After browsing the 10 Things Japan Got Right list and pretty much agreed with everything, I thought China deserved its own list.
1. Street Food (and small establishments)
Ok, I’ll be honest. The street food has made me run to the bathroom crying in agony more times than I’d like to admit—but for some reason, I still find myself crawling back to Lao Wang’s dumpling shop caked in black grease that is god-knows-how-old to buy some fried, oily dumplings (shenjian). Having some morning congee (zhou) with Chinese bread rolls (mantou) and washing it down with soy milk (doujiang) is a Chinese breakfast staple that can be found anywhere, anytime (and is DELICIOUS). Eating some Lanzhou Beef Noodles on a plastic bench outside at 3 AM hits the spot like nothing else. Buying some shrimp hundun (wontons) at the little shack near my gym after a run is my weekly guilty pleasure.
And oh man, ordering ban mian (mixed, dry noodles) with sesame or peanut oil is like a godsend. It’s better than sex. Having that with a hot lemon tea is nirvana.
All these dishes are under 5 USD, by the way. Having local street food at your fingertips for rock bottom prices is a joy, and definitely a plus, to living in China.
If you’re from the USA (or EU, or anywhere that isn’t China for that matter) then you probably know how much a taxi costs, and you can probably count the number of times you used a taxi in your home country on your fingers due to the exorbitant price. In the USA, a 15 mile distance can set you back 50 bucks. It’s crazy.
In China, taxis are ridiculously cheap and abundant. You can get a taxi anywhere, and even if you ride it all the way to the airport (a one hour drive) it will only set you back 30 USD at the most. I’ve been so spoiled by taxis here I really don’t know what I’m going to do when I head back to the states and, heaven forbid, drive myself.
Going drinking at the bar and need to get home at 4 AM for under 10 USD? Taxi!
Don’t feel like walking home in the rain and wouldn’t mind paying 3 USD for a ride home? Taxi!
Randomly decide to wake up at 5 AM to see the sunrise on the bund and need a way there? Taxi!
The cheap Chinese taxi is a godsend. Granted, the driver is usually crazy and sometimes the car smells mighty funky, but the convenience and price is simply unbeatable!
3. Being Blunt and Direct
In the USA (and most other western countries + Japan), for courtesy’s sake we love to put on our fake smile and show how much we enjoy interacting with the clerk selling us clothes or the man trying to set up our cell phone plan. Even when things go awry, we hold back on what we really want to say in fears of being rude or overbearing.
In China, it doesn’t matter.
Although it’s a bit caveman, it’s quite liberating to shout “hey waitress, could you bring me some water?” when I want water (instead of waiting to make eye contact with the waiter and prays s/he refills my glass); or to simply tell the waiter “hurry up!” instead of silently waiting another hour for the food while discussing the waiter’s dock in tip.
4. Furnished Homes
All rented homes in China include furnishings that the landlord is not only required to provide, but also repair if need be. If you get real lucky, your landlord will even upgrade your furniture on your behalf (because s/he feels like it’s their duty to give you a good place to live)–and for free. In my first Shanghai apartment, I told the landlord that I couldn’t use the electric stove and asked if he could come and teach me how to use it. Instead of teach me how to use the dingy little hot-plate, he went all out and installed a gas stove in my home. On top of that, all of my furniture was newly purchased from IKEA with a flat screen TV to boot (and I lived in a “lao fang zi” for 400 USD a month).
Sure beats renting a U-Haul and dragging your bed up 10 flights of stairs, eh?
Massages can run me 80 USD for an hour in the USA, and it’s not even that good.
Here? I’ve gotten a 2 hour massage for 15 USD once (foot and body, oil included). Of course, not all places are this dirt cheap but the standard is usually 15 USD for an hour. Foot massages go even cheaper.
And if you like it rough, then China gives it to you nice and hard. I prefer Chinese massages to almost everything else, mostly because they hit my pressure points and rub me so hard I’m usually screaming in agony. While it’s a bit masochistic, the whole process feels good in a way and the next day my body is good as new.
6. Public Parks
A public park in China is like no other. It’s like the Chinese wonderland you always dreamed about. Whether you’re visiting China for the first time or you’re a hardcore ex-pat, a waltz through the Chinese park will usually put a smile on your face.
