Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Eating With Sticks

As one might imagine, my life is quite different from what it used to be: different city, different culture, different country. Some changes are obvious and to be expected, but many are not. I’ve decided to make a list…

  1. I often wake up to the sound of a tin bell jangling in the alleys, along with a rather jarring recording of some mysterious words in Chinese. This is most likely a man asking for empty plastic bottles and scraps of cardboard. There’s recycling in China after all.
  2. Yes, I can buy live turtles, eels or frogs at the grocery. I think I could get a live chicken at the wet market if I wanted to be extreme, which, of course, I do not.
  3. I have a translated guide to the buttons on our washing machine, since everything is in Chinese characters. The translation, however, took some trial and error. I mean, what does the “Assist” button do?
  4. I do eat a bit with chopsticks, a skill I was hopeless at acquiring back home. I actually do better grabbing one grain of rice than I do with a slippery noodle. I practiced with ramen quite a bit in the beginning. Now, I find them more useful than a fork in some cases. “Hello, this is the Dark Side calling. Wanna come on over?”
  5. Some men here, when it’s hot, walk around in their underwear and/or push their shirts up over their bellies, creating somewhat of a midriff look. I just…I have no words to describe how odd this is to me.
  6. I don’t drink from the tap. The water most likely does not contain any organisms that will make one sick, but I am not entirely sure if this is because of Shanghai’s water treatment practices or because the organisms can’t survive the exposure to chemicals and heavy metals. It tastes like rust anyway.
  7. Little kids pee on the street and sidewalk. No one even looks twice.
  8. I can buy a bottle of beer that is twice the size of bottles in the states for a mere 40 cents.
  9. I can buy an imported Lean Cuisine for the reasonable price of around $8. This is a prime example of what I label “Ridiculous.”
  10. A housekeeper (or an ‘ayi’ as they are called) comes to the apartment once a week for four hours. She does laundry, floors, dishes, bill paying, water ordering, bathroom cleaning and general helping out. To say I’m not a bit spoiled by this would be offensive, but it can be awkward and uncomfortable. I never pictured myself in this situation. She does make a really good wage of 20 yuan (about $3) an hour and most ayis work at least twice a week, if not all week. Some day I’ll speak to her properly instead of with grunts and shrugs of my shoulders, so then she may also become a language tutor. I am thankful for her help in many, many ways.
  11. Some restrooms consist of a porcelain hole in the floor with no toilet paper and no soap. This usually tends to make me grumpy, but I am happy to report that one’s squatting skills can, in fact, be improved with time. It's good to have goals in life.

Stay tuned for my next “list” in the future. You can’t make this stuff up.


  1. Nihao Sarah,

    Regarding the use of chopsticks, China actually used knives and forks in the past, but these were considered unsophisticated as it meant that a lot of carving took place at the table. The Chinese believe that it is much more cultured to have all the food carved in the kitchen which allows the diner to just pick up a piece of food and place it directly into ones mouth. Those Chinese are just so darn elegant.

    Kevin McGovern

  2. I have heard this and the pieces are generally bite sized. However, it is not uncommon to have pieces of meat with bone still inside, so I find it hard to eat elegantly. I asked about this problem and was told the Chinese people simply spit the bone back out onto their plate. I have now seen it and it is indeed less than elegant, but I guess it works?

  3. can I borrow your "ayi"?


    this is great, keep writing fun stuff till I can come over & visit!