Monday, August 25, 2008

X Marks the "Sh:" China Part One

I hear that the 2008 Beijing Olympics was (were?) the most-watched TV event ever. The internet told me that, so it must be true. Given the enormous spotlight on China during the games, I find it appropriate to post some reflections on my time beyond the Great Wall. I don't intend to cover China's human rights record or its political position because, frankly, that's been done, done, and redone. These are snippets of thought from my trip to China, snippets that wouldn't exactly make headline news, that is, if people came to me for headline news.

I went to China in the summer of 2005, and I stayed there about 3 1/2 weeks. When I got off the plane, the first thing that hit me was the smell, and boy did it hit me. If I sit here long enough and concentrate all my energies toward remembering exactly how it smelled, well, then I start to get nauseous and I ask myself why in the world I would do such a thing and can't I ever just allow myself to be happy? When I recover from my existential crisis, I remember that the smell was bad, and I leave it at that.

Toddlers use the street for potty training. They also have little slits in the backs of their pants for ease of relief. There's nothing funnier than seeing chubby little reverse Coppertone babies waddling down the street, enjoying freedom of movement in their trousers.

Mah-Jiang is the greatest.

On one particular night there, I took a girl on my team out for a one-on-one in the city. It had been a busy and stressful few days, and we were both thirsting for a break. Usually, we walked downtown or took the bus, but on this night we splurged for a couple of motorcycle taxis. Despite my pitiful attempts at Mandarin, we somehow ordered the correct Sweet and Sour Pork in a delightful hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and then we headed to the market. Someone had recommended a hair washing to us the day before, and since we were feeling adventurous, we made a beeline for the salon. It was a three-walled shop with an open front on the market street, so we could hear the noises of the city as, for the next thirty minutes, we were pampered to the extreme. You know how your stylist washes your hair before she cuts it? Well, it's that plus 25 more minutes of blissful scalp and back massage. To this day, it's the best 60 cents I've ever spent.

The food. I have mixed feelings toward the food in China. Some of it was fantastic, and I crave it to this day. If you would like to drop some fried Jiaozi (pronounced Jow-dza) off at my house tomorrow, I'd be much obliged. You may keep the mixian (Mee-shee-en) for yourself. Mixian is breakfast, and it's made up of rice noodle soup with meat and spices on top. After just a week and a half, my stomach couldn't handle mixian for breakfast any longer. I stuck to yogurt and bread after that. Last year, I accidentally ordered Drunken Noodles from a Thai restaurant. I had never tried it before, but I figured what the heck, let's be adventurous today. It was a mistake. The spices in Drunken Noodles were just the same as the spices in Mixian, and after a few bites I was nauseous for the rest of the day. Now that you know my Kryptonite, I ask that you don't exploit my weakness.

I tried some weird stuff in China, too. I had mutton on a stick from a street vendor. They told me later that maybe I shouldn't have done that. I ate a grasshopper, which tasted a bit like burnt popcorn. I also tried a snail. It tasted like death.

We were invited to a home for a tea tasting. Wow. They know their tea, and they relish it. The owner of the house told us that she and her husband spent at least an hour in their tea room each night, catching up on the day and just talking to each other. I can't imagine a better routine for life and for marriage.

The Chinese consider the ground inherently dirty (like a toilet seat is inherently dirty to you, no matter if it's brand new, straight out of the box, freshly cleaned), so they don't sit on the ground. Instead, they squat. We stayed on a college campus during exam week, and we saw students squatting in parks, books in hand. Hours later, we returned to find them in the exact same positions. They learn to squat when they learn to stand, so it's a comfortable position for them. I wish it were comfortable for me too.

The culture, the food, the norms, even the air of China were great experiences for me, but nothing, nothing compared to the people of the land. Their stories to follow in Part Two.


Six in the Mix said...

Got it. Mixian = xit. Thanks for the tip.

Vivienne's World said...

Ummm. Drunken Noodles. We are them last night for dinner!

Vivienne's World said...

That should have been "We had them last night!" I ordered them to clear my congested head. The congestion is clearly still lingering.


guess who said...

So they consider the ground inherently dirty as we consider a toilet seat dirty, and therefore, they won't sit on the ground? Your analogy breaks down, my love: I sit on a toilet seat at least twice a day.