Before I came to China, I had an almost romanticized picture in my head of the "mystical Far East." I didn't come here expecting everyone to know kung fu and wear traditional Chinese outfits, but I thought I would encounter something reminiscent of an ancient culture. For the most part, I was wrong.
I arrived in Changchun to begin my year-long teaching experience. Although I am originally from California in the United States, I actually flew in from a small country in Eastern Europe where I had been living and teaching. That being said, I got used to little idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, a lot of what I've witnessed in China goes beyond even reasonable standards and infringes upon human decency.
Changchun is the capital of the Jilin province, and has about seven or eight million people. It's a "small," Chinese city, but still a city. There aren't any red, wooden traditional buildings, but rather the typical high rise apartment and office buildings. There are cars, bicycles, motorcycles, buses, and people walking on foot. All of those people spit, everywhere...
Everywhere. Outside? Go ahead. Sitting in a restaurant? Yeah! Go ahead and hock a loogie on the floor. I remember setting up my checking account in a brand-new branch of the Bank of China, and while the smartly-dressed manager was helping me (via interpreter,) she made a loud sucking sound and let fly a liquidly ball onto her floor.
Another phenomena I've become familiar with is the "Beijing bikini," or "mankini" as some of my friends like to call it. For those that don't know, China, or at least the part I'm in, is very hot and humid. I'm used to regularly being sweaty. That being said, the men in this city roll their shirts up until they are under their armpits.This doesn't offend me, but I find the people who do it look rather silly, especially when they roll up their dress shirts. I feel it's unprofessional though, as while I'm walking around dealing with the heat in a dress shirt and tie, the Chinese wear their mankinis or go shirtless indoors, even in a "professional" business.
The poo. Oh my gosh, the poo. Having been here for a little under two months, I have witnessed countless children and three adults just squat down and do their business on or next to the sidewalk. My second week a seemingly normal looking man in front of me stopped on the sidewalk, dropped trou, and began to squeeze one out. Two days ago I was walking down the street and observed two women having a casual conversation while shedding some weight next to the sidewalk. I walked on, jaded and unphased against the poo party happening alongside a major road. A few days ago a mother let her child poop on our office floor, then picked it up with a paper bag. Even puppies can be housebroken.
One thing that doesn't really bother me is the trash situation. There are no outdoor garbage cans in this city. I spent the first week of my time here hoarding trash, hoping I would find a dumpster, but to no avail. You just throw your trash on the street, and they are collected by an army of people armed with straw brooms and tiny baskets. The tiny baskets are then emptied onto a cart pulled by a bicycle or a donkey, and where the garbage goes after that, I do not know. Surprisingly, the system works. By 11pm the city streets look like a major concert just happened, but by 7am the next day, there's no garbage to be found.
Ok, we've established that saliva and feces make it into the street, so let's talk about food. Yummy. When you boil pasta, you pour the pot into a colander to drain the water, then pour the pasta back into the pot. Last week I was walking down the street and saw a cook dump a 5 gallon pot of noodles and water into the gutter, then casually pick up the noodles and put them back into the pot.
I don't mean to say all the people are awful. I love my coworkers, foreign and local, and I have met some genuinely sweet Chinese people that don't share those habits. I'm not a prude, but after working in both the food industry and in a hospital, the conditions here horrify me.
On the plus side, everything is cheap, and the food is delicious... secret ingredients or no.