I started working in the Beijing office last week and had lunch with a local woman who works there with me. Being only on my fourth day in China, I was excited to meet and spend time with a Beijinger and to share a nice meal with someone my age. I also saw this as a great opportunity to ask her some very important questions, such as “on what occasion should I wear a traditional Chinese silk dress? (A: weddings and formal parties)” and “is there really a language accent in Chengdu? (A: yes, and even those fluent in Manadarin have a hard time understanding Sichuanese)”. We also discussed one of the well-known streets by my hotel- The Wangfujing Snack Street and nearby night market.

This area is renowned for it’s- we’ll say unique- foods. All of these treats can be eaten either on a stick or stabbed with toothpicks. Everything from tame fruit on a stick or egg and potato omelettes to the wild options- spiders, snakes, whole fish, starfish, and scorpions. When I asked my new friend about what the locals think about eating bugs her reply was, “oh, no, those are mostly just to impress the tourists”.

Seahorses and baby scorpions, still alive pre-cooking.

Seahorses and baby scorpions, still alive pre-cooking.

Later that day, Bruce and I found ourselves in the area of Snack Street. Bruce had been doing research on these bugs and worked up the courage to test out his stomach strength on baby scorpions. It’s three-to-a-stick and the stall owner gladly shows you how fresh the 2-inch long critters are (they’re still moving!) before sprinkling some seasoning and slapping them on the open grill. An excited Bruce looks on, awaiting his meeting with scorpion destiny.

Two minutes later, Bruce is holding the badge of honor, an empty stick. “they’re kind of good!” he says, “like crunchy cajun french fries!”.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to hold back the vomit-in-my-mouth feeling. I may be willing to try a few new things, but it’ll take a long time before I eat a bug. I think he’s truly looking forward to the next food challenge, and the squeals of “gross!!!” coming from his wife just make him all the more adventurous.

@HoustonTrash, Director Harry J. Hayes, Mayor @anniseparker, @spanjian, and @texasdowe: Here is an idea for cost effective replacement of the entire Houston Solid Waste Management fleet. Houston can have recycling for all!

 

 

“We moved to China!”

If you were to build a word cloud for all our conversations, the most frequent statement you’d hear and see in that word cloud would be, “We moved to China.”

Other there are little modifiers: Oh my god… (i.e.,“OMG, we moved to China!”), Holy cow,  Oh geez…, Thank god…, etc. There is a different paraphrasing for each of the emotional high, lows, sideways, and everything in between. Just an hour ago Emily said, “We’re in Beijing.” (Like, “woah we took the red pill”, no pun intended, versus just a general “whaddya know Cletus, we’re in Beijing!”)

Similar statements have also been made about learning and figuring out wordpress for this blog. 

Just a week ago we… 

  • Flew over the north pole to get here – 18 hour flying time with a break in Toronto (super nice airport by the way)
  • Arrived at our hotel with sushi and cocktails as our first meal (mojito for me, sake cocktail for her) – we also began learning the customs of the culture such as if/when to tip.
  • Began to use nǐhǎo for most of our interactions. It means “Hello!”

So nǐhǎo and welcome to our website. OMG!!!! We moved to China!!!!

We knew months ago that moving to China would be a life-changer.  I’m not sure we knew what we were really getting ourselves into!

After 9 days in Beijing, I’ve learned a few important things.  This is, of course, not everything.  We’ll expand on some of these later too, but I wanted to share some highlights. I’ll list them out, because that’s easier:

  1. 6 Cocktails + 3 Pizzas = $60

    I know very little useful Mandarin.  What I do know is almost useless, also.  Apparently the tonal language thing is simple in theory, but difficult in practice.  On the other hand, grammar is crazy easy!  No verb conjugation or changes in tense.  Only need to know how to pronounce everything perfectly.

  2. I feel far safer here than I ever did in Houston.  People are just not interested in hurting anyone.
  3. Though a lot is different, so many things are the same.  Life is the same – people going to work, eating, drinking, socializing, shopping, appreciating great history and culture, and spending time with family.  Ultimately, people are deep down very similar no matter where you are in the world.
  4. Traffic rules? forget ’em.  You cross the street at your own risk.  And Beijing taxis are either the worst or best drivers in the world. I actually applauded a sneaky move one of my drivers pulled off to get out of gridlock.
  5. I say gridlock and I mean it.  When traffic gets heavy, drivers are less inclined to let ANYone through in from of them.  Intersections get locked up.  No one moves for several light cycles.  Engines turn off. And you wait.
  6. Most things are less expensive here, except coffee shops, wine and luxury goods.  Cocktails? Cheap- had a Bombay Martini for $5 yesterday!  Full Peking Duck dinner at an award-winning restaurant and leaving stuffed with food and drinks?  About $40/person.
  7. You know those cans of teeny little mandarin orange slices? They have the real thing!  And they’re awesome! (and cheap!)
  8. The pollution can be bad. Also, it has a smell, like bonfires.  However, when the PM2.5 is low like it has been for most of our time here, it is gorgeous.  Beijing is a really beautiful city.  If it’s been more than a few years since you’ve visited, chances are a lot has changed.
  9. On the other hand, I’m grateful for the things that seem to have remained the same for centuries or even millennia.  I love the attention to detail and how so many places are the perfect amount of picturesque.
  10. The practicality of the Chinese knows no bounds.  a) Why would I wait for you to get off the subway before I get on? The doors are open!  b) Why would I hit another car in traffic? That would be so inconvenient!  c) Why would I swallow this spit, when I can just hack it onto the street?  d) Why would I pay so much for something when I know I can bargain it down to almost nothing?

We hear that Chengdu is a few years behind Beijing on the integrating-with-the-world front.  Beijing has been a great place to start out and get over the initial “oh my god I moved to China” hump.  Looking forward to many more posts over the next year!