us and I am pleased to be working with them. We received their letters upon returning back to school from Spring Festival and my students are currently turning in their second round of letters at this time. Next, we will send pictures and possibly even video! My students could not be any happier! If only I could reveal to you their faces when telling them Delran, or “America”, wrote back. It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt.

This experience was (still is) certainly a learning process for me in the aspect of planning/organization and in dealing with the challenges that cultural diversity can bring.


Chinese New Year/Spring Festival

I am a month past due with this blog. Luckily for me, there's no real deadline in China :]

Bringing in the New Year, I informed my newest Chinese friends how we celebrate:
A house party. Flashy attire. A bar. Dancing. Champagne. The midnight ball drop in Times Square. Midnight fireworks. Midnight banging of pots and pans. A midnight kiss. Blowers. Beads. Resolutions. A day off from school and work.
Deals of the century. But mostly, a million new gym memberships.
I vaguely knew what the Chinese New Year was all about. I imagined an overabundance of decor of whatever the zodiac was for that given year. 2012 was the dragon and 2013 would be the year of the snake. I envisioned monumental parades and people in the streets drinking, wearing festive clothes, and confetti in the masses. I envisioned fire. Perhaps a sacrifice of a canine or a pig churning in the middle of the street by short, tanned men with paint or masks on their faces??? Where do these thoughts come from!? I imagined that at the stroke of midnight, fireworks would launch into the congested Chinese sky and crowds would roar in drunken disorder. Older generations of parents would shed unwiped, thick tears of happiness in light of the snake and no baby would rest in the comfort of their mother’s bosom due to the thumping sounds of music, fireworks, and coughing.

Chinese New Year is nothing like that. Here it goes:

First of all, this holiday lasts much longer than a day or two and also goes by the name of Spring Festival. Chinese New Year/Spring Festival lasts 15 days, if not longer for some people. It is the most important annual festival of the year.

I'm sure it is a celebration of many things, but I have been told by my Chinese friends that it is a celebration of family togetherness and new life which is symbolized by what newly blossoms each spring. Love is in the air.


                   My Chinese New Year Experience

Boom! Ppppop! Pppppop! Pshheewwwww! On February 9th, I woke up at 5:50am assuming China was in warfare. Ah shit, Japan! Keep the damn useless diaoyu islands! Keep them! We surrender! After coming to, I realized they were just fireworks. I wish I could say that quelled my agitation. Unforeseen fireworks at 5:50 am. I heard crackling and popping which mimicked the sound of a hand grenade right outside my window. It was a constant crescendo of noises which gradually escalated throughout the day (even when I thought they could not escalate any more). The cat I am cat-sitting, Vendetta, instantly became obsessed with my window and the meowing became that of a hungry stray. Headphones in, back to sleep I went.

I got up around 9:00 am while the fireworks were still in effect, though I saw nothing out my window. I had no visual of active life, but simply a vista of barren apartment windows. Where were the clothes and hanging raw sausages? I saw no car, no dog, and no people (not even the morning "trash pickers"). Maybe it was an invasion!

I decided to take a walk around noon with my pepper spray, just in case I did in fact hear terrorists. My grandma would be so proud! I knew places would be closed, but I was hoping something fun would be happening in the streets or I would see something cool like a person in a snake costume or a crazy old man trying to swallow fire. Maybe someone would offer me a Harbin (a cheap beer). Not knowing what thrills the day would bring, I wore my most expensive mascara (makeup is way too pricey here) and actually styled my cavewoman-like hair.

I followed a yellow-brick-road of red tissue paper outside of my apartment complex. Not a single human being in sight, but this flashy red paper was everywhere. After making my way to a main street, the movie 28 Days Later came to mind: Here I am in a flowing city that is exhaustively overpopulated, produces endless loads of uncultivated traffic, emits sounds of spitting and phlegmy throat clearing every millisecond, and where you must walk in a pivoting motion in order to avoid bumping into other people. However, there was no sound. I saw nothing. There were no people. Forget about traffic, I barely even spotted a car on a usually frenzied street. There were no dogs. There were no cigarettes. Shops, cafes and restaurants were gated closed. Did I miss something? Surely zombies or whatever infectious outbreak caused this evacuation or execution would find me soon.

