Happy Chunjie to You!

This past week in China marks the country’s biggest and most culturally important holiday, Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, or in Chinese, Chunjie. It’s basically Christmas and New Years and Thanksgiving all rolled into one for China. People celebrate by visiting relatives, taking the week off from work, and shooting off lots, and lots, and LOTS of fireworks. (When I said they were earth-shaking in my last post, I really wasn’t exaggerating. Imagine NON STOP fireworks from the afternoon, through the wee hours of the morning.)

I’ve had a blast this whole week… pub quiz, video games, dungeons n dragons, karaoke, playing pool, eating enchiladas and churros. I also went to a book reading by American author David Sedaris, who you may have heard on NPR. Admittedly not a very Chinese Chinese New Year!

In my last post, I asked for questions anyone may have about life in China, and I got quite a few of them! One of my teachers from high school showed his students my blog, so I got a bunch of questions from them too, so here they are:

Do they have a Chipotle there? -Uncle “I Love Chipotle” Ron

No 😦 Sometimes I get really big cravings for a big Chipotle burrito. It’ll be one of the first things I eat when I get back!

Did you get any red envelopes? -Aunt Kathy

For those who don’t know, during Spring Festival, parents and other older relatives give the young people red envelopes full of money. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any 😦

You have said Beijing has many foreigners living there. Who are they and what do they do? What drew them to China? -Dad

There really are quite a few foreigners here. Most of the younger people in their early twenties do the same thing as I do, with the English teaching, but lately I’ve been getting to know more and more people who work in all sorts of businesses… there’s foreign architecture firms, video game companies, international sales, theatre troupes, design agencies, fashionistas… you name it. I’ve even become acquainted with a few people who came here back in the old days, when the country had just opened its borders to outsiders, and when China really was the Communist dystopia most people still think the country is today. They tell stories about how if you could get pork, it was a luxury, and even then it was of terrible quality. How it was nearly impossible to find fresh fruit anywhere. The foreigners all had to live in a single housing unit, and they all had to share a single telephone, which would only operate during daylight hours, because they were still using the old-fashioned operator-switchboard system of telecommunications. I think the uniting factor that drew most people here is just a sense of adventure, and experiencing something new. I think the reason so many people end up staying is how damn easy it is for a foreigner to maintain an upper-class lifestyle on a comparatively modest salary.

What is the most practiced religion in China? -Greg R

The most practiced religion in China, by a wide, wide, margin, is absolutely none! I’ve never seen a Hindu here, a few really old people still practice Buddhism, and Buddhism is still alive as a cultural thing, but 95% of people in China, by and large, have no religion. I was once approached by a Chinese guy on the street and invited to his Christian church, but that’s the only Chinese Christian I’ve ever seen. Most of the Korean people here do practice Christianity though.

Jake, I am thinking about traveling abroad for part of my college experience. Do you suggest it? Do you ever get homesick? -Alex D

I absolutely suggest it! It’s definitely been the greatest experience of my life… this is gonna be one of those things I look back on when I’m an old man in a rocking chair and say to myself or my grandchildren, “damn, that was pretty cool!” You learn so much, not only about other cultures, and languages, but about yourself. I think every person should spend some considerable time (doing more than just traveling through) in another country. I never get homesick in the sense that I sit around wishing I wasn’t here and was in Colorado instead, but every so often I really miss certain things from back in the US. Things I think about a lot are the mountains, wide open spaces, Winston Hills BBQ, and playing frisbee with my friends.

Do they really eat dogs and cats in China?! -Alex D

Certainly not in Beijing, or other major cities, but in Inner Mongolia, they love eating dog meat. They have so many stray dogs there, come wintertime, people will just pluck a dog off the street and eat it. Yuck! I’ve never admitted this publicly before, but when I was there, one time I went out for lunch with my friend’s family, and the only thing they ordered was a big pot of dog meat stew. Not only would it have offended them big time if I refused to eat it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about trying some. The taste was actually quite good, but the good taste was strongly outweighed by the feeling of guilt I had about eating dog meat. I felt like there was a pit inside of me. I haven’t experienced it, but I hear they eat cats in the southern parts of China. They also eat baby mice, alive. (So think about that next time you order Cantonese food!)

