Chinese views on US politics

Given the past 5 years of living in DC, I’m a little burnt out on political discussion – but I think I should post a few thoughts. Why? Because I just started laughing at this excellent/horrible verbal gaffe by President Obama at the Congressional Black Caucus fundraiser. He sure knows how to rile up the base!

If you’re too lazy to watch, here’s a rough transcript: “When you start saying, at a time when the top one-tenth of one percent have seen their incomes go up four or five times over the last twenty years, and folks at the bottom have seen their incomes decline, and your response is that you want poor folks to pay more — give me a break. If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew — as a janitor — makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that as a badge of honor.” Nice recovery, Hitler!

It’s no secret that I think our President, despite his excellent oratory skills, is completely inept at running the Federal government. It’s not entirely his fault that our government barely functions, however. No, I’m not referring to the perpetual Congressional battles – I’m referring to the bloated bureaucracy accumulated over the past 60 years that we’ve created in order to reach lofty ideals. Both political parties have used raw rhetoric as justification for bad policies – like triple incentives for corn-based ethanol in the name of energy independence and climate change.

I try to read a Chinese newspaper (in English) whenever I can. State-controlled medias do not report on domestic politics, but they certainly report on new policies. Sometimes its a little shocking how fast the government makes up its mind on a specific issue and takes action. For example, last month when the blogosphere was decrying the greedy/dependent nature of Chinese women (true), the government codified prenuptial agreements and banned all claims from women seeking assets of a soon-to-be-ex-husband that were accumulated prior to the marriage. If I had anything of significant financial value, I’d be thrilled for this policy.

But anyways, back to US politics. I’ve watched a few of the GOP debates and read the associated Chinese reporting. It’s obvious that the Chinese love Jon Huntsman. He was the US Ambassador here for two years, he speaks fluent Chinese and he’s a real shuaige (handsome guy). The comparisons of Rick Perry to George W. Bush are obligatory in every single article, although I personally think that Perry makes Bush seem like a Rhodes Scholar. They’re also iffy on Mitt Romney – kind of like the Republican base.

Republicans often take the hard-line on bilateral relations with China and Chinese trade, but it’s just all talk. The Chinese want our economy to succeed because they understand that their own is locked to ours. Chinese people think President Obama is a bad for everyone, especially them. The reporting on the latest “jobs” bill is being called a “re-election” bill in most media outlets – and I’m not talking about the right-wing blogosphere, either. Chinese economists in the news love using the words “futile” and “worthless” and associated synonyms. For a country that takes extremely bold economic experiments/initiatives, its astounding to hear Chinese people criticize an US President who takes baby steps in comparison.

Even the general Chinese public dislikes Obama. For the past 4000 years, Chinese have had very strong central rule. They think its pathetic that he can’t get anything done. They’re mad he can’t improve the economy. They’re beyond livid at his inability to tackle the US debt problem, especially since the hold the majority of it. Throw in the fact that Chinese people are racists – and you have almost 1.5 billion people that want to see a new US President.

Capitalism is the new hotness in China. Sure, we still refer to China as Communist, but they’re so focused on the $$$ that we really need a new word to describe the nation. People spend 2 months salary on a cell phone every year or so – we spend that (theoretically) once in our lives on a wedding ring. Being seen as wealthy is so hot right now that Chinese people are willing to pay $12 US for a Corona at a dive bar.

Anyways, let me get back to my original point: Obama is making us look worse than under George W. Bush. We’ve lost our political clout in the international community, which the Chinese are capitalizing off of. They use the UN vote on a Palestinian state to ingratiate themselves with the Muslim world despite historical repression of all religions. They blame a 6.2% inflation rate (which is still lower than the previous three years) on a floundering US dollar while neglecting to mention massive purchases of European debt and a currency peg that incorporates other foreign monies.

