Cultural shock

When I came to the US in 1991 after spending 22 years in China and 5 years in Germany, I had this one word to describe my first impression: "big."

Everything looked big to me: big milk/juice containers, big stores, big houses, big people, etc. I had never seen milk/juice in a gallon container. I had never seen so many obese people.

This time when I went back to China, I experienced a similar cultural shock, even though it was only five years from my last trip to China.

The word that keeps coming to me during my seven week stay in China was: "over."

So much is over-priced, over-packaged, over-consumed. It’s over and super(ficial) to the extreme.

Gifts are extremely over packaged to make them look big, nice and expensive. A few ounces of tea leaves could be packaged in layers and layers and end up weighing several pounds. Often times the packaging looks more costly than the contents in the packages.

I could care less if someone carries a $1 bag or a $2000 bag, or if someone wears a $10 watch or one that costs a Mercedes Benz. But in China nowadays, plenty of people do care about what they use and have. Expensive brand name products are in high demand. They spend big money on consumer products and housing.

The way how some people consume and spend is beyond my understanding. It’s just crazy in my mind.

Parents, there is hope

My cubicle got a face lift today. It was painted fresh with a new color.

The painter is a nice guy, a grandpa with two grown up kids and two grandkids. I had a casual conversation with him, about kids.

I told him that my kids are getting on my nerves more than ever this year. They are 12 and 10 years old. They used to get along OK, they fought but not that much.

This year, things have changed for the worse. My son is getting very naughty. He likes to be sarcastic, say silly things to deliberately tease and annoy his sister, to make fun of her and provoke her. In his own word: "I like to torture her."

When I asked him, "Why do you do this to Amy? Do you behave like this with your friends?"

He said: "No, only with Amy, because we are family and she won’t mind."

My daughter is quick in response and action. When she gets annoyed and mad by Andy’s comments, which always happens, she reacts immediately and starts to chase him down and hit him. He let her hit, laughing or crying. 

I told Amy numerous times: "You do not need to react to his comments. The more you react, the more funny it is for him, and he will do more. If you ignore him, it won’t be fun for him and he will stop doing it." 

But my advise has fallen on deaf ears. 

Meanwhile, they are still fighting and chasing each other every day. 

It’s getting frustrating for me. 

Just last Sunday I told them when they were fighting in the car for no reason: "You guys provide the best entertainment. You don’t need TV or games at all. Just watching yourself fighting is more entertaining than anything on TV." Yelling won’t help. I tried to take it easy. 

Is this a teenage phenomenal? 

I asked the painter, "What about your kids?" His son and daughter are two years apart as well. 

He responded, "That happened to us. I remember a couple of times I had to pull the car over. I almost lost it. But don’t worry, there is hope. It will pass. When they get into high school, they will change. My kids are getting along just fine now." 

My brother witnessed my kids’ bad behaviour when we were in China recently. He said the same thing. "Don’t worry. They will stop fighting in a couple of years." 

I know I have hope. It’s just getting through it right now is not so fun and easy. 

Just like for my daughter, it’s hard not to react. 

I don’t remember ever fighting with my brother who is three years old than I. A few times my brother got into fights with boys in the neighborhood, and many times he got into trouble with our Dad who had a hot temper, but he never fought with me. We never fought for anything. We were pretty quiet kids. 

He told me recently: "I hit you twice when we were kids, because you cried and it annoyed me. I have regretted it ever since to this day." 

I would never know it had he not told me. 

Won’t it be nice if my kids were siblings like my brother and I?

One minute they were having fun playing together, laughing.

 

The next minute they were fighting like the worst enemies, punching and yelling at each other.
 

(Photos were taken 7/27/2010) 

 

Public transportation in China

If you think the United States is still the #1 in the world, you need to wake up a little bit. At least in some areas, US has been left behind by other countries.

During my recent visit to China, I traveled by car, bus, taxi, subway, train and airplane. I felt that public transportation and multi-mode transportation in China are far more advanced than in the US.

