The First 100 Days

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Today marks our 100th day since we moved to China. It's been a fun, if not always smooth ride so far. I alternate between how-did-we-wind-up-in-China days and I-totally-belong-here days. I think the vast majority are the latter, but sometimes it still feels like we're here on some kind of long vacation.

I think we were pretty well-prepared when we came, but of course there were still lots of little surprises. I thought I'd share a few of those surprises (in no particular order).

  • The milk is really good. We moved on the heels of the milk scandal, so milk quality was a huge concern for us. We quickly discovered an local organic brand called Wondermilk. It tastes much "milkier" than the stuff back home. They even deliver to our house. The only downside is that it only comes in 500ml (just over a pint) containers, so we have a lot of package waste.
  • The produce is really fantastic too. I love our co-op farm back in Seattle, with their delicious carrots, but the carrots and other fruits and veggies out here are even tastier. This is especially true when we go to local wet markets to buy our food. They have these little tangerines here, in particular, are really to die for. Most fruits and veggies in American groceries are pretty but tasteless by comparison.
  • The brooms in stores are all really short here; I'm talking 3-4 feet high. It actually makes sweeping very hard. Fortunately, our ayi (the woman who helps around the house) does most of that (and she's shorter than I am.) The only American-sized brooms I've seen were silly expensive brooms imported from Germany.
  • Not all foreigners here speak English. This seems obvious, of course, since there are a lot of Germans, Koreans, and others here. This fact means there are surprisingly good or even great German, Korean, Persian, etc. restaurants here. (No good Mexican food yet, though.)
  • There is a big (40% I think) tax on most imported goods, so domestic stuff is usually a much better value. This is by design, of course, and very irritating.
  • There are a lot of Crumpler (sling bags and backpacks) and Crocs (the nasty, ugly plastic shoes) shops here, usually together. It seems like every mall has them.
  • On cold nights, Shunyi (our suburb) smells like a bag of charcoal briquettes. In the city, people heat their houses with low-emission coal, but outside the Fifth Ring Road (where we are), they can burn the cheaper normal coal. The result can be really bothersome and even visible, with a thick haze over the road. Thank goodness for our IQAir air purifiers.
  • Many locals I've spoken with approve of the job the government is doing. I kind of expected everyone to be quietly itching for a more democratic government, but there seems to be a pretty common patience here and acknowledgement that China has some way to go before it's ready for democracy. I suspect as long as people have jobs, food, and a brighter future for their kids, they don't care much who is in charge.
  • Even in the early 1980's, Beijing was mostly confined within the Second Ring Road. Today, the Central Business District (where the CCTV Tower and our temp housing was) is a bustling land of skyscrapers between the Second and Third Ring Roads. Less than thirty years ago, it was apparently little brick factories and farms (kind of like Shunyi today.) The city is pushing out past the Fifth Ring now and still going (there's already a Sixth Ring Road too). I had no idea the city grew so much so quickly.
  • I often have to be pretty pushy to get what I want in restaurants. On my previous visits I used to think people were just rude to the staff, but it often seems to be the only way to get served.
  • That said, service (outside of restaurants) can often be awesome. Lots of free delivery and other places where people will just do things for you.
  • The water is nasty tasting (even when filtered) and is so hard it leaves white powder near the humidifier.
  • There are a lot of dogs here, and, contrary to popular belief in the US, I don't mean on menus. It's very common, especially in the country, for people to have dogs as pets. For some reason, I didn't really think of China this way.
  • A lot of people think the boys are twins. They do look a lot alike, but they're three years apart, and Andrew (11) is a head taller than Michael (8). I think it's because most Chinese families only have one child due to the single child policy, so their default answer when they see brothers is "twins".

Well, that's enough for now. I'm sure in a year or so, all of this stuff will just seem normal, but for now, I'm enjoying the differentness.

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