Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where's the Ranch Dressing? What we miss and love about the USA compared to Suzhou

Video Update Number 3

As we approach the five month mark that we have been in China there are quite a lot of new things that we love along with few things that we miss from our USA home.  Here's a quick off the top of my head list that compares the good and bad of China and the United States.

What we love about China(mostly focused on Suzhou) that we can't find in the US:

  • Public transportation here is a thousand times better than back at home (see MSU's Cata system).  For a country that is still in developing status, we often wonder why the United States does not have mass transit even somewhat comparable to this.  We can easily hop on a bus (or cheap city taxi), get off at the train station, and travel around 300km/hr to arrive in Shanghai in a 25 minutes. Even with Suzhou not being a top city in China, it has an effective single line of subway that makes it simple to get across the city.  Suzhou and other cities around city are currently building many public subway lines. Suzhou should have line 2 complete by July with many others to come each of the coming years.
  • From our point of view the Chinese treat foreigners (at least Americans like us) a lot better than the United States does.  Our Chinese is limited to a few word yet people stay very patient with us and often get embarrassed, not because we don't speak their language, but because they cannot speak my native language.  We don't feel the "If you live in the USA and don't speak English, then get out." attitude towards foreigners here. I'm not sure how many Americans would let two Chinese people act out what they want using hand motions like they do in reverse for us here. Not to mention if you read any news about China or listen to the Ads that politicians put out, there are all very negative and critical of China.  You never see that here toward USA.
  • Getting literally cheered (with hand peace signs) when walking into a classroom.
  • Flying kites with 40 other people of all ages and not caring when 3 of them crash into each other.
  • The city is really clean.  We're also very lucky because living in Suzhou means that the pollution levels are pretty low, especially compared to cities like Beijing or even Shanghai, but either way our city, along with others are clean.   The other day I suddenly realized that I rarely see any litter in the streets and that the landscaping is always perfect.  This is mostly because each day you can see workers making sure the streets are clean and that the flowers are in great shape. 
  • Bad English signs and t-shirts.  The online translations must be a little off or they just don't care, which is funny because when you see a 75 year old lady wearing a shirt that says, " I'm cute and hot." We can't seem to figure out why there aren't any shirts with Chinese written on them and the Chinese teachers don't seem to know either.  Michelle made sure to purchase her own.
  • Street popcorn, cotton candy,  sweet potatoes,crazy balloons, and pineapple/melon on a stick.
  • Being really well off:  In US dollars our paychecks here couldn't buy all that much but in Chinese Yuan a summer trip to Thailand along with lots of traveling is not out of question.Goods are priced to make more sense.  Why is a bottle of water $1.50 or more when it's $0.20 here even though it's bottled in the same place by Nestle?
  • Minimal violent crime:  We honestly feel completely safe walking at night in most, if not all, places in Suzhou.  You can't even say this about MSU's campus.  We have been warned that the only thing we should worry about is being pick pocketed but we haven't seen any evidence of this yet either.
  • While old people here are a little bit pushy and sometimes seem rude to us,  we respect how independent and healthy they are.  We have NEVER seen an old person who is completely unable to do anything by themselves.  For how the families are set up, the grandparents watch the little children while the parents go to work.  And since you have to use public transit and walk a ton in China, they are completely healthy and willing to do these things when they are pushing 80 years old. I saw a very old lady swinging a sledge hammer just last week and an old man actually running for the bus.  We Americans have a higher life expectancy (only a little compared to modern Suzhou) but do we really live longer if our final years are in bed?
  • DVDs!  No Copyright! WOOOOO!  DVDs go for about a dollar and they are perfect copy.  You wouldn't know the difference.  You even get the sleeve that comes with the information and usually a small poster inside(sometimes Michelle's sole reason for buying DVDs). The store that we go to always orders what we can't find for next time too. Also Baidu Music which is basically their Google allows us to play any song or album and create custom playlists!
  • All of the schools have a barrier all the way around with one or two entry gates guarded by security.  No one gets in unless they are supposed to be. Not sure if it would be 100% effective but it may have stopped terrible incidents from occurring. 
  • Free firework shows from our balcony. 

