Today I’m hopping on a train and heading to Changbai Shan (mountain) in the Jilin Province. I’ll be hanging out there for a few days, but when I get back my (free) time will be short.
Five months ago I accepted a position at another school, an international school in the area, and I’ll be starting there on August 5th. Gone will be the weeks of sleeping in until nine or staying up till three, of casual days full of things I want to do on a moments’ notice…To be replaced by early mornings, long days, and, once again, a 40 hour a week schedule…oh, and a much better paycheck that will allow me to pay off some student loans before I’m thirty.
A part of me is super excited by this change of pace, but then again, another part(s) of me just wants to high-tail it in the other direction. New people, new students, new responsibilities.
One of those responsibilities is this online class I’ve been taking. It’s designed around the SIOP model, which is a teaching model/strategy for ELL teachers. Very informative, and practical, the class is a useful tool for me. However, there are live sessions that take place at 4 pm Eastern time. Do you know what time it is in China when it is 4 pm in Ohio? 4 AM. Yes, I’ve had to get up at 3:30 to take part in the frikkin’ class. On the days there’s a live session I try to turn in around 7 or 8, but usually don’t get to sleep until 10. Then I just stay up after the class, usually spending and hour or so practicing Wing Chun.
Did I mention that I also purchased a Wing Chun Dummy a few weeks ago? Yup.
I originally thought of putting this cultural gem in the “11 Observations of Behavior in China” entry, but it is too complex a topic to simply rope in with the eleven behaviors I mentioned. It’s a bit concept with many facets, but I’m just interested in the behavior aspect of it and how I’ve encountered it in my time here.
In China, when a married man has a girlfriend she isn’t called a “home wrecker,” “Skank,” or even a “gold-digger,” no, she’s called a “Second Wife,” (Er nai or even more common lately, Xiao San “little three” because…well…third person).
The male habit of having a girl on the side is not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon by any means, but Chinese is one of the few cultures where the idea has infiltrated so many levels of society, and in some areas and for some people, has become accepted.
The practice of having a girl on the side goes back a loooong way in Chinese culture. Having a Second Wife you could take care of while also maintaining a household and all those responsibilities were badges of honor and symbols of a man’s status as one belonging to the upper echelons of society. See, it wasn’t just about carnal satisfaction, it was a demonstration of virility, influence, and …well, ok…just because the mechanics of it spoke to status enhancement, it’s hard to rule out simple, base desires as motivating factors. I mean, who goes out and says, “Ah, yes, there is a gal who could boost my image,” huh? I would bet it’s more along the lines of, “Oh, snap, she’s fiiine. Gotta have some of her lovin’.” But, you know, in Chinese.
There are two types of girls at this point: those who know the man’s married and those who do not. Either way, he pursues her somehow. Eventually she has to find out that he’s married. In which case there are also two kinds of those types: those who desire the security his position and money can bring and those who just follow their big ol’ hearts in the name of passion.
Even television shows and movies have gotten involved. There are a few shows that depict ancient Chinese concubines skirmishing for power, and a very popular Chinese show called Woju had the main female lead become a second wife. She had the wide-eyed innocence that most men in this culture love, but even as her plight became clearer to her, she maintained that she was in love with the guy (who happened to be a handsome, corrupt government official). SPOILER: This became a huge hit here in China, but it was eventually cancelled and the govt official died in a car wreck before he could be brought to justice, and the main girl lost her baby. So, in the end there was some sort of cosmic retribution or a concerted
Another, more recent film, Beijing Meets Seattle (Finding Mr. Right in English), is about a woman who goes to Seattle after watching “Sleepless in Seattle” too many times…well, not necessarily. She’s a pregnant second wife who wants her kid to be born in the States. While there, though, she falls for a stoic Chinese single dad. It’s sort of a boring film, but the themes and ideas in it hit on some pretty hot topics right now.
How does this translate into reality?
Throughout Chinese history Emperors obviously had the best deal, right? I mean, there are some who had hundreds of concubines. Even the Tang emperor, Gao Zong is said to have taken pleasure in about 3,000! Like I said, mistresses, or girls on the side are nothing new, but it was actually quite frowned upon by Mao back in ’49, so the trend was wiped out.
There is a bunch of literature about this topic. You can find out all you need to know about this from any number of sources, but one recent article I read claims that economics is one of the factors that’s brought it all back in fashion. “Second Chinese Wives are Back,” writer, Olivier, says of the Chinese men who have made a buck:
Their social progress is seen by their many luxury expenses (car, travel, home etc.). But now, they consider that it is not enough. The best way to show its rank is the maintenance of young and pretty mistresses. The modern cohabitation thus comeback! This phenomenon is spreading so fast that in most major Chinese cities, there are “concubine villages”, with buildings housing luxury apartments where young women maintained their spending and gifts : jewelry, wardrobe, new technologies…
Villages, man! I know that business men in Hong Kong stick their Er Nai/lai (second wife) in the neighboring city of Shenzhen, but I wasn’t aware of villages. My girlfriend, Xiao Ming, even told me that a lot of second wives get a specific car from their sugar daddy—a BMW—and the first wife (kinda sad that we’ve gone back to numbering them like they did back in the ancient days. What are they, Mormon?) will get a bigger SUV or something like that (I guess it’s so she feels secure in the fact that if the little hussy is too much trouble she can run her over?). Some girls even use this catchy little phrase to sum up their chosen path, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.” The BMW is such a common purchase for this little set up that it’s jokingly referred to as “Bao Ma” or “precious horse,” because, as Xiao Ming explained, you mount both.
