“20 Things That Change After Living In China” via Wander Onwards

A friend of mine that I worked with in Beijing found this. It’s spot on, even though I now live in Egypt. Especially #2.

20 Things That Change After Living In China | Wander Onwards.

 I can feel my opinions of what is socially/morally/economically acceptable change as my experience in China continues… Here are the main 20.

1. Hot water is king. It’s cured everything for generations and will continue to do so into the future.


2. There are indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. You’re not a barbarian.


3. It is 100% acceptable to eat an entire meal out of a plastic bag.

plastic bag

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Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

‘In China, it’s never like this’: An interview with Peter Hessler about his move from China to Egypt

While doing a little net surfing I came across this article on The Washington Post about a journalist who recently moved from China to Egypt; much like myself. It’s nice to see someone else’s perspective on the same situation.

‘In China, it’s never like this’:

An interview with Peter Hessler

By William Wan, Updated: September 23, 2013


BEIJING – Recently transplanted to Egypt after many years in China, New Yorker correspondent Peter Hessler has a unique perspective on both countries. To many China watchers, Hessler represents a kind of gold standard for intimately reported pieces on lesser-known people and parts of the country.

He’s out with his fourth and latest book – published this spring – a compilation of standalone pieces written both from China and after his return to United States in 2008. I caught up by phone with Hessler this summer, just before the military-led coup against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, to talk about his brand of reporting, life in Egypt and what it would take and look like for an Egyptian-style political movement to come to China.

Washington Post: Now that you have some distance from China, do you see things differently, or do you see things there you didn’t before?

Peter Hessler: I think it’s very different now. I don’t think my basic opinions about the place and my gut feelings have changed. But I recognize it as something more distinctive or more remarkable than I realized before. It’s also interesting to be in a place like Egypt, which is in a totally different moment, a political moment not at all an economic moment. It’s totally the opposite of China, in that there is incredible interest in politics and incredible freedom for that basically. It’s something that I never saw in China and it’s interesting to experience that.

Another thing that I recognize of being here is how hard these transitions are, and Egypt in some ways is a more civil society than China. They had a strong religious tradition here. And they did have basically political groups that were some ways in opposition to Mubarak, like the Muslim brotherhood and some political parties and activists group. These are things that China didn’t have and still doesn’t have. Even so with all that in place, it’s been a pretty rough transition here. You can see how many places were damaged, how hard it is to shift people to a new way of thinking, and we are still waiting basically.

It’s sobering, basically, and I don’t think China will have such a kind of transition. It would be difficult because these kinds of groups haven’t developed. If the communist party collapses, there’s nothing at all to take its place. To me, it suggests that it’s not going to happen that way. Perhaps it will be a more gradual thing.

WP: What other differences have you found since arriving in Egypt?

PH: The demographics. You go to protests in Egypt and the population is really young here. You still have big families, it’s like 53 to 55 percent of the population is aged 25 or something. That is clearly what is driving these protests. You have incredible groups, sometimes almost like gangs of young people and even kids and teens. Especially my first arrival here, I was thinking “No kid in China would skip school and go for rocks and police, with tear gas!”

You think about all the pressure on young people in China. Their lives are incredibly regimented. It makes me think that it’s a true revolution. You have a lot of grassroots activities, a lot of street-level protests. It looks much different in China. We get the big statistics on protests that happened in China, but it really matters who those protesters are and what they are asking for. Here [in Egypt] at every protest people would ask for the regime to step down and the president to resign. They demand complete overhaul. In China, it’s never like this, and it’s always specific things, localized demands. You never have a protests asking for the downfall of the communist party.

In China, you don’t have that core of young people, and I think that pushes things to another level because then they’re not experienced and can be extreme. I have seen kids doing things here that are pretty sobering, bodies carried back, and kid getting killed. And it is hard for me to imagine the same happening with the current generation in China.

WP: Why do you think there’s such a difference in China’s youth?

PH: The education pressure is so high in China. Urban kids are often their parent’s only children, so they are pretty heavily monitored. I think also the society is intensely competitive with true opportunities, and a lot of people in Egypt are complaining they don’t have many opportunities. It’s not like that in Egypt. I think when kids have that deep frustration and are not motivated to work, they look for alternatives and are more willing to make commitments to political movements.

WP: As a foreigner, you had advantages and disadvantages in China. What are those for you in Egypt? How have you adapted?