I never wanted to see President Obama fail. Lose re-election (or never win in the first place), yes. But when someone campaigns on promises to restore our international standing and ends up making our reputation worse than under George W. Bush, it’s just pathetic. And if you’re a Jew who plans to vote for Obama again, then shame on you.



Bathroom Culture

This post does not necessarily reflect the female perspective, but from my conversations with friends, similar themes most certainly apply.

If you’ve read earlier posts from my blog, you must understand my displeasure with the selection of toilet papers found in China. If not, allow me to reiterate: the Chinese are practically using sandpaper to wipe their asses. Stores that sell “soft” toilet paper are actually selling double-ply tissue paper like you’d use in elementary school art class. In public bathrooms if there even is toilet paper, its worse. But most of the time there isn’t any TP, so you’ll be lucky to find a pile of paper towels stacked by a good Samaritan.

Chinese bathrooms and their associated culture goes way past mere toilet paper. First you have the layout of the old-style Chinese apartment bathroom: one small room with toilet (western-style), sink and shower head – no room for a shower curtain. The drain is in the middle of the floor and when you shower, everything gets wet. More modern apartments have a distinct shower area with a curtain or divider stall, but bathtubs are extremely rare and 24-hour hot water is a luxury.

There are two different types of toilet: western-style flusher and squat pot, which is a slanted trough with foot ridges on the sides to ensure you don’t slip into the valley of shitpiss.

Public restrooms are disgusting. Is that really a surprise for a city of 19 million? I’m not sure if Chinese men have bad aim or if they just don’t have enough penis to grasp properly, but urine is usually everywhere. I’d rather lick a toilet seat in Grand Central Station than sit on one of these disgusting things. Furthermore, because the plumbing is bad, most people deposit their used TP in a trash can next to the seat/trough. If there isn’t a trash receptacle of some sort, the TP is usually in a pile in the corner.

Most privately owned and operated places take much better care of their restrooms, but in multipurpose places they’re just plain disgusting.

Then there is the culture of actually using the bathroom. In this respect, Chinese people have no shame. Doors to stalls are often open. I’ve contemplated leaving the stall door open for better air circulation, I’ll admit that much. But it’s not uncommon to walk down a line of stalls and start to turn in a seemingly open one just to discover someone is currently saying farewell to their previous meal. Standing up at a toilet (not a urinal) precludes a door-open situation.

It’s the urinal etiquette that travelers need to prepare for. Chinese are peepers when it comes to foreigners. I’ve asked my ABC (American Born Chinese) friends and they assure me this doesn’t happen to them. My other male friends agree with my assessment. There’s absolutely no shame in their actions. They’ll choose the urinal right next to you even if there are further ones away, and look over at your naughty bits. I’m sure they’re wondering if the stereotypes are true.

I’m not exactly sure what the appropriate response is. Do I give them the full-frontal shot? Look over at theirs and “accidentally” pee on their leg? Turn my back to them? Or just pretend like it’s not happening? But it is happening. Always.

It’s getting noticeably better, though. Since I was here 6 years ago, the Chinese have made vast strides in shitter design and technology. Places are adopting the low-water power-flush models. They’re building them with air circulation. With larger pipes to accomodate toilet paper and massive dumps from fat American tourists. They’re moving away from communal-style bathrooms shared by multiple enterprises to in-facility facilities. Better barriers are being erected between toilets. The toilet seat is even getting larger, presumably because more Chinese are adopting the Western diet (i.e. they’re getting fat). I’m pleased. I’d say they’ll catch up to us in bathroom design well before they catch up to us economically, which likely won’t happen in my lifetime.

Thank you Howie for bringing me a 4-pack of ultra-soft double Charmin from the USA.



World’s Fastest Bike, Part 2

My first bike got stolen. Biggest. Downer. Ever.

My bike was right outside my apartment building. Apparently someone must have just picked it up, lock and all, and put in on the back of their other bike.

So I just bought a new bike. I thought that the first one was fast, but this one is seriously fucking schweeeeeet.