The article hints at this, too:
This relationship is organized as a win-win situation. The trend of these new wives is so fashionable that luxury cars have named a segment of their range “car mistress” (often flashy sports cars).
For example, Jian, a 42 years Chinese businessman at the New York Times says “Having a mistress is like playing golf. These are two expensive hobbies”. To maintain his extramarital affair with a 20 year old student, he spends about 4,500 € per month.
Expensive is right, but not just for the man, and not just in regards to cash. I have a friend who was a second wife for a few years while living in Shanghai. As you can imagine, when I learned of this I had a ton of questions, but I couldn’t just interview her about the relationship. Over time I got most of the story, though.
After college she met this business guy, and really liked him, so she moved to Shanghai to be with him. She dealt with her qualms about him being married by focusing on the time they spent together. He bought her jewelry, a car, clothes, etc. This went on for quite some time, but she wanted more. She lied to her family about what she did, who she dated, and it took its toll. More than anything, she wanted to be with this man “for real.” Then he wanted a baby. His wife had a health problem, and he wanted my friend to trust him. So she agreed. She became pregnant and he bought her a 2Million RMB apartment. Things looked as though they were going the way she had always dreamed, but when he disappeared for an extended period she became distraught. She suspected that he had another girl. When he did resurface, he made her get an abortion, saying that he wasn’t ready even though she had already conceived. After that, the illusion broke and so did her spirit.
Shortly after that she returned to Dalian and, with the help of her uncle’s guanxi and some forged documents, got a job. If there can be a silver lining it’s this: the man put her name on the lease of the apartment. My friend used this to her advantage. She put it up for sale and just two months ago it sold, making her quite financially comfortable.
She’s a very strong and passionate woman, but she’s cynical, angry, and hurt. You can see all of this if you take the time to get to know her. I wonder how much of the pain is from her decision to be with the man and all that transpired because of it.
It’s not just the uber-rich or highest level officials in big cities that have these second wives. Here in Dalian my girlfriend’s father has a brother who just asked him to help him deal with his second wife. Apparently the second wife is just causing a stir and the man needs some advice…you know, beyond the obvious. This man works in construction, and though China loves tearing up roads they have just paved, the construction market has already seen its hay day.
If you’re thinking all men are pigs, think again. Some of the wives know of the Xiao San and let the man do as he pleases as long as he’s a capable provider. Some will even take on a man of their own. The term for the wife’s boyfriend is Xiao Bai Lian, or little white face. He’s the strapping young buck who tends to the woman’s needs while she provides him with clothing and everything else so he can just have a leisurely life. Basically, the husband is paying for his second wife and her financial needs, his first wife and family’s needs, and her boyfriend’s needs.
This cultural trend is not just casually accepted by all. Of course, many women despise the practice, and the men who have a bit more integrity are frustrated over it, but it does happen. It is talked about, joked about, and parodied on the big and small screen. In ’09 some 95% of corrupt officials were reported to have had second wives, for crying out loud! Some corrective measures have been enacted, though. Government officials have been asked by Hu Jintao to curb their lust and, “…refrain from all young women temptations,” classes in HS have even been implemented to teach young girls to value themselves and have higher standards, and hell, a vice mayor of Hangzhou was executed because of corruption charges and he had more than a dozen mistresses.
Economics is a factor in all of this, but some people like to blame another one: Western influence. This just frustrates me to no end and makes me want to gouge eyes out with chopsticks. Take this little new trend that’s apparently catching…
Starbucks has become a place for casual pick-ups. Not like a good place to meet people, no, people come here by themselves, to find other like-minded individuals, and find somewhere to get it on. The way it’s been explained to me is like this. That dolled up, cute girl or that slightly older attractive woman sittin’ by herself playing on her phone…she’s probably scanning Weixin (a messaging system that uses texts, pics, and audio) to make new “friends” in the area so they can hook up. The guy who is glued to his phone, but looks up every time the door opens, yeah. I know women and men who have admitted to getting together this way. Some of them are single while some of them are attached and just lookin’ for something more. I asked one guy why they do this at Starbucks, and he said it’s because it’s a Western place. Granted, this is just his idea, but he didn’t hesitate to express it.
I’m not judging the behavior; I’m just annoyed by the perceived motivation behind the venue. Whatever. Western men already get stereotyped as playboys and worse here. What I do get pissed off about is when guys with these cavalier attitudes directly cross my path. Four times already guys have tried to pick up Xiao Ming after knowing she was with me.
The first time was with my old landlord. Remember him? I mentioned him when it happened. He has a wife in Japan, but that didn’t stop him from telling Xiao Ming he loved her. When Xiao Ming laughed and told him she didn’t have any feeling whatsoever for him he became a dick.
Another guy was the manager at the gym on the fifth floor of An Sheng shopping center. At first he asked her the normal questions about filling out membership stuff, and then after she did, he began asking if she had a boyfriend. When she said she did he seemed excited and kept asking her to bring me along so I could join (he’d comp the first few times for me, he said). She thought he was just being a salesman. Then he kept following her around when she’d go there to work out. He’d open conversations with questions about me. What I did, all that…When he learned I was an American he asked her how we communicated. Xiao Ming has a wicked sense of humor, and responded, “Wai guo ren ye shi ren.” Foreigners are also people. He concurred, and walked away. Later, a few days after that, he sent her a text asking how long we’d been together. She exaggerated so he’d get the hint and said a year. He then responded, saying that he didn’t have a chance. That was the last communication they had. We both laughed at the lack of tact on his part, but it was annoying anyway.