When did you decide to up and go to China? -Rose R

Well, I really wasn’t sure about what I was going to study in college or do afterwards, and I had come to China over the summer, and realized how many opportunities an English native speaker has here. Living in a foreign country is something I always wanted to, but I never even had an idea I would be doing it at such a young age till about 2 months before I flew out here! Coming here has allowed me to sort some of those feelings out, and I’ve decided to go into college doing International Studies and to keep improving my Chinese language skills.

What is the healthcare system like in China? -Georgianne

In Beijing, most people working full time jobs have health insurance. The insurer gives them a card, and if they spend more than ¥1800 ($250) in a year, the insurer will pay for everything above that. The situation is more dire for people without money. In America, you get care first and have to pay later. In China, if you can’t pay up front, you don’t get care at all, and the doctors will leave you to die. How depressing.

Do you find the ways of life easier in China than in America, or the other way around? -Kelsey C

That’s a good question, and I’m not entirely sure of the answer. Both have their positives and negatives. Finding work in China is much, much, much easier, being a foreigner (I can find and get a job in less than 24 hours here). Here I have to worry about rent payments, leaving the country every 90 days and such. The work also pays more than I could be making in America, but sometimes the language barrier can lead to considerable difficulty. Public transportation is much easier to use here, so it’s easier to get where I’m going. I don’t know if I’d say living here is easier, but life is more of an adventure, which I think is fun!

Can you bargain in any store, or only the street vendors/markets? What behavior and manners differ from America? -Serena L

Bargaining is only allowed with street vendors and in markets. Most stores are actually quite westernized in the way they operate. Some behavioral differences are, Chinese people don’t stand in line for anything, so you have to have a cold heart and shove your way to the front of anything you are trying to get to. They don’t say anything like “bless you” or “excuse me” for sneezes and other bodily functions. At a table, you don’t ask anyone to pass anything, you just stand up and grab it yourself. But you can be sure that whoever you are eating with makes sure your beer glass is never anything other than full! Also, they love saying cheers! (ganbei! in chinese) when they drink alcohol. Like, in an average meal, we might say cheers 20 or 30 times.

 

Do you think it will be a culture shock when you come back to America? -Nicole K

Yeah, “re-entry” is actually one of the stages of culture shock, according to wikipedia. Last time I was here, I only stayed for a month, and when I got back I found myself a more agressive driver and pedestrian. When I get back I’ll probably have to re-adjust to actually crossing streets at the designated place and waiting for the traffic signal. Also, I’m guessing I’ll be shocked at how expensive everything will have suddenly become.

What is the apartment like now? -Matt L

Well, it’s got more stuff in it, and I guess my room looks more like a teenager’s bedroom now. The roaches turned out to be not as problematic as I thought; because my room is the furthest away from the kitchen, I never see them in my room. I’ve only found two in here the entire time I’ve lived here. Also, I don’t use the kitchen really, so it doesn’t bother me. My American roommate just moved back to the States, so now it’s just me and 5 other Chinese people.

Thats a weird thing that you have to leave every three months because you can only be in the country for a year. Is that like a common thing? because I never have been to another country. What, do the police come to your house every three months and make sure your not home, and if you are than they are going to deport you? -Cody S

I’m not sure how common it is, but I think it’s universal that in any country it’s not a good idea to break the terms of your visa. The police don’t even know where I live, so I’m safe on that front, luckily… they catch you when you leave the country and they look at your passport. I’ve talked to foreigners who stayed for too long, and when they were leaving, depending on how much extra time they stayed, either had to pay a hefty fine or spend a couple weeks in a Chinese jail.