It’s so fast it can actually defy the space-time continuum, hence the model name, “SpaceTime.” When I rode it back to my apartment, I actually arrived about 3 minutes before I left the bike shop. This should significantly cut down the time on my commute to Chinese class.

Also of note: this time I decided not to buy a bright blue bicycle. Hopefully this color won’t appeal to thieves.

Thoughts on Having a Visitor

I hosted my first visitor. Since I don’t use real names on this blog (they’re watching me), I’ll refer to my guest as Howie. He stayed for 10 days, and together we travelled all over Beijing and Shanghai. I wish we could have gone to more rural parts of China, but it was certainly a great introduction to a massive country. It’d be like going to the USA and only seeing NYC and LA… there’s a lot more than just two cities.

This post won’t be about our travels, but rather, my observations of tourists in China who come with absolutely no idea of what to expect. My good friend also has a buddy visiting, and I’ve noticed the same things with him.

This country is filthy. No shit, Sherlock. There’s 1.6 billion people in China, most of which are jam-packed into cities on the Eastern seaboard. If heavy industry, electricity production, automobiles and more are all stuffed into a small area, it’s going to have air pollution, filthy water and nauseating smells. Furthermore, Beijing is a 700+ year-old city – it was never designed to hold 19 million people and their cars.

The food isn’t anything at all like Chinese food in America. I’m pretty pleased we didn’t have any incidents of, “Where’s the fortune cookie?” But no, I can’t order in a Chinese restaurant without a picture menu. “Empress Chicken” doesn’t describe the flavor of the dish. And although some Chinese food is cheap, good food is often not. Each meal could be had for anywhere from $7 to $15 per person, provided you don’t drink beer like its going out of style. I had Chinese food for 10 days straight aside from a Burger King attack while in the middle of Shanghai. I have no intention of eating Chinese food for the next week.

When negotiating for goods, it’s a game of how little you can get ripped off. If you think of shopkeepers as (decent) human beings, you’re going to overpay. Just because they give an initial price of 1280 RMB for a silk robe with an embroidered dragon doesn’t mean you should start at 500 RMB. Offend them with a low price. Tell them you’re a poor student. Hide money outside of your wallet and resort to showing them how little you have. Lie and say you have three kids. Call them pretty. Everything can work – provided you’re willing to spend your time wasting theirs. The aforementioned 1280 RMB silk robe we ended up getting for 200 RMB, and I’m sure we could have gotten it lower. If you’re attracting a crowd of Chinese onlookers, then you’re doing it right. If the shopkeeper gets angry, you’re doing it right. But also know that you might have to walk away because sometimes the shopkeeper just doesn’t want to lose face. As a general rule, I like to give my price as 5-10% of what they originally quote.

Chinese have no manners. In previous posts I’ve detailed my frustrations with getting on elevators, going through doors and riding the subways. It’s not that they don’t have no manners, its that their version of polite is different from ours. A few good things to do would be to ask people for their business cards and receive it with both hands. The same type of reception should be used for pretty much anything handed to you. Staring is common, so feel free to stare back. Don’t expect the Chinese to sneeze into their hands. Carry anti-bacterial, alcohol-based liquids because the bathrooms are too dirty to wash your hands in. Also, pedestrians yield to cars, not vice versa.

Learn a few Chinese words. You can say Ni Hao (hello) to Chinese people, but you’re probably saying it wrong and even if you spoke the language correctly, they won’t say it back. Ask your host how to say the following: thank you, how much, pretty, don’t want, waiter, beer. The Chinese love it when you speak their language – after all, you are in their country. I applaud Howie for learning these words and more. He really made an effort to not be the obnoxious American who demands to speak English all the time.

Carry cards with the Chinese addresses of places you want to go. You’re definitely saying the address wrong. It’s a tonal language. The chances of your cab driver knowing the English name of a place or hotel is about 1 in a million. (So you’re saying there’s a chance!)

