Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ACME Headquarters MUST be in China!

Ahh, this sign says it all: "Mind Your Head". When I first saw it, I immediately looked up expecting to see a low ceiling or immanent obstacle that would cause some serious brain damage. But after seeing that there were NO obstructions, and that the ceilings were 30 feet high, I realized that this MUST have been code to all Non-Chinese visitors. It then came to me: we are being warned about the craziness and utter mind-blowing and chaotic things that only can happen in the Far East!

Before I delve into this more, I want to start by saying this is NOT meant to be a mean-spirited pot-shot at the Chinese or their culture. As I have said many times before, the people here are perhaps the most kind-hearted folks I have ever experienced! As I am a guest in their beautiful and fascinating country, I am grateful to them for allowing me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I will always cherish it! Lastly, I have a number of Chinese friends (some that read this blog!), so I am wanting to reassure that I am not stereotyping all people in China, JUST the seven million that live in my city...

In this blog, my goal is to simply point out some vast differences in Chinese and U.S. cultures. I will leave it to you the reader to come to the conclusion of whether it's bizarre and strange! Today marks the THIRD month I have lived in this country. The following are a few more (and some updated!) observations I have made here:

1) "Giddyup!"- So there are THOUSANDS of bikes, scooters, and motorcycles here. And many of those have a second person riding on the bike. But as we are used to the rear passenger straddle the back seat and grasp the waist of the driver to ensure certain safety, the Chinese take it a step further-they ride side saddle. And they do it well. Most people couldn't begin to pull this off, and the balance and grace the Chinese have doing this is quite impressive!
2) "Oui, Oui!"- So I have walked all over this city, and 2 times now I have seen a child (with parental consent), drop their britches and pee (sorry, URINATE) right there on the sidewalk! No one stares, no one cares, except for the obvious foreigners who simply stare in disbelief...
3) "Boss! The Train, the Train!"- this one always leaves me scratching my head. A few weeks ago, while sitting in a packed train station waiting on the train back to Nanjing, suddenly everyone jumps up and piles into a line outside the turnstile. When asked what was up, my translator tells me the train is here. I gather my bags, stand up, and proceed to wait in the line. After 10 minutes of not moving and getting a little miffed, I asked what the delay was and when we were going to board. My translator says "when the train gets here". "You said a while ago, it WAS here" I replied. "Yes, in 20 minutes, it will be here". HUH? I then asked why the hell we were all standing and waiting in line for a train that wouldn't arrive for another 20 minutes. "It's what we do" was the answer. With that, I dropped my bags, and sat back down at the utter shock and amazement of my team. "You will miss the train!" they all exclaimed. "I will take my chances" I said as I put my headphones back on. Crazy American!
4) "Demolition Derby"- I won't harp on this much more, just wanted to reiterate how CRAZY Chinese drivers are. Horns blasting, No lights at night, sidewalk driving, Chinese fire drills (I now know why they are called that!), it's all common sights here...
5) "Big Brother"- Unless you live with your head in a hole in the ground, you know that China is a member of the Communist Party. With that, you should know that cameras are EVERYWHERE here. You get used to them, but it's really amazing to see. My translator asked me one day (random question), if the U.S. embraced Communism as a form of government. After I looked both directions, I boldly said "HELL no!" I explained the differences in the two governments, and my translator couldn't believe that we as Americans didn't support it!
6) "Mickey Me Likey"- Ok, those of you that have been here already know that the Chinese have a thing for Western (not cowboy, but American) clothes. They LOVE anything American looking, and often wear shirts that are riddled with English sayings and pictures. Problem: none of it makes sense. They don't so much care as to WHAT it says, but doggone it, a nice shirt with the words "Flying Smile Upon Ground" just makes the world go round!
7) "Rain Rain, Go Away"- The other day while looking out my window, I saw hundreds of women walking around carrying umbrellas. Thinking it was raining, I grabbed mine and headed out the door. One thing: It wasn't raining. In fact, it was a beautiful sunny day. Feeling like an idiot, I proceeded to ask my trusty translator about this. I found out that in China, women are more appealing to men (and future husbands) when their skin is the color of a bar of Ivory soap instead of a nice, sultry tan we so desire in the States. The umbrellas keep their marriage streak alive.