Eerie. There weren't even any bums. I have become so accustomed to the constant sounds of life here in China (alarms, beeping, the ba-ba-ba Chinese language, nose blowing, spitting, the coughing up of phlegm, laughing, garbage being wheeled around, the music that water-blasting-machine-on-the-road-that-kills-everything-it-rains-on makes, etc.) that when I was subjected to silence (normalcy), I felt uneasy. It didn't feel right. Zombies!

I continued my walk. I saw an occasional car or two. I walked down a generally busy, haggard side street where I go for hole-in-wall food (so unhealthy and delicious) and for the first time ever, I saw it deserted. Everything was shut down. I would have no joutsa or Taiwanese banana wrap today. All I heard was the cool wind blowing and the occasional firework somewhere in the distance. Aha! Coming to the end of the street, I saw a sign of life: a man and his firework stand. Eying up the fireworks, I was clueless of their assembly. They did not look like the fireworks I was used to seeing. I seriously contemplated buying in, but resisted when it occurred to me that I had nobody to celebrate with and that if something went wrong (I blew my hand off), nobody would be there to call an ambulance. Come to think of it, I didn’t even know how to call an ambulance or the police. I colored too much Primary school.

I walked in a few directions and for the most part saw nothing but a hazy, sunlit sky. I did occasionally see men lighting firecrackers in the road. I would either find them chucking something similar to a “popper”, only much louder, or I would find a firecracker that flew around at waist level in gold-spirally-shapes that lasted about four seconds and was over. It made a piercing decrescendo sound of dzshoooooo.

Heading home, I passed through Hongkou Lou where I saw a stretched line of vendors selling everything from fireworks to festive kid’s clothing. There was so much red it madfe everything look the same. Men were wheeling fireworks down the street and women were selling balloons on their bicycles. I actually found a place that was not closed: McDonald's. Well what do you know! I lingered in for kafei (coffee). I've been to this McDonald's before and unless you're here bright and early or late at night, you can barely find a seat unless it’s directly next to the squat toilet. It’s as if every day is a holiday at Mickey D’s. It must be their hotdog wrap. At 2:00pm, I was shocked at its emptiness. I was welcomed to any seat in the house. I stopped dead in my tracks just to stand there and take in the unimaginable reality that lay before me: McDonald's in China, dead. Far across from my seat in the corner were two Chinese guys drinking their own beer. Funny how you can bring your own beer to McDonald's in China.

A usually PACKED McDonald's was empty.

Everyone traveled home to be with their families and would remain there for days or weeks. The New Year is a time to forgive and forget any drama you share with your family members and start fresh. They celebrate with a lavish dinner (within means of their income) and participate in a feast of good luck to the New Year (without using words such as "ghost" or "sick" because it will bring bad luck upon the new year). They put their troubles behind them and chow down in celebration.
I wonder if forgive and forgetting is truly that easy?

To participate in their Chinese traditions, I shared a "lavish" dinner with Vendetta which consisted of vegetables and tofu; and forgave her for breaking my kitchen window at 1:00am, AND for knocking over a full pitcher of clean water on the kitchen floor in the process. Happy New Year. 

Vendetta trying to hide behind my water kettle.

She models in her spare time.

Getting back to my apartment was the worst. For one, I wasted my expensive mascara. More irritably, I found the silence unbearable. It was awkward enough that I didn't have to work, but most of my friends were on some vacation, and my roommate left. Now it was so deadly silent that the only thing I could hear was my own thoughts with the occasional interruption of firecrackers. I would walk in my apartment and think, "Okay, what now?" It was just me and Vendetta celebrating this still, sober Chinese New Year.

I would say the fireworks became a little over-the-top once 9:00pm hit. From 9:00pm to 2:00am, fireworks were going off like it was everybody's business (right outside my apartment). They weren't the type of fireworks you might imagine (LiteBrite in the sky). They were the traditional orange/yellow colored ones and they did not shoot as high or last long at all. Don't get me wrong, they were better than nothing, but they weren't anything I'd catch myself gazing at. As a matter of fact, I was ready for it to be over. At home, we go for effect and aesthetic appeal. Here, I think they just go for the loudest most obnoxious sound they can emit. Long periods passed with a blank sky, and yet it sounded as if machine guns and grenades were launched, over and over and over. China never ceases to puzzle me. Vendetta was going absolutely mad. At 2:00am I was forced to plug in ear phones and call it a night. Vendetta would just have to suck it up.

                                                      Spring Festival

Though the initial day of the Chinese New Year was over, that did not mean the fireworks were over or the streets would go back to normal. It was the same as the day before: barren streets, no traffic, and fireworks all morning, afternoon and evening.

