A week in ShenZhen

Many of you are wondering what is life is like in China for B and me. Believe it or not, it is a little bit of business as usual. B’s office is close to the house, and she works hard. Frankie is fine if not a little stir crazy from having limited places to run. I travel all the time. The similarities to life in the US end there, with every day being a new adventure. Sometimes trying to find something as simple as a razor or q-tips can be a whole day of running around the city, but for the most part things are pretty normal.

Where I get a chance for reflection is on the road when I travel. I/We have come to think of Shanghai as the home it is, and any other place is “weird”. This was most evident in our Chinese New year trip to Manila, where we were SOOO… happy to return to Shanghai where things were “normal”. You can read more about our mis-adventures in Manila and see some pictures here and here.

As to my thoughts on the Chinese way of life, let me share with you some observations from my recent trip to ShenZhen:

One of the oddest experiences is the pushing of the people to get in line … to nowhere! When the gate agent at the airport has a twinkle in his eye of announcing the flight, every person immediately lines up to board. Even if this means they will be standing there for the next 40 minutes while the current plane arrives, dis-embarks, and gets cleaned. Now, if you are like my parents and travel on Southwest, this is nothing strange. If I was insane enough to try to join this line I would find everyone surging past me to improve their place to … stand. Now realize that this is a real airline (ie. Not SouthWorst with first-come seating), so everyone has an assigned seat. There should be no pushing. The trouble is that we do not just simply board. When flying China Eastern, here is a typical procedure:

• Wait in line – check in

• Wait in line – go down stairs

• Wait in line – board a bus

• Ride the bus while smelling your neighbors under arm, or looking down on top of their head.

• Wait in line – to re-check in plane side (pray it is not raining, windy, or cold)

• Finally, find your seat.

All in all not as bad as I am making it out to be, but when you arrive at your destination, guess what? You do it all again in reverse! Now here is what I don’t understand. The Chinese push and push and push during this whole flying ordeal. The one place where you can actually get ahead is claiming your baggage! So, on the way to the baggage claim we must ascend the stairs after departing from the bus imagine my surprise when I emerge from the shoving crowd to find …. Everyone is in line for the escalator! There is a perfectly good “manual” staircase next to the escalator. In fact, it is three times as wide as the escalator itself. All of the pushing and shoving goes into getting in that line to ride up one flight, when they could easily just walk! Of course, I take the stairs and with my big American feet on small Chinese steps, I scale it in no time and end up passing the 50 people who were all just recently responsible for the bruises on my elbows. The whole time the Chinese ride on the escalator like they were ordered to and stare at me like I am the strange one. Maybe I missed the sign that said the stairs were broken.

Read what other people think about the queue quandry here.

I love learning new things that are “Chinese”. This trip I learned how to play a Chinese dice drinking game. This one uses 5 dice per person in a cup. Each player shakes the dice and then turns the cup over. Looking under the cup will reveal 5 numbers. 1’s are wild, and the rest are what they are. The object is to “claim” you have at least 3, 4, 5, 6, etc… of one type using your dice and all of the other players dice that you cannot see. For example: You may say 3 threes. Or 5 sixes. (Of course you use Chinese – Wo ge san). The second person must now claim a set of dice higher then the set you named. So, 3 threes would make the next player claim 4 threes, or 3 fours, etc… The game ends when someone calls out another person, ie BS! This means that they DO not have, and using the other players dice which they cannot see, cannot make the set that they claim. The loser of the bet drinks. Being an advocate of drinking games, I do not think there is as much drinking as there could be, but it certainly is a fun game, and you get really good at “bluffing” your opponents. The easiest way to play is to try to guess what your opponents have and lie as little as possible, but where is the fun in that?

I never noticed it in the US, but the hotels here seem to have a few problems. In Hong Kong, I was situated in the room next to the elevator shaft. I knew something was weird when the room was unusually wide. Remember that HK was under England’s rule and had already adopted the quaint custom of abnormally small rooms. All night long it sounded like planes were strafing my window. Now, ShenZhen’s room was nice in a newly formed hotel chain with just a few problems. I believe the people in charge of the CTA and Marta, should actually use what they manage and not drive to work, so too I believe that the guy responsible for installing the “disco ball” smoke detector should have to sleep in the room where he placed said smoke detector. The problem is that when the lights are out the entire room lights up every thirty seconds like someone just took a flash picture. Fortunately for me, the bed blankets were thick. I guess they had to be to soften the image of the “Flintstone age” of rock hard bed they were covering. Couple all of this with the fact that it rained for three days straight while I was there and caused the rain to echo loudly off the cold tin roof outside, I had a “see a problem, hear a problem, feel a problem” vibe my whole trip. And my wife wonders why I am cranky when I return from these trips.

I have rattled on long enough, and I do not even know if I will allow such a long post without a picture (sorry) to be posted, but I will end it with a few questions that I am hoping you can answer for me:

1. How do you get cooking oil washed out of clothes? I seem to always manage to spill something on my shirt every day, so by the time I return home I have a polka dot of oil stains on every piece of clothing. It is not until 30 washes later does the stain start to disappear. Maybe my ‘quayzi’ skills are not as good as I think they are.

2. What do you do in a city like ShenZhen when the women out number the men 3-to-1? Remember the one child rule? With most families waiting for a son, this is very odd for China to have this mix, and it creates some interesting careers ;)

3. How do you use the squatty potty? At the company I visited they ONLY had the squatty potties. This is basically just a hole in the floor of which you must “squat” down and try to “drop you kids off at the pool”. I hate to say it, but I cannot do this. The first thing is that I cannot get my er… “carpool” close enough to the hole if my feet are flat on the floor. This means that I must raise up on my tip toes, but if my yoga class is any example, I can only hold this pose for about 30 seconds. That is by far not enough time to even begin my “business”. So, if you have a technique for how a laowai such as myself can “get down” please let me know. Suffice it to say, I just did not use the bathroom while I was at the customer site. Now we know why I am cranky!

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