  • Overreaction to punishments at school.  When my brother Nick was in 3rd grade he said something along the lines of "I'm going to kill Hillary Duff, " and if it wasn't for a teacher not reporting it, he would have been suspended.  Someone brought a small pumpkin carving knife to high school and got suspended even though they were carving pumpkins in school that day.  Laser pens = suspension. Swiss army knives for tools = suspension...etc.  In our schools maybe it's a bit on the total opposite end of the spectrum but small kids use x-acto knives for art and no one freaks out. 
  •  In general, we see so many things that leaves us scratching our heads, laughing hysterically, or both. We enjoy experiencing this new culture even if it's sometimes a little bit uncomfortable.  This bullet point is hard to explain without actually visiting China.  Read our other blog posts if you want examples.

What we aren't total fans of:

  • Pushiness while in line or getting on the bus.  It seems like this is a cultural different so this is a minor dislike.  The majority or people who decide that lines mean absolutely nothing or that walking through a crowd = a mosh pit are elderly people(see old people strength above). This is something that we or others may never get used to.  When someone kind of throws you the elbow or pushes you aside you instantly get a little angry and expect an apology in return.  Since this isn't the case, we try not to care when this happens even though it is tough!
  • Seriously people's feet are not meant to walk on jagged rock sidewalks or streets.  Suzhou's streets, bike/ebike paths, and sidewalks are really kept in good condition.  That being said, many of these sidewalks involve concrete with rocks being turned sideways one by one.  Can we just save a little time here while saving our feet as well?
  • People taking photos of us (negative celebrity status):  Sometimes when we are out or just on the subway people will take pictures of us.  This totally wouldn't be a problem if some of these, usually groups of girls(high school/college aged), would try to be a least a little bit stealth.  We get it.  You want to post pictures of the side of our heads while we make faces at you to prove you saw us or that you are friends with us on your Chinese version of Facebook, but come on.  When you are shoving the camera in our faces like we are animals at the zoo, I don't think you are going to get the best picture. 
  • Wearing coats at school.  Pretty much any public building to the north of us is heated.  Our school is not.  Michelle is the one who really hated(it's 70-80 degrees finally) this but we didn't like it even more because the kids had to withstand it.  Little things like this make us think about how lucky we are to be born in a rich country.
  • Spitting:  This is probably overplayed a bit but you alway notice when someone does this. It happens a lot less than I intially expected but it's the noise that doesn't get old.
  • Dust:  For whatever reason, maybe it's the humidity, our wood floor apartment gets so dusty that we've had to wash the floor with floor cleaner and a mop three times already. 
  • Is it not April? It that Christmas music?
  • People starting their day out with some fireworks and firecrackers at 5am.
  • Often instructions or information given by our Chinese co-workers is very very broad or sometimes means almost nothing.  For example: School gets out at the end of June for both of us.  We both still do not know the exact date....and either do they.

What we love and miss about the good ol' USA:

  • Probably goes without saying but obviously our family and friends.  Skype can only do so much.
  • Driving: Yes, we can go on and on about the public transit but sometimes I want to get in my old used car and just drive to the supermarket instead of carrying our reusable bags across town. We definitely miss this when it is raining or cold out!
  • Ranch dressing, Dr Pepper, and Taco Bell. You don't even know.
  • Having an oven and a dryer.  Wow we are so spoiled compared to most of the world.
  • No staring:  Here it's less of bad thing, so if you want to turn around 180 degrees while watching someone, no big deal.
  • Sports: I so badly want to go to a Tigers game (and Zs Pizza) or see the Wings playing on at a restaurant or bar. 
  • Garbage bags that can hold more than a container for a gallon of milk.
  • Comfort: American culture is what we understand.  So some things just make sense to us at home.
  • Directness: It's really normal to go to your boss when you have a problem.  This isn't really the case here.
  • Besides the above most of the time we talk about what we miss at home has little to do with the USA as a place.  It mostly has to do with our lack of ability to communicate with others.  Especially when we first arrived, simply being able to ask questions to strangers would have been so helpful. Simple things like getting a phone contract (no such thing. It's all prepay) or setting up a bank account is almost out of the question without help.  We miss having this independence that we would normally have.