The next guy hasn’t out and out asked her to be with him, but he’s a bit older and possibly more cunning, but not by much. She met him when she and her cousins and aunts went to KTV. He’s the friend of her aunt or something. Well, that night nothing happened at all. But then a week later, Xiao Ming and I run into him at a bar. The two of them chat a few minutes and I chime in here and there, but then we go our separate ways. At first I thought nothing of it, but then when he said, “Oh, I don’t want to disturb you two,” and Xiao Ming responded, “You’re not disturbing us. We’re together all the time,” I had to wonder. I asked her why she added that. Not because it wasn’t true, but because I could tell it went beyond her normal pattern of speech. She said she felt a little strange when he looked at her.
He had shown an interest in French culture, she said, and when she told me that he’d begun texting her about this I told her to watch out. He even began one line of dialogue by saying I was handsome. What the hell is that about? I explained what he was doing and she saw it, too. The guy did have a bit more tact, going at her through an intellectual route, but it wasn’t going to happen. And then a week later I had dinner with a buddy of mine and then a drink. He and I were having a good time when Xiao Ming texted me and wanted to hang out. She told me that she’d just stepped into one of our favorite places and the guy was there. She told me she thought I should head over because he was talking about using her as a translator on his next trip to America. She laughed about it, on her guard, and when I showed up the guy’s eyes got a little wide, and then sad. I walked over, made it obvious she and I were together, and then joked about him in English with her. She cracked up, and I let the two of them continue chatting for a bit. Then I started picking his brain on where he was traveling to, made some recommendations.
When he tried to tell her that he’d pay for everything, that he’d even sleep on the floor, it was my turn to crack up laughing. He spoke in Chinese, but I had understood and told him it wasn’t happening. Soon after that he and his pal left and Xiao Ming, my friend, and I all kept having a good time.
The fourth guy went about things a bit more discreetly but more explicitly, and that’s why I am still waiting for a chance to see the little bastard. I met this guy first, about a year ago in Starbucks. He and I are not close friends, but we’re at that superficial, by-you-a-round-shoot-the-breeze level. Ever since he and Xiao Ming exchanged numbers (something she only did because she felt that, as my friend, he was ok) he had a thing for her. She told me that he once made an inappropriate joke about sleeping with her and that she had shut him down rather harshly, saying that if he said it again they would never talk again. That was the end of it until recently.
He’s moving back to Shanghai this month, a move to change his boring, lonely life, he says. This has made him rather desperate, I think. One night while Xiao Ming and I were out, we met up with him and two others for a drink. We hung out a bit, but then she and I wanted some food. We told them we’d meet up later. After food, though, we just wanted to hang out on our own, so we told him we’d catch him another time. Then, as she and I were playing pool (we are two of the worst players ever) her phone is lit up with weixin messages. She’s annoyed, I could tell. Her face took on that pensive look she gets.
When I asked about it she reluctantly said I shouldn’t be angry, that he’s just lonely. Apparently he kept asking her where she was, where she’d be staying tonight, and then flat out asked her to spend the night with him. She responded to each of these with irritation and told him that she wasn’t like that, that she was with me. He said it’d be just their secret, but she refused, saying that she’d know, and that she only thought of him as a friend, and now not even as that. I was livid. Man, I wanted to deck him right in his fat face, but I let it go…for a bit. At the time I was just focusing on making her feel better because she felt pretty upset about the whole thing. She wondered what it was about her, what was she doing to get this sort of attention…
I made jokes, I soothed her, I praised her, but I couldn’t let go of one thought: it was me. It’s true, she’s a great woman, and embodies all the ideals of beauty that Chinese men seem to value, but I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that when they see her with me, a young American, some Chinese men automatically judge her based on other preconceived notions of these types of pairings. Suddenly her status is in this hectic blender that they have no right to put her in. I don’t care about the looks I get, but shit, it really irritates the life out of me when I see first hand how this crap affects her. I haven’t gotten a chance to run in to this maggot since that night, but even if I do, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. My first instinct is to break bones and listen to the snaps, but I’m in China. I may just make it obvious that she’s told me everything, and enjoy the fear in his eyes. Xiao Ming says to leave it since she’s already taken the rest of his Face, but the Y chromosome in me wants to exact masculine vengeance.
I fear I’ve stumbled off into a digression. Please forgive me, and understand that I am not holding any of this up as a general statement of how things are here, but rather as an indication that people can be douche bags on every continent.
The other day someone asked me six different questions about being here, my work, and just what I thought….I decided to post my article on here as well.
I’ve also posted this in the “What you need to know” section of my blog because I think it fits there nicely.
My name is Jordan and I’m from Ohio, but for nearly two years I’ve been calling Dalian, China my home. I came over here with the expectation of staying for one year before returning home and getting an “adult” job. One and done, that’s what I kept telling myself, but before long that mantra became like a propaganda tactic that I really didn’t need or want to listen to. When my one year contract came to a close, I decided to stick around another six months. My coworkers were excited, and my supervisors didn’t need to replace a Western teacher (an arduous process here). So I settled back in and enjoyed the time.