 

I was wondering what American stereotypes are right and wrong, and also, what are some Chinese stereotypes that they have about Americans? -Ryan B

I’m assuming that by American stereotypes, you mean ones that we hold about Chinese people. One correct stereotype is that Chinese students work really hard. Students spend 10 or more hours a day in school, and most young children spend all of their free time studying or practicing instruments. Also, their parents only let them play classical instruments, like piano, violin, or erhu. If your parents let you learn classical guitar, they’re considered progressive, and if you play electric guitar, you’re considered somewhat of a hooligan. One incorrect stereotype is that Chinese people go to work and work non-stop. In reality, people spend most of their working hours chatting on QQ, which is the most common instant messenger, or playing a farmville-like game. Renren.com is also really popular website, which is exactly the same as facebook. Also, that Chinese people are reserved and quiet in public. People are loud, boisterous, and irreverent. I’ve seen fights break out in the street on multiple occasions. One time on the subway I heard two guys in business suits arguing, in Chinese. One shouted “F— your mother!”, and the other guy shouted back, “you f—ing c—!”.

They think that we all own guns and enjoy watching the NBA. American basketball is the most popular sport in China, you can strike up a conversation with pretty much any guy about the NBA. Most people don’t know Denver, but they do know the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony! They also expect Americans to all be fat, and really religious. It’s not uncommon for someone you have just met to ask you if you believe in God or own guns. They won’t ask you if you like basketball, because they assume it’s a given.

In your first post, you mention 4 goals that you have for your experience in China, I was wondering if you have accomplished any of these goals? If so, which did you find most difficult? -Ryan B

Another great question. I’ve accomplished all of them, to varying degrees, but for some of them, like becoming fluent in Chinese and actually understanding why China behaves like China, I think I’ve got a ways to go. I wouldn’t classify any of them as difficult, per se, since just by being here and doing stuff I’m working towards them all the time. The goal that will take the longest to accomplish though is definitely the fluency in the language. I can get by day to day, give directions to cab drivers, and even read children’s books (one boasts that it uses only 300 different characters), but if I wish to consider myself fluent I’ve got years of study and practice ahead of me.

Do the people in China respect/support the government or are there hard feelings about the Communist Party? -Brian C

Most people will admit to you, in private, that they don’t like the government much. They envy Americans for the common freedom to vote.

I am curious about your diet in “the jing” compared to your diet over the summer in Jiujiang. -Mom

In Jiujiang, I ate Chinese food every day, for every meal. Jiujiang is surrounded by lakes and rivers, so I ate a LOT of seafood. Shrimp, crawfish, frog legs, etc. In Beijing, I eat Chinese food about half the time, usually getting noodles, hot pot, fish, duck, kung pow chicken, etc. The rest of the time I like getting various international foods, like Mexican, or Italian, but nothing beats a good hamburger either. I often go to a little hamburger stand run by a Dutch man, his burgers beat out McDonald’s by a long shot!

What do the Chinese people think of us westerners? -Christian L.H.

I think that most Chinese people seem to look up to us. It’s actually kind of sad. In America, you expect most immigrants to work jobs that most Americans consider beneath them, for at least a generation till they can send their kids to university. Here, foreigners, and westerners especially, can make much more than Chinese people. McDonald’s hourly wage: 10RMB per hour ($1.50). Foreigner average wage (fresh off boat, no experience or language required): 150RMB per hour ($22.)

It seems like whenever I get chinese food in America, my choices are sesame chicken, rice and mushu pork. What is Chinese food like IN china, and how does it differ from American Chinese food? -bankss03

Chinese people do eat a lot of rice, and some more famous dishes are common here as well. Gong bao ji ding (kung pao chicken), mu shu rou (mushu pork), and jiaozi (pot-stickers) are all pretty popular foods. The real Chinese food is generally not as sweet, and uses less meat and much more vegetables. I think it tastes much better than what is available in America. I like to eat a Chinese breakfast burrito, which is a tortilla-esque thing, filled with duck meat, cucumber, some other vegetables I don’t know the names of, and la jiao, which is a hot pepper sauce.