I could not stand being in the apartment any longer. I had an invitation from my Chinese friend, Candy, to stay with her at her parents house in another city called Zhenjiang. I took her up on her offer. After cat-proofing the apartment, I took the metro to the train station and using the Chinese ticket information Candy sent me, booked a ticket and headed out of Nanjing. It was nice and easier than I thought. A few months ago, going to a Chinese train station and having to buy my own train ticket would have intimidated the hell out of me.

Candy and Scott picked me up around 2:00pm and we headed to a popular temple/park in Zhenjiang. It was okay. It was centered around the most popular Buddhist in China or something. Honestly, I was a little under the weather and just did not give a damn about any history. I just wanted out of the apartment and to check out Candy's hometown. At this temple, there were were so many incents my eyes I couldn't blink my dry eyelids; people were praising some sacred ash; praying; coins were being thrown at dragon heads for luck; candles were lit; there were a lot of steps; and I was coughing up as much phlem as every old man in Nanjing. At home, I can control my bodily fluids. Here, nasty "matter" just comes out of me and I have no say in the...matter.

After the temple, we took a taxi to downtown. I really enjoyed seeing another city. Candy pointed out her old primary school and we were all sad to see that one of the best places you can purchase stinky dofu (apparently they were even showcased on American tv) was shut down for the holiday.
Who knew a tiny little cart on wheels could provide one of the world's best stinky dofu? How is there such thing as world's best stinky dofu? What's next, best toe fungus?

side note: stinky dofu is fried tofu that smells really, really, really, really bad.

We ordered street food from a cart across from it. This guy was selling stinky dofu, fried hotdogs, and fried radish cakes. Apparently they have amazing fried radish so I tried it. It was yummy! I've had radish a few times since I've been here and it is really decent. I had no idea you could do so much with a radish. I have a sweet radish soup recipe I will be sure to bring home with me.

Later we picked up some Harbin from a marketplace and took the bus to Candy's parents villa. Now that was scary. The neighborhood, not the villa. They live in the countryside, and being it was a holiday on top of being out of the city, there were NO CARS. It was Nowheresville.

The villa was neatly polished, cultured and tasteful; one of the finer homes I've been in. It was large and spacious; too large for only two residents! Much like the other homes I've been in, it is taller in height than it is wide. They all extend upward. Perhaps to save land space? It was four floors. The walls were white; free of dust; rooms had high ceilings; modernity throughout; and I admired the view of the upstairs open kitchen/dining room from the first floor. I also loved that they had two pet chickens and a lovely vegetable/orange garden.

Her parents made us dinner. It was a delicious assortment of beef, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, greens, (real) chicken soup and I'm not sure what else I was eating. Her mother did not know any English, but her father knew a little. He was so cute. I felt he tried using English at every possible moment he could, as if he were excited to show of the English he practiced in high school. Ah, I give him credit! His generation, the Mao generation, mainly learned Russian.

Later that night we sat around and watched a ton of Chinese tv. There were spurts of English here and there. We watched a cooking show: Chinese vs Western cooking, music awards, Chinese Idol (yes, they have a Chinese Idol and it was hilarious), a few music videos, comedians and a concert which included American artists. We listened to and watched booming fireworks from the windows. Candy's mother served us diced pears. I enjoyed myself. I can get down with Chinese tv and pears.

That brings me to today. After a nice lunch, served again by Candy's parents, we took a walk and later caught the bullet train back to Nanjing. The fireworks are still going and it still looks like China was evacuated. I tried to pick up medication for this nasty cough I've had for weeks now, but they were closed.

*You know, for the longest time I couldn't FIND medicine. I didn't know they have special stores for medicine and you have to tell a guy exactly what you want and he gets it for you. You can't just pick up NyQuil or Tylenol on a shelf and be on your way. Candy had to text me the closest thing to Robitussin she could think of in Chinese for me to show the man. Thanks Dr. Candy!


Remnants of fireworks



The only street life

These 2 kids were lighting firecrackers

Clean up your trash!

This man was selling fruit and fireworks on the curb. Totally normal.


This will never happen again. NO TRAFFIC!



Scott and Candy


I wish I had a constant tour guide to explain to me what goes on.

Street food in Zhenjiang

Scott and Candy waiting for their stinky dofu

Chinese New Year Decorations

Raddish cakes, fried hotdogs, stinky dofu

Raddish cake (yummy)!

Chinese New Year Decorations