Saturday, January 17, 2009

Culture shock

Things I miss about China:

  • Elevator "door close" buttons that actually close the doors right away.
  • The pork chop noodle soup from the massage place.
  • Toothpicks provided with every meal.
  • More substantial packets of sugar. Packets here seem to have less and less sugar every year.
  • Prices. The 90 minute massage plus the above pork chop noodle soup plus any other food and drink I wanted at the spa, including on-the-spot squeezed apple-cucumber juice ... cost $15. 
Things that are really different here:
  • Carbs: Aside from rice noodles, we ate very few carbs. "Chinese food" is not served with rice there. Walking through the grocery store today, I was amazed at how many flour products we have.  

  • Litigation. A number of us noted as we walked through the Forbidden City that there were many ways to trip and hurt yourself on the irregularly-paved surface. That in the US the surface would have been fixed or the intentional variation (such as grooves in the surface) would have been cordoned off so that no one would get hurt. Instead, we had to watch our steps. Kind of liberating. 

  • News. The Kelloggs salmonella recall has been an eye opener. My first thought was actually, "So American. In China there is so much central control that there were no things like food recalls." My second thought was, "Ah, right, control of the news."

  • Inauguration burnout. While I was there, sick in bed, I watched hours of the BBC and CNN. Loving every bit of American political news. But once I returned it took me less than 24 hours to feel that the inauguration preparation is overhyped.

  • Traffic. I feel like I have PTSD from the Chinese traffic. It was remarkably bad. Like nothing I've experienced here, even as a rush-hour commuter. In Shanghai, a three-lane freeway has four lanes because people are trying to take advantage of every spare inch to get ahead. And it's not four lanes of forward motion: it's four lanes of weaving (at one mile an hour), taking advantage of that every inch. A friend rightly pointed out that the traffic would move just fine if people stopped changing lanes. Here, I was driving down San Pablo and was behind about four cars that weren't moving. Perhaps there was a stoplight. My anxiety level went through the roof as I suddenly believed I would be stuck there for hours.

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