Not what you expected/Exactly what you expected but still strange

China is definitely a different world than we have in America, and of course no matter how much you read about it in textbooks or see it on TV, it never really hits you until you’re there. This is my first time living in a foreign country, or even being in one that was so different from the US. It’s taking some getting used to. I think the most difficult part so far is the things that seem like they would be familiar, but never are. There are Western food chains, but the food is different. There are Western brands, but the sizing and styles are different. I get potato chips and they’re Lays ruffles, but the taste is entirely different, no “ranch” or “bbq” but weird meat flavor. When we eat Chinese food, which is of course very different, we still come with certain expectations of what the taste will be based on texture, appearance, cooking styles, etc. But every single time the taste is nothing like what you expected. It is always a surprise. I’ve taught myself not to order foods that I think I recognize or that look like they will taste good, because 9 times out of 10 it will not be what you think. If you order something that looks like orange chicken from our gringo Chinese back in the States, you are in for a weird surprise and/or disappointment. It is easier mentally to order something completely different. Pickling is very common here I’ve found, as a side note.
There are big differences too. Most of them I expected, but to actually experience it is entirely different than expecting it. There are so.many.people.here. And the air pollution is so bad that my throat and eyes haven’t stopped burning since I got off the plane. Classes are hard, and long. Even wealthier people are fairly poor by US standards. Tap water is not drinkable. Tea is not a novelty it is everywhere. Things are wonderfully cheap. I eat lunch at the dumpling house for about 25cents USD.
I think the biggest and strangest difference for me to experience is the government. Four incidents come to mind to best illustrate what I mean. First of all, of course, is the internet. I had to download hotspot shield even at my internship, because we can’t research anything with the blocks. I can’t get on youtube, facebook, my blog, etc. without proxies. And even the proxies are being hunted out. Hotspot shield is no longer downloadable in China, and try to google “ultrasurf” and the page is immediately stopped, as is google until you reopen the window. Second, there is a park by my internship where my boss said that he sometimes sees protestors with signs and chants be hustled into an unmarked van and taken away. Supposedly they go to a “protestor hotel” where they are kept until they can be sentenced. Third, there are many people here who either have no idea what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, or they don’t believe it. We actually talked to someone who said that no, nothing happened, he had friends there and none of it happened. One professor said he taught a course mentioning it to Chinese students and in an end of the year survey several of his brightest students said they liked the course expect they don’t agree with the unit on Tiananmen because it’s not true, they’ve never heard of it before. People don’t know tank man, a symbol to the free world of standing against mighty oppression and they lived within miles of it happening. Of course, this isn’t every one. Many people know what happened, but the government has done a real job in erasing it from history here. It’s not allowed to be mentioned, it’s not allowed to be taught, and apparently it’s working. Fourth, I just had class with a professor who is from Beida. He told us that even though the class is in English and we are all foreigners, we will not be discussing topics like we are used to in America because if word gets out, he will face consequences. It is a stark difference to the rest of my professors who are imported from American universities. He says we will not be overly critical of the government because if a reporter heard it or something like that then someone would talk to the school director and he might be asked to leave. He disliked to use the term “human rights” because he said that until very recently what it meant here was forcible American interference in Chinese internal affairs. He told us that in many ways China was a democracy, but because we are Americans we have a very narrow view of what democracy means. I held my tongue.
In some ways I’m sad that I won’t be able to spend enough time here to really understand what it means to be China. But on the other hand, I may never leave the US again. 😛

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One Response to “Not what you expected/Exactly what you expected but still strange”

  1. Um…wow! Did you know mom is going to be a vegetarian?!!! Hahahaha I knew I could transform someone in the family. In Canada, they use real meat at McDonalds…crazy.

    I am afraid to comment on the government stuff. lol

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