Thursday, February 15, 2018

Red Underwear

And so 17 days of fun and games in The People’s Republic of China and now off to Thailand and India. Weirdly, I will be back for another 8 days in Shanghai in a little less than two weeks, so it’s more “Goodbye, Hello, Goodbye.” But it’s a good time to share the list I’ve been compiling about the little and big observations about what sets China apart from the U.S., Swaziland or Fiji. In no particular order, here are some of them:

• No money. This is really something. I never saw a single coin or paper bill my entire 17 days here. Everyone has a bar-code thingy on their phone and they pay for EVERTYHING with it. And I mean EVERYTHING! Including giving a tip to the guy dressed like a monkey posing for photos. You probably could give some money to a homeless person like that. Except I haven’t seen a single homeless person.

• Building as screens. Especially in Shanghai, the entire outside of a 50 plus story building is a giant screen with images shifting like a ginormous big screen TV. It’s  Las Vegas on steroids out there! And need I say not the best use of a limited resource like electricity? Yes, I may and I just did.

• Breath shields in restaurants. Never had the nerve to ask to take a photo, but the cooks wear a headpiece with a piece of plastic in front of their mouths to keep them from breathing on the food.

• Hot water served at restaurants. I remember this from friends studying Chinese medicine, telling me cold water is not good for the system. So the glass of water the waiter brings at the restaurant is hot.

• Tea refills. In Japan, it’s expected that the folks you’re dining with will notice you need a beer refill and pour some in your glass. Here it’s tea. Everytime I drank a half-inch of tea, someone got up to fill it to the top.

• Washing out tea cup with tea. This may be a Guangzhou custom, but before drinking tea, you fill the teacup, swish it around and then pour it out into a bowl. A way to make sure that the tea cup is clean.

• Squat toilets. Not in hotels, but in all public places. It has been a while since I’ve negotiated those!

• Right hand side driving. The British were here just as they were in Japan, India, Hong Kong, etc, but for some reason, the traffic follows the American pattern.

• No 4th floor.  The word for four is also a related word for death. So it’s like our 13th floor and you won’t find it on the elevator.

• Riding in the back of the car. We always put the guest in the front seat, but here it’s the back seat. Even if only one person (the driver) is in front. Home, James!

• Luggage tags at airport. They check them on the way out. Haven’t done that for years!

• Elbow holding. It seems to be a custom to help elderly folks across the street. So my young hostess would take my elbow whenever we crossed the street. Made me feel… well, old!

• Kids taking care of parents early on, including paying for meals. When I go out to eat with my kids in their 30’s, my wife and I still pay. Not so in China. Talia and Kerala, are you reading this?

• Pigeon. Yep, they eat it. And nope, I didn’t try it. But it would be a good solution to the infestation of these pesky birds at school.

• City bikes for 20 cents a day. Pay with phone ap (see photo). Bikes are making a bit of a comeback and at those prices, pretty encouraging!

• No helmets. No surprise.

• Political apathy. From several different sources, the word is that most Chinese are not interested in politics and the reason is clear. They can’t do anything about effecting change in their political system.

• Red Underwear: All cultures have their own collection of superstitions and signs as to what brings good luck or bad. But the Chinese seem especially tuned in. Amongst many other things, it turns out that when it’s the year you were born in (Ox, Rabbit, Dog, etc.), it actually means “Watch out!” Could be a bad year for you. The one antidote? You have to wear red underwear every day of the year. Who makes this stuff up?

And there you have it. My beginner’s guide to the curious (to the outsider) custom of the world’s largest country (population-wise). Let’s see if I discover some more when I return.

(Feb. 14)

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