Beijing used to be the only city in China that had subways. Now many cities have or are building subway systems including my hometown Suzhou.

Getting around in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai by bus and subways is convenient and often faster than by cars due to congestion.

To travel long distance from city to city, you can take bus, train or plane. The slow trains I knew in college years are being replaced by high speed rail in China. China has the world’s longest high-speed rail (HSR) network.

In the 1980’s, when I visited my parents’ home during summer and winter breaks by train that ran from Beijing to Shanghai, the train ride took over 20 hours. It was very crowded and always packed to full capacity, with no room to move around. Many passengers had no seats and had to stand.

Now the whole train ride from Beijing to Shanghai takes less than 10 hours. When the new high speed rail that’s under construction is completed, it will take probably 6-7 hours only.

When I traveled from Xian to Mount Hua, I took the high speed rail train that can reach top speed of 350 km/h (220 mph). Everyone has seat. It was very clean and nice. It took only 45 minutes to get to the destination. It could have taken a few hours by car.

The US definitely needs to upgrade its infrastructure to keep up with the world.

No more big crowd waiting for the high speed rail train. It stops for only one minute at the Xian Railway Station. Every passenger needs a ticket with assigned seat to get on. 

 

 

The train is dusted and cleaned during its short stop.

 

It’s comfy inside the high speed rail train.

Freeways in China, free, but not free

In urban areas in China, roads are very congested. Especially in the old areas of cities, where the roads are narrow and were not built to handle the car traffic that didn’t exist years ago.

But in the newly developed areas of cities like in Suzhou and Wuxi, roads are much wider with multiple lanes, I didn’t see any congestion.

In my experience, freeways or highways in China are really free in the sense of traffic flow. However, they are not free in the financial sense. Actually driving on highways is very costly.

The 90-minute driving from my parents’ home in Suzhou to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport costs 180 RMB (ca. $26) in toll charge. It is more than two days of income for an average worker in China.

I think the hefty tolls on freeways is the biggest reason why freeways in China are not as congested as in the US.

I took the following photos because of the impressive bridges. They also show the free traffic on freeways.

On my way from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to my parents’ home in Suzhou. No vehicles in front of us at 1 pm, Saturday, May 29, 2010.

On my way from Suzhou to Ningbo, 3 pm, Friday, June 4, 2010.          The Hangzhou Bay Bridge, at 35.673 km (22 mi) in length, is the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world.

On my way from Ningbo to Putuoshan (Mount Putuo), 4 pm, Saturday, June 5, 2010. I passes several bridges because Putuoshan is one of the 1000 islands of the Zhoushan Archipelago in the East China Sea. Newly constructed bridges are connecting the islands.

My favorite crocs

Last year I bought a pair of crocs , my first pair, at Walmart. I saw everyone was wearing crocs. It must be good. I should give it a try too.

It was on sale for less than $5. I loved the good deal. So I bought it. But I didn’t use it that much.

When I went on my trip to China two months ago in May, instead of wearing my athletic or tennis shoes as I used to do for trips, I took my crocs plus two pairs of slippers.

In China men and women mostly wear dress shoes, not tennis shoes. They wear dress shoes not just to work, but outside of work too. I even saw women wear high heels in parks doing sightseeing. Tennis shoes are not as popular as in the US. My brother does not even have tennis shoes. He wears dress shoes or cotton fabric shoes.

So I thought I would take and wear my crocs instead of tennis shoes. My crocs are very comfy and extremely lightweight. They are good for sunny days and rainy days. They can be used outdoor and indoor when I take a shower. I could use them all the time. It would reduce my luggage weight. And I took two pairs of slippers just in case, for more formal occasions.

It turned out that my crocs saved my life, well at least my feet. I used them during my seven weeks in China almost exclusively. I hardly touched my other two pairs of shoes.