Do the Chinese take ancestral rivalries, such as theirs with Japan, seriously? -Chris H

Great question! Oh yeah. There’s bad blood between all the Asian countries. It seems like they all think their country is best and the other Asian countries are inferior to their’s. At least that’s the impression I get from China. But yeah, especially Japan. Most Chinese people will admit to hating Japan. One time a guy started talking to me on the subway. The first thing he said after hello was to ask me what I thought of Japan. I just said “I like China more.”, and then like ten people who had been listening in started laughing.

What is the music like? -Ryan C

In general, I’m not a fan of the music. I’ve found a couple Chinese bands or songs that I like, like Nan Quan Ma Ma, Jay Chou, or Hua Er Yue Dui (click to hear a song of theirs). But for the most part, it seems with Chinese music, the slower, more ooey-gooey lovey-dovey a song is, the more well-received it is. For example, Chinese people love “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Also, most Chinese background instrumentals are really boring, like a stale drum beat or the same boring guitar chords. Chinese young people almost all know and love The Backstreet Boys, Avril Lavigne, Michael Jackson, and Linkin Park.

Do they have richer areas or mansions like we have here? -Stephanie F

Of course! The gap between the rich and poor here is huge. Walking around the city, you can see people living in slums. The roofs of the houses are a sheet of metal and often times have holes in them. Contrasted to some of my students, who live in four story houses and drive two Mercedes.

How do you deal with all the pollution? Is it really as bad as they’ve made it out to be? -Nancy D

Yeah, the pollution is quite bad and it is a big problem. Some people wear cotton surgical-style face masks, but most people don’t do anything preventative. Some days you can’t even see buildings a half a mile away because the pollution is so bad. Other days, especially when it’s windy, the sky is clear and blue though.

How does Beijing differ from Jiu Jiang and China’s Inner Mongolia? – Dad

Having been to many different places in China, I believe I’ve experienced both extremes of the country. If it’s on a linear scale, Inner Mongolia is over on the far left… homes didn’t have running water, donkey drawn carts comprised half the traffic on the roads, you could buy clothes and butchered animal parts in the same market. Beijing is the polar opposite… people drive expensive cars, everyone uses smartphones, iPads are immensely popular. Brand name clothing, fancy subways, extremely upper-crust shopping malls. Beijing is a thoroughly modern city, I imagine a lot like New York City (though I’ve never been there). Jiujiang was kind of in the middle of the scale. You had the culture of trendy clothes and many people had smart phones, but to get to the fancy shops or go to an internet cafe, you had to walk past people slaughtering animals on the sidewalk or peeing in an alley.

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5 Responses to Happy Chunjie to You!

  1. Dennis & Georgianne Reitz says:

    Thanks for continuing your great blog. We become completely absorbed and can’t wait for the next installment.

  2. Aunt Heather says:

    Hey – e-mail me so we can chat about our trip to China. Either *********@comcast.net or *******@**********.com. Love ya and we do have a red envelope for you, just don’t know how to get it there.

  3. Mom says:

    Hi Jake. I really enjoyed all the great questions and your thoughtful responses. Thank you for making time to keep this blog. We are really proud of you. xoxo Mom

  4. The Websters says:

    Hi Jake,

    I just now got the opportunity to catch up on this post. I’m playing hookey from my job duties at the moment and the tax accountants I am surrounded by are all wondering why I keep bursting out laughing!

    I thoroughly love reading your posts and we are encouraging Alex to consider doing something similar to you, as he is undecided as to steps beyond high school.

    Thanks for sharing and keep the updates coming!

    Love,
    The Webster clan

    • jake says:

      Hey Websters!

      If that’s seriously something Alex is interested in, I strongly recommend it! It’s certainly allowed me to get a clearer idea of what I’m going to do in University, whereas before I was pretty undecided.

      Love,
      Jake

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