I absolutely loved the training school I worked in for the first year and a half—the other teachers, the Chinese staff, the students, and even the building had a unique appeal to it that I will never forget. I enjoyed the walk into work on the nice days, and the convenience of my apartment’s central location. Dalian proper is definitely an urban setting with all the pros and cons of one. You’ve got access to just about any kind of cuisine, attractions, shopping, good public transportation, and parks. You also get great big whiffs of exhaust from all the traffic, the grit and grime of a city getting over populated, and the general chaos associated with a metropolis on the rise. But I don’t live in the actual Dalian city.
Dalian’s Development Zone, or Kaifaqu, is a twenty minute Light Rail Train ride north of the city, and has a much slower, almost quasi-urban-suburban feel to it. I love it. Everything I need is within walking distance, but for those lazy moments the ubiquitous taxi or bus is always available, too. While still technically a part of Dalian, Kaifaqu has its own aura. Seriously. Stationed so close to the coast, there’s always a sea breeze to cool you down, and though the beach is rocky, there’s plenty of swimming in the summer. When I first got here I wandered around, a lot. I took walks almost every evening, just to get a good look at the place. I walked at all hours, usually by my self even though a few coworkers chastised me for doing so at late hours. Even with their warnings, I felt safe. I still feel safer here than I did in my home town.
In the summer, when the heat is too much and you don’t want the stony beach of Kaifaqu, Golden Pebble Beach to the north is the place to go. Just a fifteen minute Light Rail Train away is the “ritzy” side of Dalian. All of Dalian has a large amount of foreigners from all around the world working with many different companies, but in Golden Pebble Beach there are a lot of North American teachers of all disciplines. Two international schools with great reputations entice them to stay a few years, but the area also has a few other cool features. There’s a nice beach, an amusement park, and it’s one of the only places you can escape the curse of one of China’s most well-known idioms—People, mountain, people, sea (ren shan ren hai). The crowds haven’t quite made it up there, but in a few years we’ll see. Plans to move Kaifaqu’s center closer to Golden Pebble Beach have been put into motion, and China loves construction.
My certification as a Secondary Integrated Language Arts teacher has come in quite handy, and is really the big reason I’ve been able to seek other employment opportunities in the area. To get here, however, you don’t necessarily need anything but a Bachelors degree. China has been making it hard to get over here for anything more than tourism, but it is possible. Get your degree, passport, and jump online and start applying. I went through Footprints Recruiting, and they worked as a liaison between me and the first school I worked at. Not only that, but their website www.footprintsrecruiting.com and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FootprintsRecruiting have a wealth of information about China and other areas around the world that regularly have postings for teachers. Going through an agency like Footprints put me in contact with a trustworthy school in the smoothest way possible.
Though I hold credentials for the high school English classroom, the majority of my students the first year were under the age of twelve. At first I wondered if I had what it took to be in that age range, but after just a few classes my hesitancy fell to the wayside. Learners here are a different breed of student, and for the most part that actually works to a new teacher’s benefit. Respect for elders, the desire to earn the teacher’s praise, and their peers’ admiration are three elements I’ve noticed that sort of collude to make the classroom a politely controlled and often hassle-free space. I had to design classes around asking questions just to get them to raise their hands and let me know what they were thinking! Once they get to know you, though, it’s anybody’s guess how they’re going to behave. I have kids hug me, poke me, try to use qigong to (play) fight me, and ask me to throw them into the air between classes or when we have a break. They like to give gifts, and it was only after a few stomachaches and colds that I realized I needed to stop accepting the damp cookies and candies they were handing me with their dirty hands.
I’ve gotten to teach some memorable lessons, including one about Mexican food like tacos. At the end of the unit about Mexico, I decided to have the class make tacos for real. I readied the ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, tortillas, cheese, olives, and I even fried up some beef. After teaching the vocabulary and the instructions for the receipt we dug in and made them. We snapped photos and the kids had a good time putting their tacos together, but not all of them grasped the concept of how to eatthem. Some students nibbled on the very top of the tortilla where there’s no filling at all while others munched on the middle of the bottom. The ladder resulted in a few messes as the filling just spilled out! Still, others placed the taco on a plate and used a fork and butter knife to cut into it. I let them play around until finally I showed them the right way to eat them. After that, we all enjoyed our tacos the right way.
My time here has been filled with experiences like that, some inside the classroom and many outside. The clash of the cultures isn’t so much a clash as it is a constant blending that a lot of the times results in humorous misunderstandings and always something learned. Everyone will have a different experience, though. No two are ever the same, and the location will affect this in a multitude of ways. Depending on what province or city you’re in, China will present you with plenty of opportunities to make your own stories.
During my time here I’ve gotten to see a handful of pretty cool places. I’ve visited Beijing and seen the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, and even Luoyang and the Longmen Grottoes. Natural sights such as sacred Hua Mountain and the beautiful scenery of Guilin and Yangshuo are fantastic, too. Even old Song Mountain where the Shaolin Temple has stood for hundreds of years is a wonderful destination. But if you’re going to live in China, I truly believe that Dalian, and even more, Kaifaqu, is one of the best places you can be. Dalian is a young city by Chinese standards, but it has an interesting history, great parks to see, a nice zoo, some beaches, a lot of job opportunities, some friendly and open people, and I would recommend this coastal city to anyone. No matter where you go, people will always want to get out, to travel. I talk with people all the time here who just want to see different areas of China. They don’t know why I like it here so much, but I tell them that one man’s back yard is another man’s adventure. And I’m still having a great time.
