Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Epic Ballad of the China Hydro Engineer

On an unassuming Friday, Thomas and I were just getting ready to meet up with our co-workers for a relaxing Friday night dinner. As we walked to our door, I spotted something that stole my breath away. A flood, emerging rapidly beneath our door.

            Ripping the door open, I found that the hallway outside our apartment was entirely flooded in about a half inch of water. Shouting a battle cry back to Tommy, I took off towards the stairwell from whose door the water was gushing. I wrenched the door open.

            “Don’t go!” Tommy shouted back to me. Outside, rain lashed the windows. “Someone probably left a window open.”

            “Then we need to shut it!” I declared, my sneakers squelching through the water as it tumbled down the stairs resembling a dirty concrete waterfall.

            “You don’t know what’s up there,” Tommy warned me, the stairwell door swinging shut behind me.

            As I crept cautiously up the stairs, my mind flashed with visions of a burst water pipe, an overflowing sink or shower. I turned the corner onto the seventeenth floor. The water continued to seep down from the next floor. I stepped past the stream of water up towards the eighteenth floor.

            “Ni hao!” I called into the void of darkness and water, anger lacing my heavily accented words.

            Abruptly a paper thin maintenance worker peered around the corner at me. His eyes widened in disbelief as I gestured angrily towards the water surrounding my sneakers.

            “Zai nali?” I demanded in my poor attempt to ask where the water was coming from, jabbing at the water, then proceeding to stomp in it as I ascended toward him.

            He spoke rapidly to someone out of my sight. As I crested the landing, I turned to see a female worker on the nineteenth floor holding a white house. I gaped. It was worse than I could have ever imagined.

            There was no busted pipe, there was no overflowing sink. There was only the hose and the stairs. These two people were washing the stairs. Washing the concrete stairs by flooding them. The apparent logic being the water would somehow roll its way down nineteen flights of stairs to the basement.

            I waved desperately for the man to follow me. He did. Down the increasingly flood stairs to where all of that water was pouring out directly into our hallway and from there directly under the door of our apartment.

            Tommy was earnestly attempting to push the water out with a mop as it soaked into our fake wood floors. The frail maintenance worker looked in shock about him at the thoroughly flooded sixteenth floor. Tommy and I angrily gestured around us at the wrecked hallway and entry way to our apartment.

            The fail man disappeared back up the stairs and reappeared shortly after with a broom. He used the broom to push the water from the hallway back into the stairwell. Where it went from there is anyone’s guess.
    He did not attempt to help us fix our apartment. Rather, as soon as some of the water was gone from the hallway, he disappeared. And thus, the China Hydro Engineer became our arch nemesis.

To be continued . . . 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Okay, real talk for a moment, I love China, I do. I love living here and all of the wonders and stresses that that brings. And in the past, we have posted about how these stresses can be wonders of their own. For one brief moment, though, I’d like to take time to highlight those things so purely Chinese that I still haven’t adjusted to? Those cultural differences that I see every day and fail to assimilate to?

“Ramming” - This term refers to when a Chinese person decides that you are in their way and chooses the tried and true method of literally ramming you out of the way. There are several different styles of ramming, but the two most popular are the shoulder to back ram and the swim move.

Except Betty White is tackling you.
For the former, it is usually a grandmother of at least 80 who digs her shoulder bone directly into your spine and rams forward until you either collapse from the force or dodge out of the way from the excruciating pain. It’s sort of like a football block in reverse? Like just imagine this grandma linebacker with her Lions’ helmet on diving into ramming action at a crosswalk because when that light turns green you better believe you weak little self that she will be the first one to step foot on the pavement.

For the latter, the swim move is especially successful without being as physical in nature. Imagine you are walking, once more, towards a busy intersection. You and twenty others are waiting for the cross walk sign to turn green. It does, you take your first step forward, then you feel and arm wrap around your middle and pull you backwards into the masses. You have been swim moved. It requires a breast stroke like motion of usually the right arm that bands across the person a half step in front of you, then you propel yourself forward by pushing this person behind you. Works like a charm while utterly bewildering the person you have used it on.

The move takes place during the 'insweep.'

You may also recognize
 the 'swim move' from football. 

Except, it's all service, all the time,
shirts as an after thought. 
“Flip Shirts” - This term refers to the male populace who, when the weather reaches a certain temperature, choose to cool down by flipping up the front of their shirt to just above their, usually rather gratuitous, stomachs. This may also be referred to as ‘Chinese Air Conditioning.’ There is no incorrect place to do this, be it the streets of the city, a low end mall, a preposterously high end mall, anywhere and everywhere, the flip shirts are in action. From young men to older, the flip shirt is not just a fashion choice, it is a life choice. It is one that says, yes, I am hot, and I am not ashamed to show it. I shall free myself from this barrier of clothing in the center of my body and embrace the fresh cooler air it brings me.

Remove the 'no' symbol and have
at littering to your heart's content. 
“Trash Release” - This term refers to habit of Chinese people finishing a drink or a food item with a wrapper and then releasing their grip on said item. Just releasing. The muscles in the hand release and the garbage they were holding onto flutters or drops heavily to the ground to be swept up at some later time by the street workers. In other areas, the ‘tomahawk’ is a popular method for disposing garbage, whereupon once you are finished with something, you chuck it with as much force and velocity as you can into the nearest bush, street, fence, etc. My understanding is that since the street workers do in fact clean all of this up, it is not seen as strange to release or tomahawk your garbage since it will eventually be disposed of anyway.