8) "ACME Rules!"- So I have found that the Chinese people LOVE brands. It can be the best product in the world, but if they saw another cheaper version pasted in magazines and TV commercials, that's the one for them! Example- Downtown there is a Pizza Hut and a Papa Johns 1 block from each other. The PH Pizza is TERRIBLE (even worse than the States), while the PJ pie is glorious! BUT, PJ doesn't advertise, and PH ads and logos are all over the place! Result- PH is PACKED everyday, and PJ is a ghost town. That's ok, more for me!
9) "I Must Be Taking Crazy Pills!"- I have witnessed two recent accounts of behavior that just flat-out leave me scratching my head. First, at a Pizza Hut, one of my friends was ordering dinner, when the waitress asked "Would you like Thick Crust or Thin Crust?" "I will have the thick crust" my friend responded. "Sorry, we only have Thin crust" was the reply back. Picture head tilt and eyes crossed here. Second example- I went to a Subway recently, and asked for a sandwich. After paying and walking out, I was chased down by one of the workers, who in broken Engrish, tells me that she accidentally put cheese on my sandwich (which I didn't order). "It's ok, no big deal" I said. The lady said something else, and motioned me back inside. After I walked in, she opened my sandwich, and proceeded to TAKE the cheese off (which was covered in mustard btw). ARE YOU KIDDING? What are you possibly going to use that cheese for?! Some things are beyond explanations I guess...
10) "Of Mice and Men"- This was rather puzzled me and bothered me to some extent. While in Jinan recently, I went to a supermarket one night for some American snacks. As I was leaving, I walked into the foyer and noticed that the electronic doors were locked (a glance at my watch told me they were closing, and they were trying to keep traffic to one side of the store). But before I left and went to the other side, I stopped and watched the dozen or so people that had walked in there minutes before I did. Instead if taking alternative action, they merely stood there and pushed at the doors, sometimes knocking. But after 5 minutes of this, they STILL stood there, as if some magical event would happen and the door would open. I walked out and around to the other side of the store, and outside. As I walked past the front of the store, I passed the closed door, which now had 30 or so people trapped inside, all looking at me and still pushing on the door. Who knows, maybe they are STILL there, kinda bizarre...
11) "Speak Up, Sonny!"- Short, but sweet: the people here talk LOUD. I'm talking "We're about to have a fight" loud, it's funny to watch (and hear). I can't tell if they are just excited, or are screaming at each other for something.
12) "Wat You Lookin At, Willis?"- a follow up from an earlier blog, but I will say again I get stared at all day, every day. But I AM getting used to it, so stare away!
13) "Cook! Where is my Hasenpfeffer!" I can honestly say, I have never had quite the experiences with food as I have had with China. Some good, mostly bad, eating and food here are quite the adventure! I DID eat at a Chinese restaurant recently where I DID enjoy the meal immensely, as it was all rather tasty and spicy! BUT, as usual, I shied away from the turtles, Duck Heads, Half-grown Chicken embryos, Eels, Pig entrails, and although I have eaten it before, even the rabbit. But they NEVER seem to run out of noodles here, it's great!
14) "How Low Can You Go?"- In China, people wait around for things a LOT (see #3). In order to preserve the integrity of one's hips and joints, you are cordially invited to do as the Roman's do, and SQUAT. I have learned that squatting is actually a more natural and fluid way to rest, almost Yoga-like in position. But It takes some pretty strong leg strength and balance, and some pants that fit a bit loose in the seat!

That's all I have for now, I know it's a lot. But I enjoy making a list of these things as I go through my daily life here. I will leave you with one thing that actually did really touch me in a more positive way here: as I walked through a park with some colleagues after a recent dinner, we happened upon hundreds of Chinese people that were all dancing right on the waterfront. I watched with a smile (and admitingly a bit of envy) as all of these people, even with all of the craziness they seem to demonstrate at times, put everything aside and immerse themselves in good music, good company, and a celebration of life that many Americans sometimes take for granted. People laughed, danced (even with strangers), and just enjoyed the night! I will definitely go back and maybe even take part and make some NEW Chinese friends!

That's it for now, I'm off to an import supermarket tomorrow in search of Lucky Charms (which my brother sent me in a care package last week!), and my swimmers swear they sell there! We shall see!

