Editor’s note: Kathy Krejados, our blogger from the US, reflects on the things that she has become inured to after living in China for four years. Some aspects of Chinese society that contrast deeply with life in the US even make her readjustment back home difficult. You are welcome to leave comments.
Unless I’m in my house, I can count on seeing people everywhere. The crush of humanity on buses, dodging physically linked groups on crowded sidewalks, having a total stranger share a table with me at KFC – none of this would happen in the States, especially strangers eating together.
By contrast, America seems empty. Even in bigger cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Tampa and Portland sidewalks are virtually bare and neighborhoods seldom have anyone walking around.
The ladies of our community and the community next door gather to dance away their day’s frustrations at the same time each night. I’ve heard the same seven songs every night. If, because of rain, they do not dance, I miss the music, even though when I hear it I feel like grinding my teeth. Can’t they find seven other songs to dance to?
Any little available patch of ground is planted. In the no-man’s land to the rear of our campus you will find people trudging, pail and implements in hand, to tend to their vegetables. You might also smell the (human waste) fertilizer… not a pleasant smell at all. Once, I even saw a man tending a vegetable garden he had planted on a highway median. I doubt that, anywhere in the west, one would find such an abundance of gardens.
In every city I’ve been to in China, traffic of all kinds is just a crazy proposition. Be you a pedestrian or a taxi passenger, you are taking your life in your hands – or putting it in someone else’s on every outing. It’s a wonder anybody gets anywhere in China. I’ve often told my stateside friends who wish to visit that I would have to sedate them before taking them anywhere because they would likely have a heart attack at some of the traffic doings.
Wuhan has two set temperatures: freezer and oven. Occasionally we might enjoy a mild respite from these extremes, but there is pretty much where the thermostat is stuck. I’m used to bundling up in the winter and shedding as much as possible in the summer. If need be, I have a space heater for winter and air conditioning for summer in my home. Everywhere else I might venture, there might not be climate control.
Just about everywhere in America is temperature controlled: houses, cars, stores, offices. It gets as hot in Texas as it does in Wuhan but it never really bothered me because I went from my air conditioned house to my air conditioned car, drove to my air conditioned office and, after work, went shopping in air conditioned stores. After living in natural temperature cycles since I’ve been here, it is difficult for me to to adjust to regulated temperatures stateside.
Low counter and furniture
I am tall, no doubt about that. When I came here, it took a long time to adjust to kitchen counters that hit me mid-thigh and couches that I have to crouch on rather that sit on. I’ve made my peace with tiny dining tables at restaurants too: now I automatically adjust my legs so that I can scrunch them under the table. Or, I sit sideways.
Without fail, every time I return to America, I exclaim over the countertops that are as high as my hip and sofas that I can fall into – instead of falling down on. Bathroom mirrors are another plus during stateside visits. Here, my mirror cuts the top of my head off unless I scrunch down.
Crazy things on wheels
I’ve seen queen sized mattresses, refrigerators, 50 kilo sacs of veggies and huge sculptures of styrofoam on bikes, going down the road. Three or four people, astride an electric scooter, trundling by. It seems that if it needs wheels, the common bike is good enough. Tie it on and make it work.
By contrast, biking in America is a dubious proposition everywhere except a few select cities. Even then, bikes are for people, not refrigerators. Cycling is more recreational than functional in America, for the most part.
Food vendor carts and open markets are what I’m talking about when I mention smells. In America, you might smell flowers, belching diesel fumes from buses and car exhaust, but smelling food is not as prevalent as in China.