I wore my crocs when I climbed the Mount Hua. As you can see from the following websites (http://www.zoomstart.com/huashan-teahouse-hike http://www.ssqq.com/ARCHIVE/vinlin27d.htm), it is not an average mountain. Even though I took the cable car up and didn’t climb to the very top of the mountain. I still had to do a lot of walking and climbing. My crocs served me well all the way to the North Peak. It was more comfortable than my tennis shoes.

I wore my crocs to the Shanghai World Expo. I was on my feet the whole day walking. my feet were tired, but they could be worse without my comfy crocs.

I also wore my crocs to many formal dinners in restaurants with relatives, classmates or other people I didn’t know who are my husband’s friends.

When I went out with my mom to visit relatives, she would say something like: "Don’t you want to change your shoes?" I knew she didn’t think highly of my crocs. It’s too informal and not very respectful when meeting people. But I didn’t care so much. I just loved the comfort.

By the end of my seven week’s trip, my crocs were pretty beat up and worn out. It became slippery when the streets were wet. I could feel bumpy rocks when I walked on unpaved roads.

I wanted to buy a new pair to replace it. I looked in different stores and street vendor booths, but couldn’t find a pair that is as good as the one I have. They are mostly more hardy and plastic, not as soft and rubbish as my crocs. So I couldn’t get a replacement.

I wore my old crocs back to the US, it was almost new seven weeks ago, hoping when I go back to Walmart I can still find a new pair of corcs just like mine, and better yet, at the same price.

Wearing my crocs to the North Peak of Mount Hua that is at 1614 meters above the sea level.

I climbed on my hands and feet on to the rock. I had to hold tight to the post for fear of falling down from the rock.

Recycling in China

When it comes to protecting the environment, people in China don’t care about it as much as people in the US do. But when it comes to recycling and reusing, Chinese probably do as much, if not more, than Americans.

They do it mostly for a different reason. They can make some money for recycling.

My parents in China save all newspapers and water bottles. Once they accumulate enough, they take them to a collection center. They get paid for the papers and plastics by weight.

When my parents got a new microwave recently, they sold the old one to a repair shop in the neighborhood. The parts can be reused.

There are all kinds of repair shops on the streets in their neighborhood. You can have electronics and watches repaired. You can have new clothes made or old ones amended and fixed. You can also sell furniture or other stuff to people who collect them on the street.

Many times I saw people who were picking plastic bottles from trash cans on streets, at bus stops or in parks. They are not motivated by environmental concerns, but by a desire to make money. Some make a living from doing that.

In China recycling is considered an activity done by poor people with low social status. That’s why my brother is not very supportive of my parents doing recycling. In his opinion, they don’t lack that kind of money to be bothered with recycling.

I, on the other hand, thought it was a good idea. So I supported my parents’ recycling efforts during my visit with them by saving my water bottles.

I believe everyone can make a difference. Every little bit of effort counts. 

Greening the workplace

I am kind of peculiar when it comes to living green. 

I recycle and reuse to some extreme. I would take a small piece of paper that my kids throw in the trash and put it in the paper recycling bag. I would clean a plastic food container or a sandwich bag and reuse them. 

I have been doing composting all year around for 10 years, ever since I got my first garden in the first house we bought. I enjoy doing it because I can reduce the trash output and enrich the soil in the garden. It’s good for the environment. 

The peculiar thing I do? I always bring my food scraps home from work. I eat different kinds of fruit every day, so I usually have fruit peels. Instead of throwing them in the trash, I take them home. 

Today I got a new idea – composting at work. 

Since I take my food scraps home anyway, why don’t I take it one step further by offering the opportunity to my co-workers in the office? 

So I put an ice cream bucket out in the break room. On the lid I wrote: 

Qin’s Compost at Work

What to Compost:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Coffee ground 

NO spoiled food and meat! 

It makes me feel good to help protect the environment by doing my part in reducing and recycling whenever I can. 

We’ll see how my composting at work goes.
 