Getting the qualifications and choosing a destination are two big steps to moving abroad, but I would offer a few pieces of advice if you’re looking to take the plunge for an extended period. Before going to a country check out their internet set up. Is it monitored a lot? Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This can be the thing that saves your soul, or at the very least allows you to get accurate world news. There are plenty of options available to people for this kind of service.
My second piece of advice is, that even before you arrive, cultivate a habit of observation. Read about the country you’re going to. Do research. Then when you get there just watch and listen. A lot. Do a lot of observing with all your senses, and just try to refrain from passing judgments of any kind. This is a much harder task than you’d imagine, but I challenge you to do it. I’ve heard a ton of foreigners here complaining about one thing or another, but many of them haven’t been here more than three months. Don’t get me wrong, some of the complaints are valid, but certainly their day would improve if they spent the time trying to understand what confused them instead of immediately venting about it. The reward for this? Understanding, awareness, changed or improved perspectives, and you could quite easily make a bunch more friends by being willing to learn all the angles to this new culture in which you find yourself.
Developing and maintaining a sense of humor is paramount. Smiling when you want to curse the world is a skill not only useful for becoming a saint, but for dealing with the other seven billion people roaming around on this Earth. Laughing at an exchange that sees you shorted 50 RMB or on the wrong side of the city at an inconvenient time is, I would argue, the most versatile and practical skill you could have in your arsenal.
I didn’t come to China to get rich; I came to learn something about the world and myself. I have succeeded in ways I could never have imagined, and I know I am not an anomaly in the abroad community. Living and learning in a place that is so different from where you used to call home has a mystifying way of altering you, changing you into something new. My last piece of advice is a fun thing that you can only do when you make a big change. By moving abroad and settling into a different place you get the unique chance to reinvent yourself. That person you’ve always wanted to be? Now’s your chance.
People like Amsterdam for a bunch of different reasons, but the legally available cannabis and Red Light District are always on the list. When you think of Spring Break, you probably think of Cancun or some place hot and steamy so you have a valid reason for imbibing ridiculous amounts of alcohol and losing articles of clothing. People visit places for a bunch of different reasons, and not least of all of those reasons is so that they can do stuff they can’t easily do at home.
China has a bunch of pretty neat things to see, as just about anyone in the world could tell you, but there are also certain behaviors or actions you can get away with here that you couldn’t back in the US or other Western countries. Here are some of the behaviors that are socially acceptable (by many, but not 100% of everybody) in China that I’ve noticed A LOT of people doing.
I’m not complaining, just stating observations…
Public Toilets are a thing of absolute horror in China. If you’re blind you can locate the restroom by scent more than a hundred yards away in almost all cases—even Hospitals. Most are squat toilets, which are glorified holes in the ground, with puddles and clumps of human waste seemingly everywhere but in the hole. When I had my body check in the hospital almost two years ago I had to use the restroom for a part, and I swear to God the creators of Saw got inspiration from the bathroom I was in.
Maybe it’s the downright atrocious stench associated with these places or that everyone here is just a mild exhibitionist, but when the toilet is not readily available the road, sidewalk, grass, trashcan, stairs, and even sink will do just fine. I have seen everyone from a toddler all the way to a grown man drop trout and just…pee. They do it just about anywhere. Often they will make the effort to, you know, go into an alley or stand next to something, but the parents with children who have to go—forget about it. Dear Old Mom will just pick up her little tyke so that his butt hangs out the back of his “split bottom” pants and make a “shhhhh” sound in his ear until he lets loose his flow. Where does this happen, you ask? EVERYWHERE. No joke. That list a few lines up, yeah, all of those places.
In fact, just a few days ago Xiao Ming and I were at this nice little area by a government building, where tons of people always hang out, and this six-year-old’s mom gives him the go-ahead to take a leak right in the middle of a crowd. SERIOUSLY. There were about a hundred people just milling around and no one said a damn thing. This boy, who is obviously old enough to know you do this crap in a toilet, is just spelling his name right where people are walking, in daylight. But the funniest thing, or most appalling part, is that just five minutes before we witnessed another young boy trip and face plant on the sidewalk—right where the second boy ended up peeing. Then, after the boy left, a young couple played with their jianzi, basically the Chinese version of hackey sack, right in the same spot.
And all of this is just Number 1. Number 2 requires a bit more tact, but not much more. There are times when you can hear suspicious grunts from behind bushes and trees, and on more than one occasion I’ve seen the leftovers not far off from walking paths. Yup.
So, who needs public toilets when all of the public is a toilet?
Don’t have a trashcan? Can’t abide dirtying your backseat? Toss it out the window.
I have seen countless acts of littering from all levels of citizens here. Taxi drivers lopping plastic bottles out the window, police officers dropping cigarette boxes, and even students throwing candy wrappers from classrooms are all annoyingly common examples of this type of behavior.
But it’s when you see the piles upon piles of garbage collected on the corners of streets or in the alleys at night being picked through by people looking for plastics and other valuable items that it becomes truly disheartening.
I have made it my mission to never litter here. Even if I must carry an empty water bottle for an hour, I won’t just discard it on the ground. When I see people doing it, I try to give them the stink eye, but it probably just looks like I have bowel problems, so I stop.
