“China Days”

There are China Days, and there are “China Days.”

Every expat has them. It’s a day when every possible thing you dislike about living in China happens. Every one of them. If you had a list of pros and cons about living here, you could check off the cons as they keep happening. Last night we tried determining how often we’re allowed to have these god awful, pain in the ass days. Mine aren’t often, but once every few months is about spot-on.

The Guardian recently published an article David Sedaris wrote about his two weeks spent in China earlier this year. We went to see him speak and really enjoyed it. But this article was so negative, so down on China and the Chinese that it upset a lot of people, especially expat Sedaris fans (myself included) living here. The article was severely offensive and inaccurate, and I don’t want to do that here. I’m just hoping to share some VERY rare, funny moments with you.  When I’m feeling frustrated, I remind myself that I live in their country, not the other way around. I wish everyone who visited or criticized China ( or any country for that matter) remembered that. We don’t travel or live abroad to experience the exact same life we know in the US. If that were the case, we would all just stay put and never go anywhere.  We travel to experience the new, to see how the rest of the world lives, and to shake things up a bit!

As my posts are usually really positive, describing how much I love it here, I figure one  negative post would paint a more accurate picture. Yesterday was a god-awful, pain in my ass China day. These so-called China Days also happen less and less the longer I live here. I’m used to the hassle of small things (like insanity of dealing with utilities here, the death-defying driving, crossing the street like you’re actually IN the game Frogger), so it takes a bit more to get me riled up.

It started off at 4am. We have new neighbors upstairs who decided it was time to run like elephants across their hardwood floors, and right above our bedroom. Not so bad, could happen anywhere! But I was up.

When the sun came up at six I made some coffee and sat down at the dining room table. We have a patio off the dining room and there are flowers planted beyond that. A few times a week, workers are hired to weed, fertilize, and apparently, piss on our patio. I looked up from my coffee to see a man, not five feet from our window, facing me, taking a leak. I’ll give him a BIT of credit (am I too nice?), he couldn’t see me.  Our patio is fenced in, or caged in…see?

But he was standing, facing it (the patio), and I was sitting inside eye to eye with….IT.

I opened the window and yelled in my best Chinese “HEY, I LIVE HERE!” And he ran off. Thanks for fertilizing, my friend.

Did I mention how ‘foggy’ it’s been lately? We use the term ‘fog’ for pollution because that’s what the Chinese call it. I’ve never experienced smelly fog, though. This summer has been, according to those who have lived here for many years, one of the worst they’ve seen. There’s an air quality index posted every hour, and it’s been in the “very unhealthy” level for days, occasionally “hazardous.” So not only have I been listening to the new neighbors polish their floors with clogs upstairs and staring into the eye of a ……….well, I can’t really get away either because of the air.

The Mister decided to take me out to dinner last night, to a Chinese restaurant we love. I’ll skip over the time it took to drive 3 miles to drive there. We are greeted warmly by the staff, and are also greeted by an insane amount of cigarettes and cigars despite the ban on indoor smoking. Laws, what laws? They don’t matter if they’re not enforced, right?

Sitting to our left- a table of four men drinking Baijiu (basically bathtub fire water), smoking like chimneys, and one guy even has his shirt off. The door was open so the air wasn’t too bad, but then the man with his shirt off decides he’s gonna hock up a loogie and spit it on the floor.  IN A RESTAURANT.

We promptly got up and moved to a less smoky, less repulsive, non-spitting section of the restaurant, where a group to our left consisted of five twenty-somethings with an adorable Chow puppy. I will take a puppy at the table over a loogie any day.

I had to use the bathroom…..and I mean I really needed to use the bathroom, but I knew what awaited me behind the door- a squatter. A traditional, Chinese squatter. No seat, no toilet paper. Ever walk into a bathroom with two socks and leave with one? Wiped with a receipt? Seriously, you haven’t lived. Thank god for that stack of Starbucks napkins in my purse!  And strong thighs! Some would argue the squatter is MORE hygenic, as your body touches nothing anyone else has touched.  I say, that may be true, just be sure to roll up your jeans first.