What we don't really miss:

  • The Michigan cold.  It's April and it's still snowing!?!
  • BROs (not my brothers)
  • Not having much disposable income.
  • TV:  At times I wish we had cable so I could watch the Red Wings or the Detroit Tigers more comfortably but at the same time that would mean watching idiotic commercials and coming across reality TV and entertainment news. (I have the internet to watch the Wings and MLB.TV courtesy of Jake Shepard)
  • Bratty American kids:  The kids here act so much better than most American kids.  Rarely do you see the full tantrum that anyone can see if they enter their local American Walmart. This seems to be true for many western kids that we see around China. On a side note the kids here seem to walk and talk way before American kids. Maybe we're a bit slow?
  • Living in a small city or suburb.  I remember students who were going to MSU from abroad were saying that they were told that Lansing was a big city and the capital of Michigan.  This is true but when they got here they couldn't believe how small and how little it has to offer. You have to travel really far to go to any Michigan tourist attractions or places of interest.  Everything we need is in our medium city (of 6million).
  • Dumb laws:  When you are here you don't have to get scared to walk on a certain side of the park because it may be illegal.  In the USA we've always been told how controlling China is in every day life but there is no evidence of this. There is a lot of obvious corruption in China's government but it seems like they just do a worse job hiding it compared to the US.
So far, we're having a great time especially since the weather is getting better.  Each day is even easier to live in a foreign country and even more fun.  I think we will be alright living without Ranch for a little bit longer!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hong Kong Disney World

Video update of our schools and travels

Hong Kong Disney World
For anyone who knows me well, then you know I am more or less a Disneyland connoisseur. I am not particularly obsessed with all things Disney, I don’t see every movie, I don’t even like all the ones I have seen. I do, however, adore all Disney theme parks. Thus, when Tommy and I decided to come to China, I immediately began looking into whether or not there were Disney parks by us. There is one in Japan and there is one in Hong Kong. There will be a Disney in Shanghai in 2015. (Additionally, there is a Universal Studios in Singapore.)

With this knowledge in hand, I began to work on convincing Tommy that when our company sent us to Hong Kong to finalize our passport that we should definitely go to the Hong Kong Disney. Mind you, this was back in November of 2012. 

So, when we found out in February that we were going to Hong Kong, Tommy and I made plans to spend part of our extremely limited time there at Disney. I was beyond thrilled. Beyond. 

Located on its own island

The weather for the time we were there was iffy so we decided to go on March 1, Friday, when there was less of a chance of rain. We also had to go pick up our visa that day, so we decided to get to Disney when it opened, then leave around lunch time to get our visa, then head back afterwards and spend the rest of the evening there to see the fireworks.

To get to Disney, we took two subways. One of them connected to the subway line that is owned by Disney and goes solely two and from Disney. This was the single coolest subway I have ever been on. Disney decked it out in top Disney fashion. The entire subway was long benches with fabric covering so they looked more like couches. Between each bench section was a Disney statue incased in glass. The hand holders for those of us who had to stand were shaped like Mickey Mouse ears, and the windows were likewise Mickey ears. It was super fantastic!

Disney subway keeping it classy with the carpet railings

We rode the way there with dozens of little children and a few straggling couples or groups of friends closer to our age. When the subway dropped us off we walked down a long sidewalk that hosted different Disney character flags. Right before you get to the ticket windows is a sweet fountain that shows Mickey’s crew all suited up for a swim, Mickey is surfing on the water that Mastero (the whale from Pinocchio) is blowing out. If you watch closely, you’ll see Mickey rise up and down on this spout of water.

Mickey just surfing on a whale. NBD.

We got to the park before it opened so after waiting in line for ten minutes, the gates opened and we were allowed into the park. It’s set up like Disney World in Florida with Main Street USA, Adventureland, Tomorrow Land, Fantasy Land, but they also have Toy Story Land, and Grizzly Gulch. Grizzly Gulch is just an exceptionally tiny sized version of our Wild West section of Disney World where Splash Mountain is and Big Thunder Mountain.