Independence vs. entitlement

Yesterday we had Pastor Vince Larson from San Diego as our guest speaker at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury. A young pastor in his 20’s, Larson co-founded Anchor Gaslamp Church in San Diego.

I was impressed and inspired by his message on how we should not only have faith and know the truth, but also live out the faith and truth in action.

Larson shared a little bit from his life. He mentioned that both he and his wife were laid off at one time, but God provided in miraculous ways, including getting some financial help from parents and friends.

"It was killing my pride to have to accept charity from others," he said.

His words struck me, as my mind was still fresh with stories I heard in China about how young people feel entitled to all the help they can get from their parents.

Generally speaking, I think young people in the US have a better sense of independence and responsibility. They start working and living independently from their parents at a young age. They are independent and self supportive.

I heard that some young people here don’t like to take free money from their parents. If they need money, they borrow and repay back, even with interests. That is unheard of in China.

I have relatives in China who work their tails off even after their retirement so they can help their kids buy a house (apartment), a car, or other stuff, and take care of grand kids.

I know young people in their 20’s or older who live off their parents, even after their marriage. They feel entitled to their parents’ life savings, and parents feel responsible for providing everything for their kids.

There is a lack of independence and responsibility among young people in China. It’s partly because of parents’ overindulgence in children.

No doubt, parents in China are very giving and selfless towards their children. But when it reaches the point of overindulgence, it creates problems.

There is a lot to learn from parents in the US to teach kids independence and responsibility at a young age, so they develop a healthy sense of pride and self reliance.

 

The most skilled drivers

I think China has the most skilled and aggresive drivers in the world. They can drive by each other within inches. 

While in China, I didn’t dare to drive. I don’t have the skills to drive and navigate between vehicles and passengers. I got nervious just sitting in my brother’s car and saw how he and other people drove. 

I knew my brother is a very good and skilled driver. He drives for a living and is on the road a lot. He is known for his excellent skills. Still I couldn’t help being nervious when I saw him getting too close to other vehiles or driving the wrong way. People do that because there is less traffic on the other side.

He told me a few times: "Don’t worry. I know what I am doing." 

Personal vehicles have increased tremendously in China. In old aprtment buildings and residential areas, there is no parking space. So people have to park on the narrow streets. If cars are parked on both sides, there is barely enough space for moving traffic. 

While walking, I had to be alert for traffic. Often I had to stop and step aside to let a car pass. 

At all levels of governments and government agencies, organizations and businesses in China, business vehicles are in abundant supply. Officials with some power and status have business vehicles for their exclusive use, both for business and personal purposes. 

My brother drives for an official exclusively with one vehicle, and he has another business vehicle for his own use. It is an older one that has been replaced by a new one.

I told my brother that in Minnesota state government, very few, probably only the governor and lieutenant governor have exclusive business vehicles with chauffeurs. In response he said: "China is very currupt." 

Now too many personal and business vehicles in China, too much traffic, you need good skills to be able to drive in that environment.
 

Good to be home

I got back home yesterday afternoon. It was raining in Twin Cities.

This morning on my way to work, it took me a few minutes to get used to driving, because I hadn’t driven for seven weeks.

The first thing I noticed was the greenery in the neighborhood and the blue sky. The green grass and trees, the white cloud in the bright and blue sky, the freshness and quietness in the air, the clear view and high visibility, the wide and clean streets, everything looks so beautiful and refreshing.

I missed all these while in China. During the whole seven weeks there, I don’t think I had seen the sun and the blue sky. It always looked gray and foggy.

In most places it was noisy and crowded. The streets were so busy and full of traffic, I had to be on alert while walking.

It feels good to be back home. And once again I notice and appreciate things I have taken for granted.

Getting through US Customs

Yesterday when I went through the US Customs upon my reentry to the US, I was asked to go for baggage inspection. I wasn’t surprised.

As soon as I handed in my passport and the agent verified it in the computer, my passport was handed over to another agent standing by the window who then told me: "After you get the luggage, follow the blue line for inspection."