We ordered the same thing we always order. A lamb dish with cilantro and cumin, and a spicy cabbage dish we can’t seem to get enough of lately. Of course, because it was a China day the cabbage wasn’t up to par. Eh.

Something happened today, though. The skies cleared.

I went for a long walk this morning through Ritan park and stopped to admire the hundreds of people practicing tai chi. I walked a bit further and there were groups of old men sitting with their song birds, admiring their tunes and playing mahjong and cards.

Couples ballroom danced, some played hackey sack, others practicing martial arts with swords. The sun was peeking out, it was all so peaceful, and I was so happy to BE here.

I stopped at a street cart on the way home for breakfast of a Chinese style bread with an egg cooked in it, slathered with chili sauce and wrapped around some lettuce. It cost 39 cents.

So, there are China Days and there are China Days. They’re both interesting,one’s just a bit less…hygenic. Hasn’t killed me yet. Not even a stomach ache.



There’s a website in China called Taobao. It’s similar to Ebay, except that it’s not only individuals selling items, its manufacturers also. That means amazing things are available to purchase, and usually at significantly lower prices than we’d pay in the US.

The only difficulty is that it’s all in Chinese characters, and while the Mr. and I are getting better and better with our spoken Mandarin, reading it well enough to trust it with our credit card is just…pushing it. Luckily, a Chinese friend who also speaks English helped us out last weekend, and we ordered some amazing things for the baby and the nursery.

What’s fantastic is that not only did we order all of this stuff on a Sunday, but we had to run to the bank to enable a feature on our account. Yup, the bank was open on a Sunday. Nice. And, moments after we placed orders, we got phone calls from the sellers, confirming things like our address, color preferences, delivery options. Impressive. Fast forward to noon on Monday, less than 24 hours after ordering, and 1/2 of the items we ordered were at our door.

There’s always the lingering question with name brand items purchased here…are they real? Are they really good knock-offs?

Case in point I ordered an Ergo baby carrier. Rave reviews about this thing from Moms everywhere, but it costs over $100 USD on Amazon.  Found this badboy on Taobao. 160 rmb. That’s a little over $26 USD. Hmmmmmm. Would it be the same? Would it be a cheap substitute?

It’s exact. Box, instruction manual, everything. EXACT.

Granted, we couldn’t have done this on our own without the help of our awesome friend, but I think we could manage now with a little google translate. And you can order ANYthing on Taobao. Large size shoes (!!), Hershey’s cocoa powder, a sewing machine, furniture, houseplants….it’s all there.

Hide the credit card! Taobao, you are AMAZING.

Sidenote- the Chinese friend of ours brought over 20 bananas for me. “It’s very good for the baby,” she said. As always, so so sweet. But, ummmmm, how does one person (or two, for that matter, the Mr. will help!) eat 20 bananas before they turn brown? I could, if I pushed myself, eat…ohhhhh two a day, but that’s 10 days of bananas. They go bad within about five. I’ve already made banana bread, and banana pudding is next. I just hope I don’t give birth to a gorilla.

The Beijing Beatles

Feeling the need for some live tunes last weekend, we checked out the roster for a cool little joint called VA bar, in the happening hutong ,Wudaoying. Turns out, the “Beijing Beatles” were playing. Sold.

We had our hopes set on an awesome Chinese Beatles knock-off band….perhaps a few giggles.

What we got instead was this:

2 guys from England (Don Lemon and Raul McCarthy), a guy from Australia (Jorge Arrowsmith), and the drummer, Gringo Star, from France. And they were awesome….not just in a hokey, costume-y way, these guys rocked. The lead singer had a fantastic voice, and the rest of the band was insanely good!

Who knew the best Beatles tribute band would be found right here in Beijing?