Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chinese report: Internet users are unhealthy

An article in China Daily yesterday reported that over 70% of Chinese internet users are suffering from medical problems. The implication is that the internet causes the "sub-healthy state" of the users. Data is cited indicating that the average internet user spends less than 3 hours a week exercising, and gets less than 8 hours a day of sleep. And somehow, it makes for interesting news to report the fact that half of internet users in China get stomach aches from time to time. Now, is it likely to be the internet causing that, or the contaminated food we are eating? After describing all the ill effects of the internet, the report closes with one line stating that a survey of all Beijingers (presumably including non-internet users) shows that the occurrence of "sub-healthy" individuals is above 75%. So maybe the internet is making people healthier?

Top signs you are a foreigner

Thank you for the comments on my previous post. I did indeed leave out the fact that locals are very comfortable with breathing secondhand smoke. Last week, I watched guy get into an elevator car while holding a lit cigarette. I decided not to get on. I'm sure he thought I was crazy. This brings me to a natural follow-up to the previous post: how people can tell that you are a foreigner in China, even if you are of Chinese descent (like me) and don't even open your mouth.

You are wearing flip flops or shorts. Chinese men don't wear shorts, at least not outside in public. Wearing nice shoes or sneakers can also give you away.

You drink Diet Coke. While sugar-free drinks are increasing in popularity, they are still purchased mostly by foreigners.

You don't pull your shirt up to your chest to keep cool. Check out this guy sporting the latest summer trend.

You react when people say, "Watch? Bag? Gucci, LV?"

You're chewing gum. Don't know why, but I rarely see any gum chewing, even though it's sold in every convenience store.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Top signs you’re turning into a local

Last week, I took a phone call during dinner and was told by some friends that I was turning in to a local. I apologized; I should have known better. It’s rude to answer a phone while eating dinner, especially if you don’t even leave the table. But here in China, people even take phone calls during meetings. It’s annoying. I hate it; and I did it myself. Living in China for a while can affect even the most diehard Westerners, but just in case they can’t tell, I’ve listed the top ways that people can be “localized.”

You spit on the street. You are super local if you inhale first or clear your throat like you are hocking a lugie.

You cover your mouth when you laugh. This really only applies to women. It is interesting to note that in China, women cover their mouths when they laugh as if it’s rude to show their teeth, while men are allowed to spit chewed up food back onto their plates. The equal rights movement has not quite made it to this side of the Pacific.

You wear short sleeve dress shirts. It’s hotter than heck outside. Why would you want to wear a long sleeve cotton shirt when there are short sleeve polyester blends?

You can use a squat toilet. Extra bonus points if you don’t need stall doors, or stalls at all for that matter.

You don’t own a credit card. If you’ve made the switch to a totally paper-based monetary system and lost the desire for consumer debt, you have lost your right to consider yourself a Westerner. Some banks in China recently raised the daily withdrawal limit on ATMs to 20,000 RMB. That’s over $2,600 US, per day! In the US, the typical daily limit is $500. Even though $2,600 is more than what most people in China make in a year, sometimes you need to be able to withdraw enough money to pay for your new Zegna suit.

You take the bus. Only a local would be willing to squeeze onto a tight bus, to drive really slowly to some unpopular part of town, just to save the $2 cab fare.

You randomly yell when you need service. This is most common at restaurants, since in other locations, the service people are in your face. If you are in need of assistance, the proper response is to wait until you catch your waiter’s attention and signal for it. It’s not to look at a waiter 20 feet away and yell, “Fuwuyuan!”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back in the US of A

I was back in the Bay Area this past weekend for my sister’s wedding. I had a great time, and it wasn’t just because the wedding was a wonderful event. The weather was nice (~70 degrees fahrenheit the whole time). And even though a lot of guests complained about the overcast skies caused by recent forest fires, I thought the sky was incredibly, beautifully blue. Being back in the US reminded me of so many things I miss about home when I'm here in China. Sure, you can become incredibly content and comfortable in China; pretty much everything you want materially is available. But it's not necessarily convenient to get it.

