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!


  1. I'm so happy I've stumbled upon your blog! My husband and I are moving to Suzhou at the end of July and I'm voraciously researching. (Also, I saw Detroit Tigers mentioned, you two must be good people! We're from Toledo.) I look forward to more posts and learning from your experiences.

    All best,

  2. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks.

  3. Hei,

    As a Suzhou native I would like to make a comment regarding your observation of Chinese people pushing or jumping the line. China is home to over 1 billion people and has been a very poor country until recently, so the idea of survival among the mass is introduced very early on in a person's life. When I was a kid, Suzhou was much smaller than it is now, still it had around 600K people stuffed in an area around 25 square kilometers. 8 bus lines were all we had. So if you don't 'compete', you won't get on the bus. Generally, my observation is as material life gets better, people's manner is getting better and they are spitting less :) (you may think it is bad, but it was much worse 30 years ago).

    BTW, thanks for the positive comments about my native home town.


  4. LOVE how your list of what you love about Suzhou and China in general is way longer than any of your other lists! You two have your heads on straight - appreciate the differences for what they are, and realize there is more than one way of doing things. (Sometimes we Americans forget that!) I am appreciating your blog, as my husband and I are possibly going there for work. Keep posting!