Culture, Human Interest, Humor

Middle Kingdom Education

by Myra Brien – The Calculated Adventurist

Upon arriving in Beijing, I was part of a massive mental reeducation program and I learned a lot. Culture Shock makes one learn fast. For the first few months in a new location, it really is all about day to day survival as you navigate through a confusing maze of new sounds, sights, feelings, and lest I forget to mention, smells. Smells will be a whole other post later …

The following are a variety of things I learned after my arrival to The Middle Kingdom.

Don’t try to text and cross a 6 lane street at the same time. If you must text message and cross at the same time, do so with a Chinese person. They are masters at dodging erratic drivers and talking/texting on the cell phone at the same time. If you ever feel like life is too bland and not worth it all, I recommend crossing 6 lanes of traffic without a crosswalk (not that using one would matter anyway). No one follows the traffic laws so you have to cross when you can. The exhilaration that comes from not being creamed by a bus and then 2 cars while side stepping bike traffic is enough to have anyone thankful for the gift of life. It reminded me of the Frogger episode of Seinfeld where George has to cross the street in NYC … Once I got used to dodging cars, the Frogger music stopped ringing in my ears.

There’s no end to the tapestry of human variations here. Despite what many Westerners say, not all Chinese people look the same. There are some constants though:  Very Chinese people, and by that I mean people from the Old School, have a long nail or what I would call The Orifice Digit. Men and women in China have one long finger nail, usually the pinky, for nose mining and ear excavation. The vast majority of people spend traveling time on the subway or bus for their excavations. Imagine two normal individuals having a conversation while both are digging in their nose. One long finger nail also tells others that the long finger nailed person does not have a manual labor job (long nails would get in the way of digging ditches) and therefore is higher on the social ladder.

I also discovered pretty soon into my China Experience it’s okay to stare back. Yes, you will be stared at and possibly poked if you visit. Feel free to stare back and even smile.

“No” doesn’t mean no about anything. For example, you could repeatedly tell street sellers no and they think it means you want to hear their pitch again, that saying no means “grab me” or it means they should try harder. After being grabbed and sometimes mobbed I finally wised up and would walk away as soon as sellers saw the gullible Westerner coming their way.

Americans have no culture and I was reminded of this all the time. American culture in China is considered hamburgers and, take your pick, Sex & The City or Prison Break episodes.  People would ask me if I carried a gun with me in the U.S. or if I had a big apartment like Carrie had in Sex & The City. Really though, no one here is impressed that you’re from the US, unless it means you can teach them English.

China is so big and has so much influence on people’s daily lives, not many pay attention to international news unless it’s directly related to China. In that way it’s similar to most Americans – many here don’t follow international news, couldn’t point to Sudan on a map or tell you who the UN Secretary General is. (It’s Ban Ki-moon, by the way. I had to look it up.)

Despite a healthy dose of Culture Shock and occasional panic, China is one neat place to live. I never had a dull day.

See Myra’s personal blog: The Interactive Expat


About The Calculated Adventurist

My name is Myra and I lived in Beijing, China for two years. I consider moving to China one of the best decisions my husband and I ever made. I get many questions about our China experience and thought it would be fun to start a blog so everyone can have an idea about what it's really like to live there.


2 thoughts on “Middle Kingdom Education

  1. Wonderful read. Keep them coming!

    Posted by nana | July 9, 2011, 7:14 am
  2. Wow, my boys would fit in so well. Nose digging with reckless abandon! Sad at American lack of culture. One Chinese person said to me that the stereotype of Americans was someone wearing shorts, chewing gum, and talking loud. Of course individually, there are many cultured people. Great post.

    Posted by Sara | July 8, 2011, 7:08 am

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