My first stop from the airport was In-n-out for a double-double protein style. I hadn’t eaten lettuce so fresh in at least a year. Don’t know why lettuce in China sucks. Yes, the demand for Iceberg is probably lower, so the stuff we do have is less fresh. But I think it may also have to do with the fact that US restaurants soak their lettuce in ice water to make it more crisp. Since both clean water and clean ice are more precious commodities in China, the lettuce we eat is as limp as wet paper.

My next stop was to a Citibank ATM. It’s like some sort of foreign exchange loophole that I can’t exchange RMB into US dollars, but thanks to an agreement between Citibank and Union Pay (the Chinese version of Visa), I can withdraw up to $600 a day from my RMB denominated Bank of China account at any Citibank ATM in the world. Therefore, almost every day that I was in the US, I maxed out my withdraw limit.

The next day, I went to a local supermarket to buy breakfast for my family. I truly believe US supermarkets have every right in being designated “super.” It was fantastic. I didn’t go to some high end place like Whole Foods, Wegmans, or Mollie Stones; it was like a Safeway or Albertsons. What made it so nice? Nothing in particular, but a lot of little things. 1) Fresh bakery that makes sandwiches, sushi, bagels and so on. Yes, there are bakeries here in China, but of course they don’t sell bagels, nor will they sell anything except baked items. 2) Random household items like ear plugs and shoe polish. I have no idea where I would even go to look for ear plugs in China. 3) No crowd of people. There were probably less than 40 customers in the whole store when I went. 4) Self-checkout lines. I took my 5 items and checked out in less than 2 minutes. 5) Everything was clean and the aisles were wide. China has its share of hypermarts, but hyper does not equal super. Hypermarts (think Walmart/Target) are huge and can offer most of the above. But it’s not an enjoyable experience. The selection is smaller and particularly in China, there are hundreds of people pushing you around. Besides, I live in a neighborhood especially because of its proximity to Carrefour. If I lived where most people do downtown, getting to the hypermart would be a task in itself. Even New York City has its D’Agostinos, why can’t Shanghai?

I checked out a blog today that I regularly visit. It turns out that the writer was on my same flight to SFO last week and is returning today, two days after I did. There was a link to another expat forum asking the question: “What do you miss most in Shanghai?” The answers (most of which I agree with) are telling: politeness, fresh air, honesty, customer service, owning a car.

I was a little sad to get on the plane to come back to Shanghai. I’m sure my spirits will improve once I get a $6 massage, but truth be told, I’d rather have a $2 In-n-Out burger.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Xinjiang food

I recently had dinner with some friends at a Xinjiang restaurant in Shanghai. The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is in northwest China and borders Kazakhstan and Pakistan. It is heavily Muslim, which is reflected in the cuisine - lots of lamb. While the roast lamb leg we ordered was excellent, the lack of any real vegetables on the menu (as well as the intense flavor of dish after dish of lamb) will probably keep me from going back for more. However, it was really impressive to see the wide cultural range of a country as homogeneous as China.

By the way, the picture above was not taken by me during our dinner. I've borrowed a picture from Flickr that looks like the meal we had.

Air China is not much better

Check out this conversation between an Air China pilot and the control tower at JFK. Now, the average United pilot would probably be much worse at Chinese, but somehow it seems unsafe to have someone who can't speak English communicating about basic safety issues. Even I can barely figure out what he is saying -- and I have a good bit of practice when it comes to understanding Chinese-accented English.

Do not fly China Airlines - ever

On my trips to Taiwan, I almost always flew Cathay Pacific, which is based in Hong Kong and is a OneWorld Alliance member. When that was not available, I would fly Eva Air, a Taiwan carrier. I never flew China Airlines, the flagship carrier of Taiwan (the whole political naming issue often gets China Airlines confused with Air China).

Why? China Airlines has a terrible safety record. A long history of pilot error and poor maintenance makes it one of the more dangerous major air carriers. An explosion in Okinawa a few weeks ago is just another blemish on its record. Just after pulling in to the gate area, the plane exploded in a ball of fire.

Not wanting to further damage the reputation of the airline, China Airlines proceeded to paint over the logo on the plane as it awaited cleanup. I guess they didn't want ignorant passengers who hadn't heard of the story to see the plane in person?