However, knowing the option of ridding your person of the added burden of toting around trash (la ji) by simply tossing it on the ground is available to you does make life a bit easier…you’re not doing anything for the scenery, but you certainly are making your life easier.
I remember the Napster and Lime Wire days of my youth where I spent hours downloading tunes and—er, wait, I didn’t do much of that, either. But a whole helluva lot of other people did, and that was illegal…apparently.
Today people still have a dozen ways to get their hands (eyes, ears, etc.) on pirated or downloaded material, even in the States, but in China you don’t have to be savvy or hush-hush about it. Just go into a store and select a DVD of a movie that just came out in the theaters two weeks ago…for 12 RMB. That’s like $2. Or, better yet, just download them from torrent sites and store them on your computer…OR, even better—and quicker—just use Baidu to stream them. Baidu is the closest thing to a Chinese Youtube, but they always have full episodes of shows, and whole movies…except most of the nudity is edited out of True Blood, Game of Thrones, and other flicks.
A lot of young people are streaming American shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and even Grey’s Anatomy in order to learn about Western culture and study the language with the English subtitles beneath the Chinese ones. The Vampire Diaries is also big here, along with Gossip Girl and the other ones I’ve mentioned above.
I have picked up a habit of buying a DVD a week since coming here, sometimes more. The last few months I’ve been cooling it, but that just means I’m downloading more. The problem is I won’t be bringing any of my DVD stash back to the States with me. I’ve heard tales of people getting them through customs and all that, but I’m just not willing to test my luck…especially when getting caught smuggling one is something like 10,000 bucks. No, I’ll probably just give ‘em away or stake out a corner on the street and sell them for 10 RMB each. By the time I’m ready to come home I might be able to sell enough to pay for a flight back.
Gone are the days you needed to worry about an open container in public…People strut around with bottles of beer (pi jiu) in the evenings all the time. I’ve talked a little about the North Eastern “Drinking Culture” before, but this is just another tidbit.
On the downside, as a pedestrian, you need to remain ever vigilant for those reeking puddles and piles of vomit that are strewn about along sidewalks and crosswalks.
Just the other night I fell victim to one and needed to wash off my sandals. Let’s hear it, the collective ewwwwwww!
It was recently Independence Day in the US, and when I told this to Xiao Ming she asked me what I usually did on the holiday. Easy, I said: We usually get the day off and spend it near a pool, a grill, or a cooler, and surround ourselves with friends and family. Then, at night, on this special day, we watch fireworks as they are mostly legally set off.
How long does it last? she asked. One glorious, patriotic day, said I.
She kinda laughed, and I could guess why.
Here in Dalian there is tons of Korean BBQ all the time, drinking at Five Color City often enough, and yes, fireworks. I’ve told you before about how I can hear fireworks just about every single day. They light them when they have a new business opening, a floor of construction on a site is finished, weddings and funerals, and just for the fun of it. They don’t relegate them to one day, holiday, or social event; they spread the love and sulfur all around.
So don’t worry about telling the cashier you’re taking them out of state or the cops that, yes, you heard the ruckus but it was from down the street, in China you can just toss a firecracker out your apartment window and hope for the best.
Got something in the back of your throat and no tissue to hock it into? You got it, just lob that loogie right onto the ground. Pay no nevermind to your surroundings or whether you’re in or out of public transportation vehicles.
Now before the 2010 Beijing Olympics you could see that a concerted effort endeavored to annihilate this particular trend, but up in the NE area, especially in Kai Fa Qu, you have a healthy mix of classes and some of them…just…spit.
This hails from the Confucius (probably) belief of “better out than in,” and people, all ages of them, follow it religiously. I’m told that spitting is not actually a cultural thing in China, it’s just a nasty freakin’ habit that people have tirelessly clung to, but that doesn’t matter when you are dodging not only bile piles but also spittle puddles in the street. People will just spit right in front, beside, and behind you. No questions asked.
One of my first experiences with the spitting craze that so many are hip to came one night when a group of us were walking and a horrible sound, similar to a squirrel with asthma trying to do a Joker laugh erupted from somewhere to our right. Now the squirrel had the cover of shadows on its side, but the sound…good gawd. And the guy leading us around turns to me and, without a smile says, “And that is a little old lady.”
A quick look verified this, and her image has forever been seared into my retinas.
When we were on a long-distance bus from zhengzhou there was another woman…
I heard the coughing hack as she summoned the saliva from the back of her throat, and then the wet, puckering smack of her lips as she spat, and finally the splat as the loogie hit the floor. INSIDE THE BUS.
A fan of the bon fire, but unable to put things aflame without your neighbors calling the cops (jing cha) on you because you didn’t let the fire department know of your intentions beforehand? Come to China and light mounds of loose leaf paper on fire just to have the wind lift them into the air and down the intersection.
As I’ve noted in a previous entry, the tradition of lighting paper, or paper money (ming bi) to send to their ancestors is very common. This is usually done at intersections and on special days like holidays or their ancestor’s b-day. The money is burnt in order to pass to the spirit world, or grandpa’s Spirit Bank account. There are those who burn more than just Casper Cash, though. They burn paper objects, and whatnot.
I have sat and watched several older couples in the act of burning these papers, and every time I’m attracted to the reverence in their gestures. This is a serious ritual for them.