PH: The big difference is language. I’m starting from scratch here. In China, at the end of two years, my Chinese was good enough and I didn’t use a translator when I transitioned to work as a journalist. In Egypt, my wife and I have worked hard and I think we’ve done quite well. We’ve been here one and a half years now, and I’m at the point where I can do a really good conversation and I can do pretty solid basic interviews. I am still a big step away from working without a translator. But I can see that’s going to happen in maybe six months if I put a lot of time into it.

I really like being alone when I am reporting. In China I rarely even worked with a photographer, because I feel the fewer people there are with you, the more natural it’s going to be, and the more you can observe and notice because nobody else occupies your attention.

One of the reason that I made this transition [first to the United States before Egypt] is that I felt there are risks in moving from one book to another. And I wanted to step back a bit and have some time, when I wasn’t researching to study about the language and learn about the new place. I have been glad to do that kind of work.

I think the journalist community in China was unusually skilled, and I think probably it’s the best covered part of the developing world in terms of the American press. There are a lot of people, and many of them speak Chinese. But here it’s very unusual for a foreign reporter to speak Arabic, or even to be learning.

WP: How long will you stay in Egypt and Middle East, and what is next?

PH: Our original plan was to be here for five or six years, and then to move back to China. And I think it still feels that way to me. Basically when I moved out from China, it wasn’t because I was burnt out or sick of the place. I think I was still learning a lot, getting better as a writer and researcher. I did also feel I didn’t want to reach a point where I was tired of it, where I felt I knew everything, no longer appreciating it with a fresh eye. And I also wanted to spend some time in the U.S., and find and establish myself writing about other subjects. It’s one of the reason I wanted to put this collection together, of stories I liked most, including non-China stories. That was important for me to be able to write about a small town in Colorado and the farmers there. Just to prove to myself that I can do this kind of work anywhere and not be limited to just being a China person. But I do look forward to going back to China someday when times are right.

WP: When you go back to China, what do you hope to bring new? What kind of perspective do you hope to have?

PH: I think having seen the political transition is going to be very useful. It’s going to happen someday in China. I think it’s good to see how it happens in another place. I don’t expect the things to be the same, but it will give you a little bit perspective and preparation. Also, being in a society where religion is important, where they didn’t have the huge cultural disruption that China had has given me a different perspective.

WP: When you say transition is going to happen here in China. How do you see that happening?

PH: It’s a big question. I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. I never felt like that in China. From things I hear, the stories have gotten darker. A friend of mine in Beijing told me that among people in Beijing and Shanghai the feeling is down, but people in the provinces seem more up. Maybe people in Beijing and Shanghai have hit the stage where they recognize the flaws or the society and problems. Maybe they’re ready for something different. But compared to what’s happening here, I think China is a long, long away from the same intense unhappiness and energy that has led to changes you have here. The commitment here people make on the street is often sobering.

In China. I never felt that this place is about to collapse. But being here, I really understand it. But China will change, and I think it is inevitable. Every time I go back to China, I just feel people are so much aware. So many of them have sort of an idea of what’s going on outside of their country, they are able to travel, they are able to get more information about other places. They are getting other reference points. When I was living there, the only reference point was really the past. People would say it’s better than 10 years ago, or five years ago. It’s not strictly that way anymore.

Another way that I feel Egypt makes China look good is, given the size, there is a degree of control in China. It’s a real functioning system. But Egypt even under Mubarak wasn’t a true system. In China the party runs the show. In such massive developing country, you have a level of governance. It doesn’t mean good and moral governance, but it means that they are in control.

WP: The way you look at the Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, how is it different and are there any similarities?

PH: The brotherhood is a very weak organization. It scares a lot of people. But I don’t feel it is truly there. They tell you they are in the rural level, grassroots, in villages. But it’s total [BS]. But how long can they last? [Within weeks of this interview, the brotherhood had been ousted.] Some villages may have 7,000 people and there’s not a single brotherhood member there. From that standpoint, there’s no comparison to the party at all.

Categories: China, Egypt, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

42 Things You’ll Only See In China

42 Things You’ll Only See In China

Brought to you by BuzzFeed:

1. A tiger on a leash taking pictures with a baby:

A tiger on a leash taking pictures with a baby:

2. Crocodiles for sale at Walmart:

Crocodiles for sale at Walmart:

3. Sharks for sale at Walmart:

Sharks for sale at Walmart:

4. Giant racks of meat for sale at Walmart:

Giant racks of meat for sale at Walmart:

5. And whatever this is for sale at Walmart:

And whatever this is for sale at Walmart:

6. Headphones like this:

Headphones like this:

7. A hotel shaped like a ping pong paddle:

A hotel shaped like a ping pong paddle:

China is making a bunch of stadiums shaped like various pieces of sporting equipment. The ping pong paddle will be a hotel.

