(Another reason I don’t belong in China: I am too enormous.)
I’ve been back from China for about three weeks now, and it’s really nice to be home. I like it here. I liked it there, too, but not enough to want to stay there for an extra-extended period of time.
I learned a lot of things on this trip– lots of stuff about Chinese media, Chinese communication, Chinese culture– which is good, because that’s what I was there to learn, technically. But probably my biggest takeaway is that I am not tough.
If I can’t handle China long-term, there’s definitely no future for me on “Survivor” or in the Peace Corps. Yeah, China is a developing country, but it’s not developing in the Africa or even India sense. I’d say it’s “developing,” emphasis on the quotes, because while sure, babies poop in the streets, most aspects of at least urban life are relatively sophisticated. (Minus the spitting, the pushing and the sewage seeping out of the street, of course.) For a few weeks, I didn’t really mind making sure I avoided tap water and lettuce, or side-stepping human fecal matter on the sidewalk. But would I want to do these things every day for the rest of my life? No, thank you. I like brushing my teeth with whatever comes out of my bathroom tap. I like food safety regulations. Put me in a REAL developing country, and I’d probably last about 15 minutes.
I was talking to a co-worker who traveled to China a few years ago, and she joked that the country’s motto should be “China: Where no one cares if you die.“ I’m sure this is an unfair generalization, but human life definitely appears to be undervalued. Examples:
- People drive like maniacs. I read somewhere that cars have only been a common thing in China for about 15 or 20 years, because no one could afford to own them. There’s no history of driving in China; it’s not like your grandfather taught your dad, who taught you. Everyone’s figuring it out at the same time, and that’s a whole lot of guinea pigs on the road. Also, the cars I rode in– taxis and rented buses, mostly– were basically stripped down tin cans. Also x2, there is virtually no lag between lights at intersections; when one turns red, the opposite immediately turns green.
- On a related note, crossing the street is CRAZY dangerous. There are crosswalks, but they’re basically meaningless. No one is yielding for your ass. They’ll just honk, which is Chinese for “excuse me, I’m going to run you over now.” Even when you’ve got the pedestrian signal, there’s usually a green arrow directing traffic right into your path.
- Bikes and mopeds share space with pedestrians, and they, like cars, will not hesitate to run right into you. I almost got hit twice: once while walking at night, when a woman driving a scooter neglected to have her headlight on (?).
- Lax food safety. Luckily, only one person on our trip got sick, and she recovered in a few days. The food was actually delicious 90% of the time, so I can’t complain here. I may have eaten the poop of mice, but I will never know.
- Slippery and/or flooded sidewalks. It rained several times, which often meant the sidewalks would be about six inches underwater. Many of the more elevated paths– I guess because they were fancy?– were made of slick stone. I learned this the hard way, and was terrified of breaking a bone for the remainder of my trip.
These examples are (mostly) rather cheeky. But on my last night in Nanjing, my classmates and I witnessed the aftermath of a bike/car collision. We can’t be sure, but a friend was pretty certain that the biker was dead, or if he wasn’t, he was close. (Of course, no one wears helmets.) There was a small traffic backup, but instead of stopping to help, the cars honked at one another until each one pulled through the enormous crowd… the crowd of people who were just standing there, doing nothing. Not knowing the language or having access to a phone (“is there 911 in China?”), we were all completely helpless. We tried to flag down a security guard at the school gate, but he couldn’t understand us. It sucked, and really put a damper on the trip. I hope that guy was okay, and that someone in the crowd made sure he got the medical attention he needed.
I don’t know why I’m complaining so much, though. I really did have an amazing experience in China. I’ll probably never have the opportunity to do anything like that again, and I’m so glad I took advantage of it. But when I visit again, I’m for sure taking shoes with better tread.