Take a look at some older photos of China and you’ll probably see the ubiquitous bicycle somewhere in the frame. Until a relatively recent time China was a bike country, then a moped country, and now, in most cities, it’s quickly transforming itself into an automobile nation. There are concurrent problems that arise when ever change happens too fast, though.
Bad drivers, subjective traffic laws, advance games of Frogger every time you cross the road, and the lack of parking places are but a few. Go to any store in China and it’s easy to see that the building or the plan for it was stenciled out with no care whatsoever about where the customers would be puttin’ their cars. Xiao Ming, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and Land Use from France, has told me that a contributing factor to this situation is the building’s investor. He’s out to make as much money as possible and parking places just aren’t where the cash is. In fact, they see parking as a free service they don’t want to be tied to when they could be adding another hundred feet to their blueprints. This is neither here nor there, but she’s told me about how city officials will hire urban planners to design a city that is efficient and modern only to ignore the suggestions in order to make a buck. That’s why you get a lot of bullcrap set ups half the time here.
So what happens? Side walk parking and driving. Yes, as you stroll down the sidewalk you are on the look out for puke and slobber, but also for the ever-present threat of being run over. I’ve dodged a few close calls already.
Can’t find a place to park at the bank or grocers? Just park it right there where everyone is walking.
Wish you could just get a better deal on that scarf or that necklace? Bargaining not an option back home? Come to China where just about anything is up for negotiations.
The Chinese love a good bargaining match, and those who work in this sort of profession see it as a test of skill and moral fiber when they can get a good deal or make a buck off a customer.
Of course, when I first got here I had no precedent for haggling at all, and I’m certain I’ve overpaid on a bunch of stuff, but after a while I got used to it…and now I like it. I love asking if I could get something a little cheaper and have the merchant not laugh me off or threaten to call the cops. It’s great when the final price is less than half of the original. You can negotiate everything from socks to swords, man.
I was once on the look out for some new socks, wa zi, and the merchant wanted ten for two pairs. I chatted with them for a few moments before I then added a third set and still wanted a lower price. I held my ground, and finally she relented, giving them to me for 8 RMB. This was no big win, but it was funny because after the deal the merchant’s friend, a guy who’d been there the whole time laughed and gave me the thumbs up, adding a bit too enthusiastically, that I was like a Chinese person. All because I negotiated. I probably still got ripped off, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
And for my last birthday Xiao Ming bought me a katana. A genuine, full-tang katana. The thing is sweeeeet. I love swords, have since Highlander stole my imagination as a youngster, and have collected them for years. I have two swords here, both of which have been bought by Xiao Ming for me. I sometimes take the katana out and wave it around, silently whisper, “There can be only one,” just for the hell of it.
Anyway, original price was something like 2,000RMB, but she got it down to 1,200 RMB.
Negotiating is fun.
Don’t have any unique talents or marketable skills of your own? Do you have powerful or well-connect friends? Great, then those connections can help you with everything you need in this life.
Guan Xi, baby. It’s the Golden Ticket.
I once read that the evolution of guan xi as a means of social-political-business interaction rose to prominence due to the unreliable nature of the nation’s legal system and its enforcement. People needed ways to trust others, to know a man’s worth or his salt, or something like that.
My first thought to that is: Well, why not strengthen the laws and give the local governments incentive to enforce them instead of constantly perpetuating the double-standards?
Thus, the socio-cultural concept of Guan Xi stepped forth into the world. This is usually translated into “relationship,” but I’d be remiss if I whole-heartedly endorsed that simple definition of a much more complicated series of interconnected partnerships. You can have good guan xi with someone or bad, strong or weak. Some guan xi can get you discounts at stores while other kinds can help you set up a completely illegal establishment like a store or school without any kind of certification at all.
I have an adult student who once told me about a government official’s son who his company had just hired. My student seemed annoyed, so I inquired after it. Turns out, the official’s son is a complete waste of space. He has no training or drive to do the job well, but he is in a supervisor’s role. All because of guanxi.
I asked some teenage students once how they’d feel if another job applicant got a job that they were also interviewing for. They said that’d be fine. Normal thought, right? Sure. Then I asked them how’d they feel if they knew the only reason the other guy got it was because his father had strong guan xi with the CEO. They were less ok with that, but not because they thought it was a form of cheating. They were just angry because they couldn’t get the job with their skills or their guan xi. I asked if they thought of using the connections to get stuff was a form of cheating and they said they didn’t think so. One even went as far as saying that having good guan xi is actually a skill that’s on the same level as having good engineering skills.
Unfortunately, guanxi is such an engrained part of Chinese culture that foreigners are almost entirely excluded from being active members in it. Sure, we can benefit from someone’s guan xi (I certainly have), but actually having your own guanxi in any tangible, Chinese Way is nearly impossible. If you stay a long time, learn the language, or do something truly memorable for a person who already has strong guan xi then maybe, just maybe, he’ll take you under his guanxi wing and spread the wealth, but don’t count on it.
I never had a fake ID growing up. In fact, the bar scene wasn’t my scene in the least, so I never needed one. I knew some folks who had them, but not many. For me, fake IDs existed mostly in TV shows with annoying pseudo-delinquents.
Here in China, though, the fake ID is just the tip of the ice berg. I know two public school teachers who did not finish high school, but instead had fake diplomas made and used their uncle’s guan xi to get their current positions. I know of training schools that have augmented dates on lincensure certificates so well that the forgery and the real McCoy are identical in every way, even down to the perforated edges.