Rice comes at the end of a meal. If you don’t ask for it to come at the beginning of the meal, it’ll come at the end.

That’s all I can think of for now.

1 Month in China: What I Miss/Don’t Miss About America

USA! USA! Greatest Country in the World!

In all seriousness, I’ve been in China for just over a month now. I love it here and I don’t regret my decision to come start a new life. However, I’d like to share my thoughts about what I miss about the USA and what I don’t miss about the USA.

What I miss most (in no particular order)

  • Soft toilet paper
  • Price tags on goods. Negotiating for everything can get tiring.
  • Large cuts of high-quality meat, especially beef
  • Dryers
  • Common courtesy
  • Traffic laws
  • Masses of people who wear deodorant
  • Reliable construction
  • Proper sewage systems
  • My family and friends
  • People who let you pet their dogs
  • Soft toilet paper (again)
  • People who can cut my hair
  • Foods with expiration dates (China uses the born-on system with no indication of how long until a good spoils)
  • Smart, independent women. Seriously, this country is in desperate need of an equal rights movement. Women are basically trained to be dumb slaves to their husbands. At some point I’ll have to write a post on this.
  • The wide variety of food available.
What I don’t miss:
  • Obese people
  • Environmentalists and climate change alarmists
  • Expensive massages
  • President Obama and blind/devout supporters
  • Poor service at restaurants as well as obligatory…
  • Tipping

Inner Mongolia, Part 2 – Saturday

Forgive me if this post relies extensively on pictures and captions.

We woke up at 6:30 in order to get breakfast before our 7:30 bus ride to the grasslands. Breakfast at the hotel was excellent – a Western-style buffet! Although the buffet itself was relatively small and completely empty, I greatly enjoyed having unlimited amounts of bacon (in Chinese it’s “pei-gen”) as well as Coco Puffs, which I obviously went coocoo for. I think it was the second time I’ve used a fork and knife since coming to China. My skills with them have somewhat languished, but I subscribe to the “shoveling” method of eating and here in China its common to bring the bowl to your face when you’ve got the much.

We said our goodbyes to the Presidential Suite. The sadness was amplified by the fact that Willa told us during breakfast we’d be sleeping in Mongolian tents tonight. Going from a 5-star hotel (according to China’s rating agency) to a tent in the grasslands? All I could think was….

from the HBO program "The Wire"

We rolled up to the bus with a ton of Chinese snacks courtesy of Willa’s mother. The bus itself was smaller than a Greyhound-style bus, but somehow still manages to fit 30 people in it like sardines. Plus we were in the last row, an elevated row, with absolutely no space for our legs. I was pretty grateful to be small and scrawny as our German friend was 6’3″ and extremely displeased with the whole situation. We gave him the middle aisle spot and even then his knees poked out in front of the seat in front of him. Its also worth mentioning that we arrived about 5 minutes late, so when we White Devils stepped on the Chinese-only bus we got the “what are they doing here” stares. I made sure to say Ni Hao and smile to every one of them after announcing, “Waiguoren dao le” or “Foreigners have arrived.” A few of the Chinese people responded with the oh-so common, “Hello hello.” One day I’m going to break it to the Chinese that we say hello only once and that twice doesn’t make it any more polite.

Our destination was 4.5 hours northwest of the city of Baotou. As this was a Chinese tour group, Willa warned us that the guide would be talking the entire ride. Not only did she speak zero English, but the loudspeaker system had a significant echo for being in such a small bus. Her annoying, nasal voice prompted me to learn how to say “shut up” in Chinese. I didn’t say it because Willa taught (reminded) me on the condition I not say it very loud. I’ve only been here 3+ weeks, but she knows me well.

"I'm really annoying and stupid!"

The Chinese people clearly had the same sentiment, judging by how many of them kept trying to sleep over her monotonous history of Inner Mongolia, which I’m sure was absolutely thrilling. One girl even put her hands around here ears and fell asleep in that position.

