Cultural Phenomena

Ever since I came to China I have wanted to share my impressions of kind of funny/slightly odd things that I have seen and experienced. I hope that I have shared some of those things, but I know there are many things I haven’t been eloquent or observant enough to capture in writing & photo. Today I found a website that has captured many of the cultural phenomena I wanted to share with you.

So here is my list of interesting things you will see in China and a link to where you can read more:

Links are from Beijing Travel Tips, commentary is my own.

Lots and lots of bicycles  There are still tons of bicycles in Beijing and everywhere else in China, for that matter. Many cities have special lanes for them, but that doesn’t stop them from riding pretty much anywhere they please. They are a major obstacle when crossing streets. I still think they are better than cars and I will be purchasing one soon.

Apartment living

I am constantly amazed by these monoliths of housing. Even in small Chinese cities, apartments are mainly found in this style. They do resemble some sort of state sponsored housing in the Soviet style, and that is indeed what they are. I’ve always lamented the fact that many Chinese housing complexes and office buildings ignore traditional Chinese design elements (like pitched roofs with dragon motifs, etc.) in favor of square, imposing, completely impersonal architecture. Most of the apartment complexes are identical. And I can personally attest to the fact that the public spaces are dirty! (Our maintenance man keeps our public areas swept and tidy, however, I don’t think that is the norm.)
One of my biggest rants about China is the fact that many complexes lock their gates at 10PM and no one is allowed to enter or leave after that. Sounds like a safety hazard to me. Sounds like perfect control to them.

Newspaper billboards

I used to pass one of these in Shijiazhuang on my way to the supermarket. Basically, it is a long board along the sidewalk where the daily newspaper is tacked up, behind glass. Every page is accessible for  reading, for free. There are always older men stopped there, peering closely at the glass.

Black hair and black eyes

This should come as no surprise! Chinese people have dark hair and dark eyes. I have copper colored hair and blue eyes. I really stick out. I often get older ladies coming in for a closer inspection of my hair. (But to be honest, I also get that in the US, too.) I am completely oblivious to this attention now.

Bike-locked doors

This is something that I have seen, but didn’t really pay too much attention to. It is very, very common and you can expect to see this on banks, schools, businesses, everywhere!

New building construction

China is booming. Even in little Linyi, there are apartment buildings and business towers under construction everywhere. Where are all the people coming from?

Anti-road crossing barriers

These things are ubiquitous in all Chinese cities. They can be very annoying, but they don’t really bother me too much because I would very seldom be crazy enough to attempt a road crossing without the slight protection offered by a pedestrian crosswalk & light at an intersection. (no guarantee for safety, however, one must look both ways constantly before crossing.) Of course I can’t find the link now, but one of my favorite photos of China is an a painted pedestrian crosswalk completely blocked by a brand new anti-road crossing barrier. (I guess they forgot to remove the crosswalk.)

Tea jar

Ah yes, the tea jar. I have one myself! Very handy for my new tea and hot water drinking obsession. The tea jar comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and designs. I even see some people using empty Tang drink powder jars or used cooked vegetable jars. They are indeed almost always see-through.

Table sleepers

I really can’t quite believe how easily a Chinese person can fall asleep, even under the most uncomfortable conditions. I am envious, honestly. I would love to be able to sleep on train rides or airplane trips or even at the local restaurant. But I can’t. (A grim reminder that I face a 24 hour journey starting later today and I know I will sleep very little.) I have even seen Chinese people sleeping over a table in a disco at 3AM. Although I couldn’t say whether it was fatigue or baijiu that did them in.

Inflatable arch

Yes, the inflatable arch is tacky, but it also represents the presence of “something” going on. And, as a curious expat, I am always looking for goings ons. In Linyi, the inflatable arch is often accompanied by a stage and a comedian, or some sort of raffle or dancing competition. When the DH and I come across this sort of activity, we sometimes unwillingly draw a bit of the crowd away to stare at us.

Bridal show

I’ve never been for sure whether the actual wedding is the draw or the elaborate and expensive photos that are taken before the wedding. There are tons of shops in Linyi and all Chinese cities where one can pick out a white gown and tux and choose settings for photos. Now that it is Spring and the blossoms are out on the trees, young couples can be seen in every park in the city posing for pictures. I was once just idly strolling through a park when I was asked to join a quick photo with a posing bride and groom.

Background music fiasco

I think this may be a major contributing factor to my void of knowledge of current & popular music. No matter where I go in China I am bombarded with easy listening classics, Kenny G, reworked Ricky Martin, Auld Lang Syne and inexplicably, techno at 11AM. At one of my favorite coffee restaurants, they play the same disco-esque song (which I loved the first evening there) repeatedly, sometimes mixing it up with the “Tennessee Waltz.” Never have I seen a people so in love with Bob Denver’s “Country Roads”, but I assure you, every one of my students can sing it word for word. They were devastated when I said Bob had been killed in an experimental airplane crash.

Big thermos flask

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the big thermos flask. She wanted to know what we call them in English. When I explained that we rarely use them in America, and only smaller ones for coffee or soup if we do, she was stunned. Personally, I don’t need to use one of these because I have an electric water cooler in my office. Another conversation arose a few weeks ago about the water cooler. Another friend kept referring to it as the “water trough.” When I explained that a trough is actually for animals, we had a good laugh. But then I wasn’t sure what to call the water cooler. See, in China, the water cooler doesn’t actually cool the water, it heats it. You have two options – boiling water or lukewarm water.

Pants slit

This really is one of the most bizarre-o things I have seen in China. Even in the dead of winter, babies and toddlers scoot around with huge holes in their pants. (Compensated for, I believe, with an enormous amount of clothing and layering. All babies here look like little Michelin men. When they are finally freed from all the clothing in late Spring, I am always amazed by their slim little legs & arms.) And they really do just drop and go wherever. I have even seen a toddler peeing in the dairy aisle of the supermarket. (Although the moms do usually try to get them to a bathroom or at least right out front the door.) More and more babies are sporting diapers, these days. But here is a question – what happens when a little tiny baby who doesn’t yet know when he has to go, goes? Does he just go all over mom? I heard that babies are trained to pee on command, with a whistle, but I don’t know if that is true or not.

Squat toilet

Ugh – the scourge of all foreigners in China. I’ve become really professional about these though. I fear no toilet.

So there you have it. A list of cultural phenomena I’ve been dying to tell you about. Follow the links for great photos and more commentary.

Hopefully this will give you something to do while I am temporarily away from the blog. I will be leaving tonight for my epic journey across Northern China to Beijing and then across the Pacific and Western US to Houston, Texas. I will be returning to the blogosphere over the weekend from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Wish me luck as I sit, contorted, on a train trying to get some shut-eye while all around me the Chinese contentedly sleep.


One Response to “Cultural Phenomena”

  1. Doug Says:

    My love kisses me
    at 10:15 pm.
    Now I explore
    my sorrow in exile
    unable to sleep in my own bed
    for a complex
    is tidy without me

    I read the daily billboard —
    lies amuse me,
    and I know
    my love will giggle with me

    But I sleep on a table
    under an inflatable arch
    hoping for inspiration
    for a bridal shower —
    rain of a different sort
    then sorrow

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