8. A water park this crowded:

A water park this crowded:

9. A pool this crowded:

A pool this crowded:

10. A beach this crowded:

A beach this crowded:

11. This meal:

This meal:

12. This meal:

This meal:

13. And this meal:

And this meal:

14. Old/new world bathroom options:

Old/new world bathroom options:

At a hotel in Shanghai.

15. A sign warning you not to light off explosives at a gas station:

A sign warning you not to light off explosives at a gas station:

16. A jacket with a fake scarf:

A jacket with a fake scarf:

17. Photocopies of originals for sale:

Photocopies of originals for sale:

18. Batman toys like this:

Batman toys like this:

19. Whatever this thing is:

Whatever this thing is:

20. Award winning chicken:

Award winning chicken:

21. Starbucks… but for tea:

Starbucks... but for tea:

22. A duck on a leash:

A duck on a leash:

23. Monkeys with human heads:

Monkeys with human heads:

24. Pandas doing manual labor:

Pandas doing manual labor:

25. Trucks upon trucks upon trucks upon trucks:

Trucks upon trucks upon trucks upon trucks:

26. KFG:


27. OFC:



28. A scooter with this much sass:

A scooter with this much sass:

29. People this passionate about chocolate peanut butter:

People this passionate about chocolate peanut butter:

30. Multiple TVs on the back of a scooter:

Multiple TVs on the back of a scooter:

31. Magical drug stores:

Magical drug stores:

33. Cheese babies:

Cheese babies:

34. Banana babies:

Banana babies:

35. Donald Duck selling duck heads:

Donald Duck selling duck heads:

36. Some dude taking a nap on a chain:

Some dude taking a nap on a chain:

37. Statues of people in the ’80s:

Statues of people in the '80s:

38. This animal:

This animal:

39. Awesome signs made by the government like this:

Awesome signs made by the government like this:

40. Grain condoms:

Grain condoms:

41. A cat with wings:

A cat with wings:

42. And a pig that can walk on two legs:

And a pig that can walk on two legs:

Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Harsh Lesson Learned

Moving is never easy. Organizing, packing, getting rid of stuff, cleaning… it all starts to get ridiculous after a while. It helps to know you’re going somewhere exciting, it also helps to have some time to prep and plan. A few days ago it was time to check out of my apartment, and I learned some harsh lessons.

When moving to China I was naive. I had lived on my own before, but I hadn’t had to make my own housing arrangements before. As a Peace Corps Volunteer the Peace Corps sets it all up for you. You show up and your housing is all arranged. It may not be up to your standards (no heating, no running water) but there are standards that must be met. In Beijing I was excited (and not a little terrified) to look for my own apartment, pick the best one, and rent it. All by myself! Not having done this stuff before, I made a few mistakes:

  1. Letting my real estate agent know just how much money I was allotted for rent.
  2. Not having an independent party help translate for me.
  3. Not documenting EVERYTHING when I moved in.

Mistakes one and two weren’t that awful, I just forgot that while Tom, my real estate guy, was really nice he was always looking after the bottom line. He met me every time I asked, no matter the day or how short the notice. He also showed me lots of different apartments in the area I wanted; some were above my price range, a few below, but most about where I was comfortable.

My biggest mistake was the third one. When I finally settled on an apartment and was ready to sign all the papers I didn’t know that I had to document all of the damage in the apartment. But alas, I was dealing with a management company, not an independent owner. Said management company is out for the most money, always. When I had issues with my visa and residency permit I had to threaten to move out of my apartment because the company was being so uncooperative.

On Monday I moved all of my stuff across town to the apartment of some friends of mine, S and L. Tuesday, I spent the day cleaning my recently vacated apartment and waiting for a friend, K, to help translate for me and check out with the management company. Unfortunately, my air conditioning unit broke a few days before, turning my apartment into an oven. I did not know it was possible for me to sweat that much. I even contemplated turning the refrigerator on full blast and leaving the door open.

So, two hours of cleaning and scrubbing (where the hell did all of that dust come from?) later I’m ready to check out, but my friend K is not ready to help translate. So, I sit on my couch, in the baking heat and wait. And wait, and wait.

Finally my friend shows up and we go to the management company, which is conveniently located downstairs, and ask to be checked out. We’re told we must wait an hour. So, K and I sit down in the management office, prepared to wait out the hour in the air conditioning. We must have made them nervous because a scant few minutes after sitting down K and I are asked to head upstairs to my apartment with the Thin Man. The Thin Man is the same guy who rented my apartment to me, he seems nice enough, but speaks no English whatsoever.