There’s always some synchronized dancing going on, with old ladies blasting music ala dance dance revolution and rocking out. There’s old guys wearing berets, drinking baijiu (or huangjiu if you’re in Shanghai) while playing cards or mah-jiang. There’s weird exercise equipment for the elderly that people are jamming out to in public. At the entrance of the park, I always find an old calligrapher with a humongous brush practicing his art on the sidewalk with a bucket of water, writing poems from the past that soon fade away in a matter of minutes.
I cut through a park everyday on my walk to work. I always see people practicing taiji and it never fails to puts a smile on my face. The elderly are also quite friendly, so if you can speak Mandarin and you want some free Taiji lessons, they’re usually more than happy to teach you.
In America, if I were out late at night and walking down a dark alley alone, the likelihood of me being shot, raped, murdered or stabbed is actually quite high. Although Salt Lake (my hometown) is a fairly safe place in comparison to the rest of the USA, I still held the fear of potentially being shot when wandering the streets late at night.
China, on the other hand, is completely safe. I could walk down a dark alley at 3 AM filled with homeless people carrying razor sharp knives and still feel 100% safe. While you still have to watch your wallet and beware of pickpockets, there is no fear for your life here. And it’s a great feeling.
8. Mobile Plans
I remember setting up my mobile plan in Japan and it took me hours and was headache inducing. Paying for it was worse. Sometimes my phone bill skyrocketed to 100 USD a month!
China? Setting up a plan is so easy, I did it with little-to-no-Mandarin and got it all set up in an hour. I re-charge my phone with a 100 RMB card every month (16 USD), which includes a data plan, calls with my friends and texting. Booya.
9. Fruit Shops and Vegetable Market
I don’t even know how I lived without a fruit shop before, and how I can go on living without them. Cities in China are sprinkled with these little mom-and-pop fruit vendors that sell only the freshest fruit around. Fruit comes according to season, and it’s always exciting to see what new goodies will come in (dragonfruit in the summer, tangerines and strawberries in the winter, baby mangos in the summer..!!). The fruit selection here blows anything in the USA (or Japan, even) out of the water. Fresh longans, dragonfruit, persimmons… some fruit I don’t even know the English names, such as 琵琶 and 金橘. And nothing, I tell you, NOTHING tells you that summer has come more than the act of buying a watermelon from a dude in the street selling it off his pick-up truck. Did I mention all this fruit is insanely cheap? (Get a huge watermelon for 1 USD.)
The vegetable market is almost always the ultimate culture shock for foreigners. It’s stinky and full of flies, but it’s still the best place around to get fresh produce (trust me, the produce at the vegetable market is half the price and much more fresh than what you can buy at Tesco or Wal-Mart). From fresh fish and chicken (and when I say fresh, like, they kill it in front of your face) to ground intestines and roast duck, the vegetable market has it all. Choose your favorite vegetable stand, become acquainted with the boss (laoban), and I’m willing to bet you’ll be getting some service vegetables in no time (don’t forget to say, 送点儿葱吧！). Going to the market is a warm tradition from the past that, I hope, isn’t crushed by the ever-growing shadow of Carrefour and Wal-Mart.
10. There’s Always Something to See
China’s history literally spans tens of thousands of years, and thanks to that there’s an abundance of places to visit. If you live in Beijing, it’s easy to go to Tian’anmen square, the royal palace (故宫), the great wall, the gardens of past emperors (颐和园) and more—and that’s only Beijing. Whether you’re craving an epic journey into the deserts of Xinjiang, climbing the almighty Huangshan (yellow mountain) in Anhui province or merely taking a weekend getaway to the water village of Wuzhen near Shanghai, there’s ALWAYS somewhere beautiful, epic, and exquisite to escape to in China.
Since I’m keeping this entry positive, I’m not going to talk about the crowds, the crazy entrance fees or the lack of mannerisms from local tourists. Let’s pretend you’re rich, you look Chinese (so they won’t charge you double) and you never travel during China holidays—there, problem solved.
I also wanted to list other great conveniences of China that I just couldn’t leave out:
– Hire an ayi (maid) to clean your house once a week for only 12 USD/2 hours
– Order something online and have it arrive within hours–and for free
– Public transportation that includes the largest underground network in the world (Shanghai), in addition to buses that practically run to each corner of the city and come every ten minutes (and for cheap, bus is 20 cents and metro is 50 cents, average)
– Convenience stores open 24 hours where you not only can buy cheap beer and snacks, but can pay your bills and charge your mobile phone
– Banks and post office open on Saturday and Sunday! (sucks for them, great for me!)