Adventureland was really cool and a lot bigger than ours. Also, way more authentic what with all the real tropical nature and all. AH! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Tarzan's Crib

We were trapped in Main Street USA until the official park opening at 10:30. Don’t ask me why we are let into the park at 10 but can’t go on any rides or do ANYTHING until 10:30. Must be a China thing. Anyway, so Tommy and I are at the front waiting for them to drop this rope to allow us access to the rest of the park when we notice this little girl they are taking around. So she and her Dad go up in front of the castle and they hand her these HUGE scissors and we’re like . . . . are you serious? We’re having a ribbon cutting ceremony to let us into the park -___-. So fifteen minutes later of watching the girl who was about six hold the pair of scissors that was literally half her height, she gets to cut this pointless ribbon that two workers held out for her. -__- So China. 


Once this nonsense was complete, we took off for Grizzly Gulch because they had a roller coaster. Now, if you know me at all you know I hate ‘thrilling’ rides. I quite literally almost died the one time I went on the Mummy ride in Universal Studios. Check with my dad. It was all funny and games with the screaming and laughing until the first 30 foot drop then I went silent and prayed for the ride to end. My dad was convinced I was dead so he chose to not look over and see if he killed me because how would he explain that to my mother? I did survive though, got off the ride, hands trembling literally like a leaf, had my dad laugh at me, and canceled all my day dreams of going on the Jurassic Park ride.

Anyway, the roller coaster at Grizzly Gulch isn’t like that. (I wikipedia’d it beforehand to be sure. Don’t judge.) It’s like Big Thunder Mountain, except at one point you go up and the roller coaster falls backwards until they switch the track and you go forward again. Way cool. So, Tommy and I ran to this ride and rode it and were like that was awesome and since we literally got to walk on and sit in the front car, let’s do it again.

You know it's a thriller when there is the single lap-bar

It was when we went to do it again that we saw Tiny Mouse for the first time. She was this super adorable two year old girl in this perfect red dress who was mousing about and decided to follow big sis and dad onto the ride while Grandma ran after her. Tommy and I were laughing because she was so cute and we had to walk around her to get through the line and then the dad caught her and carried her up with him to the front where he eventually handed her off to Grandma.

Then we went to Toy Story Land which was just so beyond cool. It was AMAZING!!!!!!!!! I was so freaking excited. Everything is huge and made to look like toys. So you have popsicle stick benches, and the gift shop was made to look like it had been made out of an over turned cardboard box. The effect was just crazy cool. And when you first go in, you go down a slope and they have planted this tall vegetation on the side that literally makes it seem like you are walking through tall grass. It was SO Honey I Shrunk the Kids. 

The movie forgets to mention that the toys were born(built) in China

Downside, the rides here are subpar. There is a halfpipe type rollercoaster that obviously I wasn’t going on and then a paratroopers ride which was like a power tower, also something I didn’t want to go on. So we went on the Slinky ride which is like that carnival ride where you go in a circle with little hills and valleys. It wasn’t exciting . . . lol. But, we saw this weird set of guys wearing overalls and stupid hats who were recording their day at Disney for their Blog. It was pretty strange. 

Michelle's normal driving stance
What happened to the other guy?

After that we went to Fantasy Land and picked up our fast passes for the Winnie the Pooh ride because WHOA did that have a line. / Don’t judge. This ride actually ended up being legit cool, like the Peter Pan ride at Disney in Florida. After getting our fast pass, we went to the Mad Tea Cups and just GUESS who we were behind in line??? TINY MOUSE!!!

Oh. Man. I was so excited. She was being all adorable and eating crackers like a Tiny Mouse totally would. In Fantasy Land we bypassed the Dumbo Ride (see trauma from my 2012 Dumbo experience in Disney World Florida) and It’s a Small World (see trauma from going on the replica ride at Suzhou Amusement Land in December of 2012).

