Monday, April 9, 2007

Things to miss

Five things I miss from North America

1. Movies in theaters. In China, there's a quota of how many foreign movies theaters can show each year. Because the quota is so low -- around 10 or 15 -- distributors tend to opt for sure-hit blockbusters that are often very boring. I would love to watch more Chinese movies, but my Chinese isn't good enough to really understand them without subtitles, which of course they don't have.

2. American Chinese food. I love Chinese food, and I love American Chinese food, and those two things are not the same. Oh, how I miss expertly made General Tso's Chicken, crispy on the outside with tender chicken on the inside! Can't find that here.

3. Orderly lines. Here's a thought: when we're waiting at the bus station, and the bus pulls up, let's not all push and shove to try to get on first. And when someone hails a taxi, how about we don't dart in front of that person and jump in the cab? The Beijing government, by the way, has been putting up signs urging people to queue and not to spit, in preparation of the big influx of foreigners during the 2008 Olympics. In Beijing, the 11th day of each month is "Queuing Day," on which people are especially urged to queue. Apparently, that number was chosen because it resembles two people standing side by side.

4. Cottage cheese. Perhaps influenced by my mother, who had the same frustration while living in Turkey, cottage cheese is one of my most-missed Western foods. It's difficult to find any real cheese in supermarkets, but cottage cheese has, so far, been nonexistent.

5. Non-smoking areas. That includes bathrooms and markets. Enough said.

Five things I'm sure I'll miss from China

1.Cheap DVDs. The abundance of cheap DVDs easily belies the paucity of movies in theaters. That said, if you're looking for something specific and rare, you might be out of luck. But thumbing through hundreds of DVDs, each for less than $1, is one of my favorite shopping pastimes.

2. Being treated like a celebrity just for knowing a little bit of Chinese. What can I say, I hunger for the spotlight.

[2.5. Being treated like a celebrity just for being a foreigner. Not true so much in Shanghai, but very true in other places.]

3. Cheap beer. Get a big bottle of Qingdao beer for 50 cents; can't be beat.

4. Mahjong players. Outside my apartment window, elderly Shanghainese people congregate on nice days to play mahjong. It looks fun and complicated.

5. Parks. In Chinese parks, there's a sense of community that comes with a wonderful lack of self-consciousness. In the mornings old people do taiji or other exercises, and in the afternoon or evening there are numerous kinds of activities -- dance classes, aerobics classes, card games or chess games or mahjong or other kinds of games with huge audiences, fencing, people practicing martial arts, women holding up signs and trying to find a husband or wife for their children, etc.

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