The drive itself was beautiful albeit often bumpy. At one point we hit a bump at full speed and I hit my head on the ceiling thanks to our elevated seating position. Apparently it was very funny, but I wouldn’t know – I only laugh when other people get hurt.

Just outside of Baotou

A new mountaintop mining operation from afar

We must have seen 1000 trucks carrying mined material for processing

Over time the mountains turned into rolling grasslands and farms

Welcoming committee to the grasslands

We arrived to the place of our afternoon activity, a Mongolian tent-hotel with horseback riding and dirt bikes and picturesque views. We immediately bought matching cowboy hats for $2.30. I wanted to negotiate, but in all honestly I just felt bad that they were $2.30. Typically I’ll ask “how much” and automatically respond “too expensive” no matter what, but I held back. If you’re thinking, “Awww, he’s such a sweet kid” for paying full price then you’re going to be in for a shock in a few paragraphs.

Our group

Lunch was decent. We started off with the traditional small salty dishes, some of which aren’t salty at all but rather quite spicy. We moved on to veggie dishes, then meat dishes and rice. Sitting family-style with non-English speaking Chinese is always a joy – you repeat the same answers to the same questions each time, they compliment you on your Chinese, then conversation runs out of steam. It does seem like they eat significantly less than us foreigners, but I also think that’s because they’re skilled with chopsticks and grabbing food isn’t such a labor (of love). Our next meal, which would involve alcohol, would be far more amusing.

Right before we got on the horses I popped two Zyrtec to fight off allergies caused by the horse and the fresh air. It’s funny, the pollution in Beijing might be disgusting but as soon as I get into the countryside, I’m in snot city. Population: 1.

My horse had a legit mullet.

I’ve ridden a horse a couple of times, but I’m by no means proficient. I think horses are just smelly shit factories and riding them is uncomfortable. I prefer the rich corinthian leather and plush seats of a large, air-conditioned SUV. You can’t eat horses, either, although I’m sure I will at some point over the next year or so.

Anyways, our English travel buddies explained to me the difference between the English Saddle, Western saddle and what we were using. Here’s the grand takeaway: these are uncomfortable. I discovered that a full gallop is extremely tiring but a trot is when your ass really takes a beating. [Insert your own joke here.] My favorite part was when the horse was just walking – you still get a nice burn in your core. Gettin’ huge in Inner Mongolia!

At our first stop on the horse tour, we got to meet the flock of sheep and take pictures of us in traditional Mongolian garb. I was going to put it on the dress, but it smelled of horseshit and Chinese people who don’t wear deodorant.

Chinese people being tourists in their own country

Baby lamb = Mongolian dog

Really cute. No sarcastic comment here.

Kisses! I paid 10 RMB to hold the little lamb for these pictures.

I was singing Circle of Life from The Lion King as loud as I could while the rest of the group stared at me.

I tried to buy the baby lamb. She said she paid 300 RMB ($46) for it and said it would be worth 1000 RMB ($156). My initial offer was 305 RMB, but after much negotiation we were close to settling on 600 RMB. Then she asked why I wanted to buy it, and I thought I said I wanted to kill and eat it, but Willa explained that I used the verb for murder in a gruesome fashion. Whoops. No sale. Totally my bad.

Prayer pillar at the top of a hill

We then rode up and down a hill. Truly exciting. My horse took a massive dump at the top.

Our next stop was the “wetlands,” i.e. a small swamp/riverbed that was maybe 20 meters wide. It just so happened that there was a tourist shop there that served milk tea and sold naijiu. Naijiu translates to “milk liquor” is supposedly fermented milk, but it takes to me like a sweet version of baijiu (the white liquor that serves as China’s defacto national booze), which in turn tastes like pure gasoline. One time back in 2005 I saw a guy at the college of my study abroad program use baijiu to degrease his bicycle chain.