Careful she bites
Next we hit up Tomorrow Land. If you know me and my Disney love well, then you know how much I absolutely HATE the concept of Tomorrow Land. It’s the CONCEPT of this being the land of the future that is mind boggling. The moment it is built, it is automatically of the past. How does this make sense? I would be totally fine if this was Space Land (especially since all the rides are about aliens . . . Stitch, Buzz Light Year, etc). But no. Tomorrow Land. -___-

Anyway. We had lunch here. So far we had attempted to buy food at the various food stations around the park, but all of the food was super Asian. We are talking shredded squid sheets, honey mustard popcorn, etc. So, when we get to Tomorrow Land and go to the food station, they have a hot dog and they have nachos. I’m way excited about the idea of eating a hot dog (which is really shocking since I normally don’t eat hot dogs because I don’t like most food anyway) so Tommy and I both order one and I’m all psyched because it even comes with mustard (which is a RARE commodity) and ketchup.

We pick a table, open up our food, pull out the plastic gloves they provide for you to eat the food with, set those aside, and take a bite.

Instantly, I spit this food back out. (If you know me, this is something you know I do with alarming frequency. Tommy is a brave man to be marrying me.) Tommy is staring at me like … dude really? And I’m going on and on about how gross it was. It was every horror movie concept of what processed meat tastes like. Tommy says it was fine. I beg to disagree. So, I ended up going back and getting nachos which were delicious.

After this epic eating battle, we went on the Buzz Light Year ride where you have to shoot the stuff, one of the best rides, and in a shocking turn of events, I won! I literally never win against Tommy at shooting games as I have distressingly terrible accuracy. However, I must have done something right or these games were made for disadvantaged shooters like me, because I got all the bonuses and everything. Tommy was equally shocked. 

Buzz just talking to himself all day

Having gone through the whole park, Tommy and I went on the Disney train through the park. If you’ve been to either of the parks in the USA you know that this train serves an actual purpose to give you quicker access to different areas of the park and that they have made it scenic for those who ride it. Hong Kong Disney has not picked up on these essential attributes. Instead, it only has one station where it picks you up and drops you off so you go in one huge circle . . . They also face you away from everything so there is nothing to look at . . . We will never get those 20 minutes back. 

Taking the train to the next and only station

Once we got off the train, we decided to head out of the park so that we could pick up our VISA. While walking back, we took an unexpected detour to a garden of flowers. (Read between the lines, this is when our engagement took place. People cheered. Be jealous =])

We returned two hours later. We ran through all the rides we liked again then tried to hit up the ones we hadn’t gone on. So we went to Tarzan Island (which is the Swiss Family Robinson tree house in Florida. Both are surprisingly cool). As we are waiting in line to take the raft over, guess who in the WORLD we see??

Adventure Land

Bratty American children

TINY MOUSE! It is now 6pm, Tiny Mouse has been here since 10am. She’s all tiny mousing around, totally not looking tired. She was eating some more snacks and joking around with Dad like, please, people are tired? Come on. // So Tommy took some secret pictures of her because we loved her and it was just ridiculous that was ran into her three times in the day. 

TM making sure she gets her money's worth

After touring the Island, we went to the Lion King Show. Now. That was interesting. Having watched the movie more times than I can count and having seen the Broadway Show, I can honestly say this show makes no sense. This is Disney. You already have two scripts for this show. How they ended up with the mess they had, I can’t imagine.

Events were not linked. One minute Simba is all dancing around singing about being king, the next Scar is like Yo, you killed your dad, and Simba’s like AHHHHH I did! And I’m like . . . . but we haven’t even seen Mufasa . . . ALSO!!! The entire show is in English . . . Another uh? moment. They have these two random monkey people telling jokes in Chinese to apparently explain the nonexistent plot to the mainly Chinese speaking audience. Not a single person laughed at these jokes, EVER. It was the most awkward thing imaginable. Still the animatronics were cool and they had sweet dance performances and a really cool ribbon acrobat woman. 

This goofy thing just bobbed up and down the whole time

Then at 7:30pm the fireworks were set to go, so Tommy and I headed back to the castle for those. We looked for Tiny Mouse, because we knew she was there, but couldn’t find her. I bet she was up front getting the good seat, holding it down while Mom and Dad bought one or two last minute souvenirs. The fireworks were cool, not the all out bash that Florida does, but still pretty and glittery.

And with that, our Disney trip was concluded. We headed back on the Subway with all of the other Disney tourists and I started making plans to go back once they complete the Haunted Mansion.