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January 15, 2004

Terry's first impressions

Where to start? Here are a few things I have noticed that are different in China:
1. Residences have heat, but the Chinese don't use it very much.

Chinese just dress warmly and never take their coats off. So, wimpy Americans are cold all the time. Norty and I tried to augment the 2 bedroom heaters in our apartment with electric space heaters, and quickly discovered that the circuits won't handle the extra load. When we tried to plug in the second space heater, the lights all went out. The electrician fixed it promptly, but told us not to run more than one space heater at a time. We've pretty well figured out how to keep the apartment warm enough, but our Chinese visitors think we're nuts.
2. When you go into someone's house or apartment, you take your shoes off and put slippers on. There are always a selection of slippers at the front door so you can find some that fit, more or less.
3. You have to go to several different places to buy food. There is a local market where we buy vegetables, eggs and tofu. Then there is another store where we buy milk and yogurt. Yogurt is a different thing here. It's like very thick milk, and you drink it rather than eating it with a spoon. It's very good, however - I like it better than US yogurt.
4. Good bread is almost impossible to find, but you can buy steamed buns with various fillings from vendors on the street. Those are pretty good.
5. Public transportation is excellent, but very crowded. You have to be pretty aggressive to get on and off the bus. Chinese people are very friendly, but they aren't shy about shoving.
6. People ride bicycles and motorcycles on the sidewalk and you really have to watch out if you don't want to get run over. Most people walk in the streets rather than on the sidewalk, because the streets are cleaner and actually less hazardous than the sidewalks. There are quite a few cars, but Chinese traffic laws are either non-existent or treated as "suggestions." I can't figure out why there aren't more accidents, but apparently everyone understands how to avoid them. People drive very fast and honk their horns constantly. Somehow it works.
7. Chinese people are incredibly friendly. Even though I barely speak a word of Chinese, there are already several people who recognize me and say "hello" to me - in English. Norty had a long conversation with a woman who runs one of the bao zi (steamed buns) stands. She has a son who is attending Washington University in St. Louis. While they were talking, a small crowd of people stopped to listen. This morning when I walked by the stand on my way to the vegetable market, one of the other employees waved to me. I was with one of my new colleagues at the school where I will be teaching. She was very impressed that I knew people in the neighborhood already.
I think this is enough for one entry. More later.

--Terry

Posted by now at January 15, 2004 04:48 AM