Naijiu, or milk liquor in a Genghis Khan bottle

I’m going to move past the horseback riding. When we got back to our bus, we were informed that we needed to board the bus immediately (4:00pm) even though the tour guide specifically told our German travel companion that the bus would leave at 6:00pm. Naturally, he was off exploring by foot. This caused a bit of friction between one Chinese passenger and our group of foreigners + Willa. He wanted to go, we wanted to wait for him. Turns out we were coming back to this place for dinner, but that was besides the point. He wanted to get to the Mongolian tent hotel and poop. We ended up leaving Willa and the English couple behind to wait for ze German, while I went on the bus to make sure somebody went back for them.

We got to our hotel and I sent a car to go pick them up. While waiting, I decided to go play with some cows. They really don’t like humans, I don’t understand how they let us milk them.

I chased this little guy for a solid 15 minutes while Chinese people took pictures.

Oh hai!

The result of a dog mating with a prarie dog

Genghis Khan at our "hotel"

After a couple of hours of rest at the tents, we went back to the site of the horseback riding for a “show” and dinner. The show consisted of the Inner Mongolians riding really fast for approximately 30 seconds and a display of traditional Mongolian wrestling. They put on these back protectors, which also are the allowed handholds that a wrestler can grab to throw his opponent on the ground. Which just happened to be covered in horseshit. There were 3 wrestling demonstrations and then they asked for audience members to try. Our English chap gave it a whirl.

I prefer the WWE.

Putting on the shit-guard.

After the unimpressive display of masculinity, we were shuffled into large tents for dinner. The menu: 1 sheep. Awesome! I’m glad I didn’t have to buy that baby lamb and do the grunt work myself. During the dinner, we were treated to some entertainment, i.e. Mongolian songs, and some drinking culture.

"Singing really loud is a custom," I was told.

The King and Queen for the night had a drink-off

My uncle the orthopedic surgeon is much better at carving up a piece of meat. This was more like a Tijuana hack job courtesy of a Mexican drug cartel.

New friends enjoying the sheep! The skin was delicious.

Om nom nom nom

A few Inner Mongolian traditions worth noting. The first is the drinking. As a initiation ritual, they make you drink 3 cups of baijiu. That’s enough to get anyone drunk. Fortunately, they watered it down so everybody could do the ritual. During the second cup, you have to dip your finger in it three times, pointing once to the heavens, once to the earth, and one swipe across the forehead. After the third, you earn your scarf. I tried explaining in Chinese that we Jews have a similar tradition in the tallit. Their only response was that Jews are very clever, as they believe all across China. Somebody did a really good-job of being introducing Judaism into China, I must say.

During dinner, some serious drinking took place. In addition to the tradition, I mean. One table next to us brought 5 bottles of baijiu to dinner. Being 4 foreigners amongst 100 Chinese people (our tour group plus 2 others), everybody wanted to drink with us and talk to us. I’m proud to say my Chinese was the best, so I must have posed for 50 pictures and had 20 different toast and by the end of dinner I was thoroughly intoxicated.

This guy was a close talker.

Yup! We're drunk! Even the little girl knocked some booze back. LOOK AT HOW TALL I AM!

When things started settling down, we went outside for a bonfire. I promptly bought some fireworks and started lighting them while our hosts serenaded us some more. During this bonfire, we locked hands and danced around in a circle – naturally I started singing hava nagila. My favorite part, however, was the fact that it was the police officer that kept throwing gasoline on the fire while the Chinese people kept screaming jia you, or “add oil.” They also shout this at sporting events to get the hometown team riled up.

Best cop ever?

When it was time to get back on the bus, I made sure the German was the first on board. After everyone boarded, I started yelling in Chinese, “where is ze German?” to the annoyance of the one Chinese guy with bowel problems. Everybody laughed, and we went back to our hotel. I shared a room with Willa and the German, who said I talked in my sleep. Apparently I mentioned donuts, the American Civil War and wanting an Android phone.

To be continued in Part 3: Sunday