The Little Things

It’s great to be sober home! I hope you all had a great two weeks while I was gone. I tried to update my sites more and visit your blogs, but it was a losing battle with my crazy schedule which consisted daily of work and conference activities during the day, official banquets with government folks at night (where much drinking ensued), followed by unofficial but essential business-building activities that lasted until early morning (that I for some reason can’t recall).

From what I can remember, China was beyond incredible. The experts can explain it better than I, so I won’t go into how and why China will soon represent the benchmark for virtually all metrics against which modern society is measured. But let me just say when you are there, you simply feel it.

But somebody get me a decent napkin already!

Some things that you don’t realize you need until you are in China:

Paper Products: it’s nice to know from a green standpoint that 99% of public bathrooms offer no paper towels. Not even in the nicest hotels. In my 2 weeks there, I encountered only one paper towel dispenser. And I washed and dried my hands twice it felt so good. And in restaurants, they don’t give you napkins. You have to buy them. And when you do, all you get is a pack of those mini Kleenex travel tissues. That is what people use when dining. Even in a 5-star hotel. Even in a lavish 15-course state banquet. If you plan on visiting China, get used to wiping your mouth with fresh scented 2x4 tissues that shred upon the slightest contact with moisture. And if you dine in a neighborhood joint, don’t be surprised to see a roll of Charmin on the table. But not in the bathroom – it’s BYOTP in most bathrooms. Don’t discover that the hard way (luckily I was warned).

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Does the Charmin go on your lap folded or simply wadded?

Coffee: I addressed this in my Postcard from China post. Luckily this only applies to less westernized areas like Harbin, where I spent 2 weeks. I was very fortunate to enjoy some much-needed R&R in Shanghai for the last two days of my trip. And a big part of that R&R involved decent coffee. When my friend Sarah (who works with me in LA) and I found a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and were able to enjoy a couple of Iced Americanos done right, we had to clink to-go cups and raise a toast. It was that triumphant. Starbucks abound in Shanghai too. Shanghai totally rocks, by the way. That city was made for me.

Diet Coke: I was going through such withdrawal that I actually tried to drink regular Coke a couple times. I forgot how much I hate syrupy sweet sodas. I don’t think the concept of diet soda has really caught on in countries outside of the US, where traditionally “putting on weight” meant you would survive the winter. Sarah and I found Coke Zero on our last day in China. Close enough. Another clink and toast.

Air Conditioning: Harbin is arctic cold 9 months out of the year. So air conditioning is low on their list of priorities. And when summer rolls around, they probably appreciate the heat. But when you are dressed in a suit in a 90-degree conference hall for 8 hours, the word Arctic all of a sudden sounds very appealing.

Seatbelts: I’ve got to give props to the taxi drivers in China. They’ve got eyes on the back of their heads. Weaving through traffic with inches to spare and jumping into the incoming lane to overtake cars and weaving back in seconds before a head-on collision is impressive. But not in the moment, sitting shotgun with no seatbelt. I’m all for “when in Rome,” but about 3 times a day, I cursed the fact that I haven’t yet made out a will.

Panda Express: Real Chinese food is insanely good. And banquets are spectacles to behold. But I sure could have used a 2-item combo with a double order of Orange Chicken and fried rice. And a fortune cookie (China doesn’t do fortune cookies).

Newcastle: The British Empire failed here. I really wish that instead of pushing opium on my ancestors, they just opened a bunch of pubs or something. I really could have used a Newcastle. Not that I am complaining about 50 cent local beer. Your bloodstream does not discriminate brands.

Smoke-Free Dining: Smoke-free anything for that matter. I have nothing against smoking in bars and social situations, but damn, everybody’s smoking at all times: while eating (chopsticks in one hand, cigarette in the other), as they ride the elevator, in the middle of a business meeting, at a banquet, at the mall. I guess it’s one of those things you might as well do because if you’re gonna breathe it anyway, it might as well be your preferred brand.

Walk Signs: The only things a pedestrian in China can count on are his own eyes and agility. Past Frogger strategies really come back to you after about 3 days there.

But it also goes the other way. There are things in China that I have gotten used to that I will surely miss now that I’m home.

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My Kind of Town (Shanghai Is)

Cheap Beer: Being able to order beer like water (and drink it as such) is going to be hard. Being buzzed during every meal, and that being perfectly acceptable, is something I will miss. I was very surprised how much beer Chinese people actually consume. Why they aren’t all walking around with beer guts is beyond me (because I certainly took one home with me). Maybe it’s all the cardio they get trying to cross the street?

Street Food: Nothing beats street food – in any culture. It is cheap, authentic and damn good. And consuming it with copious amounts of beer kills any germs that might otherwise cause gastro-intestinal problems. In China, street vendors take over entire streets to serve people into all hours of the night and morning. I’m really going to miss being able to buy enough food and beer to stuff a group of 6 for less than $20 USD.

All Night Bars: Do I need to explain this one?

Karaoke Emporiums: We’re talking multi-story, state-of-the-art multiplexes here. For a guy who likes to sing when he’s buzzing, I was loving it. We also had to entertain a number of Japanese delegates during this time, so this made it pretty simple. One night, the Japanese delegates ditched another event we had planned for them. Guess where they went instead?

Real Chinese Food: I live in Los Angeles. For virtually any ethnic cuisine, you can experience most authentic version here. I mean, we have entire cities (plural!) that are predominantly Chinese. I thought I knew Chinese food. I don’t. Not even close. This stuff will blow you away. Describing it won’t do it justice. Just trust me on this.

Cheap Taxis: Being able to get a cab anytime, anywhere for dirt cheap just makes all-night drinking all the easier and less dangerous. Our war dollars should be spent on subsidizing the US taxi industry. We’d all be a lot happier. And oblivious to what those people are doing way over there. I think we’d all be better off, don’t you?

No Tipping, No Taxes: You don’t tip anybody for anything. I even tried to a couple times, only to be refused. I have to say that made me totally respect the work ethic of the Chinese. When you work in a restaurant and make $600 China dollars a month, and you refuse a $20 tip, that’s saying no to an extra day’s pay. I, on the other hand, will gladly take an extra day’s pay, from any one of you.

Haggling: I must admit, this was hard for me to get used to. I felt like here I was trying to save an extra $3 that means nothing to me beyond the mere sport of it, while my counterpart supported her family with these trinkets. But I got over it pretty quick. I’m feeling like some coffee right about now. A buck sixty for a Starbucks Tall Drip? We’ll see about that!