The next hour was one of the most frustrating, and uncomfortable of my life. The Thin Man checked over the apartment in detail and began listing imperfections:

  • Missing light bulbs in the overhead fixtures
  • Scuffs on the hardwood floor
  • Damage to the wall where something was torn down
  • One of the shower doors is off the hinges (but still functional)
  • The door handle to the bathroom is loose and coming off the door (but still functional)

With the exception of the damage to the wall, everything was that way when I moved in. As each item was counted off by the Thin Man I explained to K that all was like that when I moved in. But slowly, the expenses started to add up. 850 RMB for this, 500 RMB for that, 250 RMB for the other thing… Each time I explained that all of this damage was already there when I moved in the Thin Man and K would have a lengthy discussion in Chinese, but very little was translated back to me.

Eventually I said I would pay for pretty much everything but the f*&%ing shower door because it’s still fully functional, but the Thin Man wouldn’t back down. See, since I didn’t document any of this damage when I moved in, there was no way to prove that I didn’t do it or exacerbate it. K, sweet young college kid that he is couldn’t help me negotiate it down, and finally I had had enough. I had to leave the hot, stuffy apartment that I had spent the day cleaning, and cool off by the elevators.

A few minutes and several choice curse words later K appeared around the corner carrying my backpack. He’d reached the end of the agreement with the Thin Man and spared me the pain of having to go back and face my massive, expensive mistake.

Of my 4000 RMB security deposit I only received 1800 RMB back. And the only damaged that I actually incurred during my time in that apartment was 500 RMB worth.

Harsh Lessons Learned:

Take pictures of EVERYTHING when you move into a new apartment. Print those photos, make sure they’re dated and time-stamped, too. Write down all the damage in the contract as well. That document may be the only thing standing between you and your security deposit.

Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beijing Traffic

I came across this article on Business Insider recently:  Video: Crowds At Beijing’s Xierqi Station. It shows a video (also posted below) and a few explanations of why Chinese public transportation is a challenge.

I take the bus to work every day and every day is a new experience:

  • Early on in my tenure in China it was getting my wallet stolen from my purse as I rode the bus to work. I didn’t realize it was missing until I went to pay for my breakfast at 7-Eleven. Bye-bye credit cards, passport, driver’s license, work permit, cash, bank card, dignity…
  • Another day I felt violated as a large Chinese man used his body to box me into a corner and subtly rub his crotch against me.
  • Some days are good, and I play peekaboo with the little babies that sit and stare at me.
  • Some days are not so great and I get off the bus covered in sweat. Most of it is mine, but some belongs to the other passengers that were forced to rub against me by the sheer number of people on the bus.
  • One Saturday morning on my way to work an elderly Chinese lady treated us all to an impromptu sampling of her Chinese opera skills.
  • Often the bus lurches unexpectedly as the driver contends with blind pedestrians, reckless scooter drivers, and ruthless taxi drivers. Usually this means I fall into another passenger and have to apologize profusely while enduring, red-faced, the glare of others at the stupid “laowai” who doesn’t know to hold on at all times.
  • I’ve seen bus drivers refuse to take on homeless passengers; to then have those potential passengers shout obscenities at the whole bus. That was the first time I had heard Chinese profanity used and actually understood what it meant.
  • People take all manner of odd items on public transportation: printers, bags of clothing, musical instruments, etc. I myself have been known to carry a rug, an oven, a down comforter, bed sheets, and a fan…all at the same time, no less!
  • Then there are the line cheaters. People who do not wait patiently in line to get on the bus or subway, but simply elbow their way in as soon as the vehicle of choice pulls up. I hope there is a special circle of hell reserved for those people.
  • Learning bus etiquette: If the bus has three doors enter through the middle and exit through the front or rear doors. If the bus has two doors, enter through the forward door and exit through the rear door. Heaven forbid you use the wrong door!

There is truly nothing like being stuck on an airless bus in July in rush-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic with 5 dozen other miserable souls who simply must get to work as cheaply as possible. That generally means the bus, which is .4 RMB with a metro card if you go less than 14 stops .8 RMB if you go further than that. 1 RMB without the card. The subway costs only 2 RMB, but can be just as crowded as the video shows. Also, it can be a bit of a hike from some housing developments. Taxis are by far the most expensive, particularly when stuck in rush hour traffic. It can cost close to 30 RMB to get from my apartment to work, a distance of only a few kilometers.

Categories: China, Life Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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