Looking back at my first impressions post on China, when we first arrived in Ningbo over two years ago, I mostly had good things to say! By the end of the assignment, I loved the hiking around Ningbo, I loved the architecture and history, but I was not a fan of rude (or oblivious, who knows!?) people I encountered every day. The bad things were a big annoyance and in the end, outweighed the good things in my mind. Here are my random thoughts on China this time around:
Poop. Cigarette Smoke. Pollution. These three words still sum up some of the worst aspects of living in China. I’m not sure if it was the region we lived in last time, or the fact that I was a very tired, hot pregnant lady in the summer of 2015, but this trip to China has drastically changed my opinion of China and Chinese people. Austin and I were discussing this, and we decided that although part of our change in opinion could be due to expecting worse and being pleasantly surprised, there is something different about the people of Shandong province. The cities, albeit still large by U.S. standards, are smaller, people are much more friendly and helpful, and it doesn’t seem like everyone is judging me openly for having more than one kid. So, here are some of the good things about our experience in China over the past two months:
We’ll start with poop. In Ningbo, Landon stepped in (human) poop several times at parks and other green space areas (like outside a large museum!). I was so fed up with cleaning poop out of his sandals that I actually yelled at an innocent bystander and they directed me to the nearby decorative fountain and offered some tissues to help clean it up. In that instance, I was definitely a very hot, very angry pregnant lady. Those sandals did not make it back to the United States! This time in China, we knew to be on the lookout for poop, but we did not find very much of it. Sometimes after going to the open-air market, we would walk to this little strip of park alongside a canal. The boys liked it because there was a rickety suspension bridge that was fun to cross. We had to be careful at that park, because there was dog poop in the grass. Another time, we visited the Zibo Zoo. That’s another post for another time, but in the outskirts of the zoo, someone had chosen to relieve themselves in front of the ostrich exhibit. How did we know it was human? Well, because there was toilet paper on top of the poop. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but most babies in China don’t wear diapers. Instead, all of the baby clothes have a hole in the crotch so that babies can do their business without messing up their pants. Underneath the pants, they don’t have anything on. So, when they go pee or poop, the parents either hold them over a trash can or a grassy lawn or a bush and let them do their thing. There are ladies that stand at the corner handing out tissues with an advertisement of some kind on them. The parents then use these tissues to clean up their kid. So, that’s another way that poop and pee can get everywhere. Yay, China! Other than our encounter at the zoo, we had no poop incidents, with two rambunctious boys, even with traveling to several unfamiliar cities. That’s a BIG win for Shandong province!
Near our hotel was a shopping street with high quality knock=offs. There were two New Balance knock=offs next to each other!
Cigarette smoke- In Ningbo, it was hard to find a non-smoking restaurant, and people tried to smoke everywhere. The cigarette smoke here seems to be stronger than in the U.S. and much stinkier. Thankfully, the Marriott in Ningbo had a non-smoking policy that most people followed, even in the lobby. This time around, I see less smoking in restaurants but our hotel does allow smoking inside the rooms. This means that sometimes our floor smells like smoke, and we have to open and close our hotel room door very quickly to avoid letting icky smoke into our room. Other than that, cigarette smoke is just something we’re used to because pretty much everywhere else in the world, more people smoke.
Pollution. Shandong province is home to many industrial plants. Those plants produce icky pollution. I didn’t really notice how bad it was until I compared pictures of Israel and pictures of China. Even on “green” days, the air in pictures has a hazy glow. On bad days, my eyes itch and nose runs terribly. One thing I find intriguing is China’s ability to “turn on” and “turn off” pollution. We found that when they “turned off” the pollution in Beijing for a large military parade, they turned up the factories in Ningbo to make up for the lost production. Some days were worse than others in Shandong province, but the pollution was much better in this more rural area than in a major city. I think that they try very hard to make it seem like China is taking care of the environment, but it is all for show.
So close, but that doesn’t spell “New Balance!”
Now for random observations in Shandong province:
- I had NO IDEA but people don’t really drink cold water if they can help it here. Whenever someone offers me water, it comes piping hot, almost too hot to drink. The grandmothers that watch their grandchildren all day bring a thermos of hot water or tea, instead of a water bottle. I think in Chinese traditional medicine hot water is supposed to be better for health, but it just makes me sweat more than I already am in the humid heat!