I knew I was on the blacklist for a reason.

Five years ago when I returned from my last trip to China, I had two small bags of snack made from beef and wrapped in candy paper in my suitcase that my mother bought for kids. I didn’t think it as a meat product and is prohibited and didn’t declare it.

After I got my baggage I was done and could leave. But I was waiting for someone to go through the customs who didn’t know English and might need some help.

I waited and waited near the inspection area. I probably became suspicious and was called by an inspector to go over and open my suitcases.

I was fined for failing to declare the meat product and had to pay $100 for the mistake.

It was during the Chinese Moon Festival season. I saw boxes and boxes of Chinese Moon cakes in and outside of the trash canes. These were nice and expensive products, but they are prohibited because they contain eggs.

I learned a lesson.

This time I knew better. I didn’t bring fresh fruits and vegetables, plant and meat products, eggs, seeds and soil. They are restricted because they may carry animal and plant pests and diseases.

On the customs form I wrote down all food related items I have in details: candies, cookies, crackers, dried fruits, dried shrimps and processed fish.

Most of my suitcases were opened for inspection. Everything passed.

I asked the inspector whether I will be inspected ever time I go through the customs. She said: "You will be fine if you keep doing what you are doing."

To prevent any trouble I had experienced, don’t bring anything that is not allowed and declare food if you have it and write down what you have.

Here is the listing of Prohibited and Restricted Items from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
 

Going home

How time flies. It’s been almost 7 weeks since I came back to China. Now I am going back home to Woodbury tomorrow.

I wish I had more time to do things I didn’t or forgot to do.

Time to shop and pack again. That’s what I did in the last two days.

The big mistake I made was I packed too many clothes for the trip. Some I have never used during the whole trip. Now I have to carry them all back. That’s something I should remember for the next time.

I have to get up at 5 am tomorrow to catch up the flight at 9:40 am in Shanghai.

 

  

High security

China has high security all the times, more so during special events.

Last week when my brother drove me to Shanghai to visit relatives, we were stopped at the security checkpoint and had to show our IDs. I don’t have Chinese ID. Luckily my father reminded me to bring my passport before I left home, so I showed my passport.

Inside the World Expo in Shanghai, there are police marching here and there. On Tiananmen Square in Beijing, I saw the same thing.

All the government buildings are highly guarded in China. No one can get in without special permission. The average citizens have no way to get into those buildings.

What is the government afraid of, its own people?

When I tell relatives or friends that in Minnesota, all local and state government buildings are open to the public. I can walk into the state capitol any time. I can visit the reception room when the governor meets guests as long as it is not in use. I can meet with representatives if I want to.

The response I usually get is: "In America, there are democracy and human rights, but not in China."

 

 World Expo in Shanghai

  Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Going to movie theater

Being on vacation and back in my parents’ home, I am down to a very slow pace. There is no hurry in life. There is not much to do every day.

My kids are watching more TV. And they are getting into more fights with each other.

Though they are a boy and a girl, but since they are only 1 1/2 years apart in age, they play together but also fight a lot.

If one is not around for a while, the other gets bored.

My son likes to tease his little sister to provoke her and get a laugh, then my daughter gets mad and fights back.

They laugh, fight, yell, and cry every day. It drives my parents nuts. They are not used to that much noise.

To kill time, I took them to the movie theater to watch a movie today.

I hadn’t watched a movie for over 10 years, not since my son was born in 1998. I would rather read a book than watching a movie. I remember the last two movies I watched were the Bridge of Madison County and Titanic.

We watched the Karate Kid, an American movie with Jackie Chan. It was fun. I liked it.

When I was a kid, movie theaters were huge in size. They could hold 1000 people. They were full. Watching movies was cheap and popular.

Nowadays, watching a movie is expensive and less popular.

Chinese movie theaters are like those in the US, they are small. They show several movies at the same time. Each can hold about 100 people.