Also, will be adding a lot of new photos on My Flickr page soon, you can access these on the left of the blog! Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is there a Witch Doctor in the house?

Hello everyone! I know it has been a while since my last blog, but as I am racking my brain about 3 hours each days writing workouts and planning, you can understand that the last thing I want to do at the end of each day is write! But as I have most of tomorrow off, here goes...

So let's talk about doctors, shall we? I'm not talking about those people who decided to attend school after college for a few more years in order to have a few letters in front of their name. I am talking about those who engulf their heart and souls in the medical profession, and who help many of us live a healthier and longer life. We look at doctors as gifted, intelligent, and wise beyond their years regarding medicine and practices. And then there are Chinese doctors...

Now as an athletic coach, I certainly am NO doctor. But for years I have been to quite a few both as an athlete and coach, and I must say I am pretty savvy with the lingo, protocols, and remedies. I knew I was in for a ride when I encountered my first doctor here in China. My first week here, I went to the "health" center here to get a physical for my work visa. I went from nurse to nurse, doctor to doctor getting a checkup depending on the area of medicine. Each process took maybe 30 seconds, and my results privy to everyone in the clinic as people actually sat next to you as you got tested or talked to a doctor. I REALLY knew I was in trouble when I went to get my eye test, and the doctor covered my eye with a paddle, and asked "Can you read the chart?" When I responded "Yes" and before I could read it, he said "ok, you are!"

But this is just informative info, as the reason for the topic is that over the last few weeks my swimmers have more and more lined up each day before workout and have pleaded their case for some ailment. "I have runny stomach" my translator tells me after talking to the boy standing in front of me. "Excuse me? Is this like runny nose? I don't understand..." After a repeat of the phrase, I tell Scotty that I give up, I have no clue what he is talking about. "He has diarrhea" Scotty tells me. OOOHHHH, ok. I tell them to take some Pepto Bismol, and then get in the pool. "Pepto? What is this strange word you utter?" HAD to have been what my swimmer is thinking as he is staring at me like a dog trying to understand their master speaking to them. "You know, Pepto! Tums, Rolaids, stuff that will help your 'runny stomach' ". Well, wouldn't you know it, the Chinese don't use such things. This would go against the traditional "Chinese Medicine" that has been used for thousands of years. "So what do we do?" I ask, now getting frustrated about the whole situation. "He must go to hospital" is the answer. "Are you kidding me? A hospital visit for the runs?!" So the swimmer goes off to the hospital. The next day the swimmer comes back, and I say "ok, what did the doctor say?" "He say the swimmer has runny stomach." I waited on the punchline and a drum rimshot, but only silence. Well, my friends, I had to shake my head and laugh at this point, as I knew it would only get worse from here. "So what was the remedy" I asked. "To take 3 days off". My laughter turned into growling as this simply wasn't going to cut it with me. This is from someone who himself swam for coaches that said "I'll tell you when you are in pain, keep going!" So afterwards, more and more swimmers started to come to me every day, for things ranging from headache and diarrhea to menstruation and high blood pressure. In each case, there was no medicine prescribed, only the cure of "take a few days off". It's really hard, cause the American in me wants to say "well, WE have things like Advil, Pepto, and Alka Seltzer. Why don't you get these things??!" But I know that would come off as arrogant, and defy the ancient Chinese method of traditional medicine (which is usually a few herbs, or perhaps the root of some vegetable out of the ground). Now I am sure there are a few educated and bright doctors in China, I just haven't met any yet. Maybe one day I will...

Life in Nanjing, however, is good! I am adjusting nicely, and have made a number of friends here! I WILL be glad to get home for a little home cooking though. I have been here for 2 months now, and have lost 20 pounds, woohoo!

On a different note, a few more observations:

1) Movie theaters show the movies in English here, with Chinese subtitles. The cost is actually the same as the States, however a bucket of popcorn and a coke are only $2...
2) I found out it DOES snow here a few times each winter. But as there are NO snowplows here, when it drops under freezing, the city shuts down, and the city officials spray WATER all over the streets in order to melt the snow....UMM, hello?
3) If you are unmarried at ANY age, you are considered a child.
4) Hospitals here are closed for lunch, and close again at 5pm. You can ONLY have someone see you if it's an absolute emergency (like an axe is embedded in your head).

That's it for now, have a great week!