- Shandong province has many more bread options than Ningbo did. I think that more wheat vs. rice is grown in this area, so they have flour to make all sorts of breads and flour-based crackers that we did not find in Ningbo. It was all about the dumplings there! Close by our hotel was a street farmer’s market, and we would go there to buy produce and freshly made flat bread. The boys loved eating it plain, or with peanut butter.
- Chinese BBQ is different than Korean and Japanese BBQ. We went with our friend Aya to her mother’s friend’s new restaurant. We ordered several kinds of meat on skewers, and then they bring it to you and put white hot coals in a box with a machine over it that automatically turns the skewers. The meat is not seasoned at all, but there are seasonings and crushed peanuts on the table to season the meat. We ate ours with lettuce, whole green onions, and meat wrapped up in the yummy flatbread. It was surprisingly good! One of my favorite moments was when I asked Aya how we were supposed to eat the green onions. Her mom demonstrated by just chomping down on a whole green onion and eating it plain! Although we did not eat the onions plain, we did include them in our flatbread.
- In Shandong province, I saw more people exercising with tai chi, fan and sword dancing, martial arts, and ballroom dance in the park. In Ningbo, the strangely robotic line dancing was much more popular.
- China rail is really great. Their customer service saved us several times. Insider tip: if a train is sold out, you can usually still buy a ticket and just stand in the train ends inside of having a seat. Or, better yet, find the dining car and sit there! Sometimes, you can get a ticket with a seat for a portion of the ride, and then give up the seat and stand for a portion as well. Our friend Aya helped us buy tickets like this, the ticket agent would have to be fairly fluent to figure out what you were talking about if you tried to buy them like that at the ticket counter. Also, we only had tickets for a portion of our journey one time, and we were able to buy tickets for the rest of the ride on the train.
- There are water trucks that water the roads periodically. I’m not sure why. It makes me smile every time because they play “It’s a Small World” from Disneyland. I look EVERY TIME because I think an ice cream truck is coming. No such luck!
- For some reason, there are children’s amusement park-style rides everywhere we go in Zibo. Inside malls, outside malls, in random parks, it’s impossible to avoid! There is usually a small carousel, mini roller coaster or train, and a small flying ride. Typically, my kids KNOW that we are not paying to go on a stupid little ride, but one time, we found a new park and both boys started playing on the small play structure. All around the park were kid amusement traps, where they wanted me to pay for Landon to play. It was like an impromptu carnival, but it seemed like they set it up every day. There was fishing for prizes, digging in the sand with all sorts of enticing sand tools, a train, and many cheap Chinese toys laid out on blankets for the kids to grab. While I was helping Owen not fall off the play structure, Landon jumped into a train and went for a train ride. So then we had to pay. It was only like 25 cents, thankfully, but I try to avoid things like that on principle. Needless to say, we never went by that park again.
- Anyone remember the fun, very early computer game Frogger? Well, we get to play it every day in China when we want to cross the street. Here, it seems that vehicles have the right of way, and pedestrians need to watch out to avoid getting run over. I was SO ANNOYED by this in Ningbo, but I’ve grown much more used to being hyper aware of my surroundings to avoid getting hit by a bus or car or scooter or three-wheeled truck.
- The people of Shandong province are so generous. Owen became a professional beggar at the park, walking up coyly to all of the grandmas feeding their grandchildren pieces of fruit with a toothpick. They would always share with him, and then he’d come back for more! I found this to be a major difference between Zibo and Ningbo- no one would have thought to share anything, even toys with us in Ningbo, where people were much more open and friendly in Zibo.
- It’s all about outward appearances in China. They will construct these huge, grandiose and fancy looking buildings, but the construction quality is not great, and they don’t last. Take, for example, this gigantic building with a grand square around it. This is the Zibo museum. The actual museum takes up only about a quarter of the building. The rest of it stands empty, or is used for meetings and such. They save on electricity by not turning on most of the lights, and the paint was peeling on the inside. But from the outside, it looks like a grand, important building, right?
In sum, we enjoyed our time in Zibo more than Ningbo. I was happy to return back to the U.S., but I felt like I could also stay in Zibo a little longer if needed. China definitely surprised me in a good way this time around!