For a Chinese who makes 3000 RMB a month, it costs about half a day’s income to watch one movie. That is expensive for the average salary earner.

On the other hand, it is cheap to buy a movie on DVD. In addition, people have so many other choices for entertainment. So there are less people going to movie theaters now. There were only about 15 people in the theater when we watched the Karate Kid today.

 

Meeting friend in Humble Administrator’s Garden

 

Last Saturday I met with a high school classmate and we visited the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) together with our kids.

Ying and I were in the same class during our last year in high school. We both went to universities in Beijing. I majored in German and she majored in English. We both have lived in the US for almost 20 years. I live in Minnesota and she lives in California. We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years until now. We happen to be back in our hometown at the same time for a vacation.

We could recognize each other instantly. Not too much has changed with us. She said she could recognize me from the distance from the way I walk. I must have a unique way of walking. I don’t know.

Zhuozheng Yuan is one of the four most famous gardens in Suzhou. It is full of toursits. Right now the water lilies are in bloom. They are beautiful.

 

  More photos are posted on my Facebook page.

Shanghai World Expo

Today I visited the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai with my kids and brother. My brother got us the ticktes that cover the World Expo admission and bus ride from Suzhou to Shanghai. 

During the 1 1/2 hours of bus ride, I saw quite a lot of buses with special World Expo logos on highways. The buses bring loads of visitors to the Expo every day. Only those designated buses can get into the World Expo parking lots. The lot we used can hold more than 2000 buses, according to the tour guide. 

We arrived at the destination shortly after 9 am. The gates were open at 9 am. There were still huge crowds waiting for security check. Just like at the airports, no water is allowed. You can buy bottled water or get water from the water fountains. 

As expected, there are too many people and too long wait. There were 388,000 visitors today. 

I wanted to visit the pavilions of China, US and Germany, unfortunately, I couldn’t get into any of those. 

For the China Pavilion, you need an advance pass to get into it. You have to be a high rank government officials, or have connections, or get to the gates really early in the morning to get the passes. 

For the Germany Pavilion, it was 4-5 hours of waiting time. 

I heard from our tour guide that the USA Pavilion isn’t worth the wait. Visitors get to watch three videos. That’s all. So when I saw the crowd as big as for the Germany Pavilion, I didn’t even bother getting close and asking about the waiting time. 

I ended up visiting about 12 pavilions that required short or no waiting time. The longest I had to wait was about 30 minutes for the Canada Pavilion. 

Inside the pavilions there is really not much interesting stuff to see, mostly pictures, a few items from the representing countries or products for sale. Nothing impressing or surprising. 

I had to walk so much, my feet got dead tired by the end of the day. I just wanted to get on the bus and get back home. 

As for goodies that Americans are so accustomed to at special events, there was nothing. I got an Expo map and a paper fan, and my kids got a tiny Canadian paper flag at the Canada Pavilion.

China made a big deal out of the World Expo. Everywhere I visited in the country, I saw the World Expo mascot. 

If you can’t visit the World Expo, you don’t miss anything. In my opinion, it’s not worth spending the money, time, and effort to visit the Expo. 
 

KFC vs. McDonald’s in China

While McDonald’s is more popular in the US, the opposite is true in China. There are more KFCs in China, for two reasons.

KFC entered the Chinese market earlier than McDonald’s. And Chinese like fried chicken better than hamburgers. KFC is a better match for Chinese taste.

I had a hamburger only once in my life. It was almost 20 years ago, an American family invited me to McDonald’s and I had a Hambuerger. I don’t eat beef. The hamberger didn’t sit well with me, I felt like throwing up. I never touched another hamburger again.

Though I don’t normally eat KFC either, but I don’t dislike fried chicken. They taste good.

In my hometown Suzhou, every big supermarket has a KFC. The physical size of the KFC restaurants are much bigger than those in the US.

McDonald’s are popular in China too, they are often next to each other in tourist areas.