Zax's on the move! Get out the way!
“Sidewalk Chicken” - This term refers to the game in which you find yourself every single time you step foot on a sidewalk in China. Someone will inevitably be walking along the same trajectory as you in the opposite direction. It doesn’t matter if there is a wall of people next to you, a literal wall, a hole in the ground, whatever, if you do not move out of the way, you will find yourself in a head on collision with this person. They will not move. Nothing on this earth could make them step one inch to the left or right off their path. It’s like the Dr. Seuss story about the North going and South going Zax’s but instead of coming to stand still when you meet, the other Zax will run you the hell over.

This is equally applicable to bicycles or e-bikes. If a bike is head directly in your direction you best leap out of the way or be clipped at the best, run over at the worst. Yes, the entire sidewalk to your right is empty and yes there is traffic stopped to your left, but if you don’t dodge to the right, you will get destroyed. Could the bike far more easily change course and ride around you on the side that is empty? Yes. Will they? Absolutely not. Should you ever go walking in China, you will always find yourself playing Sidewalk Chicken, but just remember that you will never ever win so stay alert and ready to dodge to safety at all times.

Mmm, boiling hot water,
chicken soup for the soul.
“Hot Water” - Our final term refers to the infamous means of healing in China. Having a sore throat? Hot water. Have a bad cold? Hot water. The flu? Hot water. Food poisoning? Hot water. Broken leg? Hot water. JUST HAD A CHILD??? Hot water.

You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Not even a little teeny tiny bit. Because these are not random examples, my dear readers, these are conversations that I have watched happen, that I have listened to, that I have committed to memory.

So please, should you ever come to China, don’t mention any illness you have or might have unless you desire to be told that the correct and only cure, is in fact, hot water.

I love China. I love all the things that I just can’t quite adjust to. I even love the damn hot water. Culture shock never entirely dies and that isn’t only for China. I can only shudder to imagine what people find bothersome about living in America. Our obsession with Target? The excessive amount of fast food joints we have? Our love of Uggs and Northface? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is that you embrace the differences between the cultures and remember to be grateful that you ever got to experience them at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hair Cut 2 - Out Come the Scissors

            In case any of you were desperately wondering what’s happened to our hair since October 2014, I have a brief update.
            David, who I wrote about ending his hair appointment with a phone number offering, has not fared well. Two months ago, David arrived at work and sat down at his desk. My eyes caught his then slowly traveled upwards to his hair – or what remained of it.
            David had fallen prey to the ever present danger of the electric razor. No longer did he have fluffy curls. No. Now he was buzzed within an inch of his life. Only the barest remnants of his hair remained. It was shocking. Shocking.
            At the table next to us, one of our fellow co-workers could not contain himself and demanded to know: “Did you lose our bet or something?”
            Around noon a different co-worker entered the office, froze mid step and shouted: “What the f*ck!?”
            It was not a good day for David nor his hair. Upon further conversation, he informed me that he had been heading into extreme “Q-tip” territory and decided he would rather look like a recently convicted felon than a ear cleaning apparatus. The decision was his own, however fatal the results.

            I am happy to report that as it is now May, his hair has grown in the slightest bit and now rather than looking like he has recently knocked over the neighborhood mini mart, he looks like a casual dude, just enjoying life with short hair.
The impression of a convict was heightened due
to David's love of his transitional glasses.
That plus the severe hair cut really did not help things at all. 

            Tommy, who fell prey to the “Q-tip,” has since come to the discovery that in China, you are not going to a hair stylist, you are going to an normal person with scissors. That’s right. You are entrusting yourself to some average Joe off the street who somehow managed to get his hands on a pair of scissors and is now staring you down as he snips aggressively in your direction to show how well he knows how to use his weapon.
            This belief came to Tommy in a time of great crisis. Having decided to entrust himself to the local hair cutter, about a block from our apartment, and one he has previously gone too with only minorly traumatic results, Tommy chose his fate.

            This fate was possibly the most uneven hair cut of all time. In fact, it was so uneven that a small section of his bangs were not even cut. No, this one lone section was left to brave it out as the rest of the hairs got chopped in fashion similar to the cover of the Arctic Monkey’s AM. The results were horrific.
            Across his forehead stretched this wave of disgrace. However, with a forceful shove to the left and sprinkling of gel, Tommy was able to hide his shame and pass himself off as an individual whose hair had not been butchered.

            For my part, after months of refusing to get my hair cut and with summer steadily approaching, I finally broke down. I tried to hedge my bets by going to a salon with an actual brand name and English on their list of hair options. All for null.
            I received once more the complicated three layers of chopped hair that has befallen me before. This was after I showed extensive photographic evidence of the hair cut I wanted. During the cutting process, I was buoyed by false hope, as this hair cutter actually seemed to know how to use his scissors. It was a deception of the highest order.
            When he spun me for my final view, my hair was indeed shorter, but I am once more burdened with a chunk of hair that could possibly be bangs did they not extend past my chin. My second layer is at my shoulder, and the fine layer, really just a wisp of a layer, extended an inch past my shoulder.
            My ever valiant husband came to my rescue, staring with disgust in the mirror than pointing to the third wisp layer and declaring “No.” To which the hair cutter chopped it off and I am now at a two layer chop-do.

            It is my hope to wait until the ‘bangs’ layer has grown to an acceptable length then travel to Hong Kong and take my chances with getting my hair cut there. Wish me luck. Wish all of us luck. It’s a harsh land here, filled with innocent looking fiends wielding gleaming scissors. You’re chances of getting out looking as you once did or even as someone you would want to look like are slim. But those are the chances you take here, in China.

I have no idea what's happening here. But it is entirely accurate.
You see those scissors and you freaking book it.