Heck, due to a hiccup in the Real Estate/Marital Laws married couples who own two houses are forced to pay an outrageous tax, so what are they doing? Getting divorces. They’re still “together,” just not, you know, on paper. For some, going through the motions of a divorce that cost about 20RMB to save thousands is beneath them. Instead, they’d rather pay a forger more than 100RMB to get fake divorce documents.
There are even people who pass out business cards for this forgery service! Gotta love it. Not that I’m already not cynical enough, but it’s gotten to the point where any person in a position of relative power elicits two questions from me: Did you earn this job on merit? Do you have legitimate credentials?
Sure, the National Govt. is making efforts to crack down on this sort of thing, but who’s to say the guy carrying out the policy hasn’t frequented the same services?
Want a job without all that hassle of earning it? No worries.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world of high-speed downloads and uploads, of text speak and netizen culture that sometimes bleeds into the actual 3D world of reality. Here are some of those tidbits that I’ve noticed while here in China…
Ten Internet Memes or Phrases that I’ve been hearing a lot in Dalian.
Gei (3) Li (4)—This expression is a relatively new one that got its start right online in Chinese forums and chats. Its two characters translate to “give” and “power,” and it basically has the same meaning: to give power, to make something interesting or impressive, awesome…”
I used this once, and my friend just laughed and wondered how I knew it. Last year I heard it more than this year, but I’m told it’s still out there. You can also hear “Jia You,” which basically means, “Good Luck,” or “You can do it.”
Gao (1) fu (4) Shuai (4)—This phrase means tall, rich, handsome, and is the pseudo-standard Chinese women use when searching for that special someone. They want a tall, handsome guy with access to cash. I hear this phrase all the time, and even in television shows. While it may not be the exact blueprint for what is desired by all, it certainly has a lot of traction, and everyone knows of it.
Every time this sort of topic comes up in conversation and I say it, the girl usually acts surprised that I know of it, and then enthusiastically nods her head in agreement.
Da ge r, piaoliang, bai OR Bai, Fu, Mei—Tall, pretty, white is the phrase that is the male equivalent to “gao, fu, shuai.” The whole of Chinese culture values white, pearly skin, as a lot of the world knows, but it’s one thing to think, “Oh, Chinese like pale girls,” and it’s another thing entirely to go to the beach and see people hiding out in tents, wearing full-body suits, or wearing heaving clothing in 90 degree weather, and carrying sun-brellas around during the day.
Even if a girl has gotten the tiniest bit of sun—say an hour or two—someone close to her will notice and say, “ni zen me zhe me hei?!” How are you so black?!
The numbers: 2, 250, and 38—er, er bai wu, san ba. The number two has taken on the meaning of “stupid, dumb,” whereas 250 describes a foolish person. 38 is actually a bit worse because if you call a man a “san ba” you’re basically calling him a bad woman or an annoying gossip, or even a “biaatch.” Not at all nice.
Merchants will go out of their way to make prices anything else but 250, just to avoid the implied meaning of calling their customer an idiot. And lately young people have added some math into the mix: 2 + 250 + 38= 290. If you hear someone calling you er bai jiu shi they’re not saying anything nice, trust me.
Hen (3) huang (2) hen (3) bao (4) li (4)—This phrase means, “very yellow, very violent.” A woman who was interviewed on a Chinese news channel used the phrase to discuss violence and pornography, and people just kept it going.
In Chinese something that is “yellow” has the stigma of being explicitly sexual or dirty. You have yellow jokes, yellow movies, yellow man, yellow woman, etc. You wanna be careful because this one is used often, and everyone knows the connotative meaning of yellow here. “Bao li” means violent, which sort of goes hand-in-hand with some of the topics.
囧 jiong (3) is a character or pictogram that means embarrassed. The strokes look like a face making the embarrassed look. This is used a lot online because people can see the face, although I’ve heard a few middle schoolers say this at Starbucks.
Another similar one is “Orz” because it looks like a human bowing.
Diao (4) si (1)—loser or even “douchebag.” This word got its start on a Baidu discussion forum, and describes someone who is poor, ugly, short, good for nothing, a failure in life, and even prone to excessive masturbation. It has become a popular term similar to the Japanese term “otaku” and can be used to refer to both males and females.
I have only heard this one once or twice, but I think it’s used online more than in actual conversations.
Dan (4) teng (2)—Ball Pain is a phrase that, well, men use, to describe uncomfortable situations, pain, irritations, or just annoyance. In Chinese the testicles are often referred to as “Dan” or “egg” for some reason.
This is a new one for me as I have yet to hear it, but Xiao Ming jokingly told me about it a few days ago. She’s heard locals say it a few times.
Shen (3) Ma (3) Dou (1) Shi (4) Fu (2) Yun (2)—God’s Horses Are All Passing Clouds. This phrase can be translated into “nothing is permanent” and the implied meaning is that we should all just chill. This has become a popular catchphrase for the youth or the “fen qing” emotional youth.
Cao (3) ni (2) ma (3) –Grass Mud Horse. The Grass Mud Horse is a Chinese “netizen” symbol of resistance against the government’s control and online surveillance. It got insanely popular in 2009, and just kept going. It’s a homophone that sounds almost exactly like the Chinese “Fuck your mother.” The phrase is ultra-negative, of course, but my friends tell me it has even more feeling than the English phrase of the same wording.
Everyone knows that the Chinese net is policed by the govt., but most in the international scene don’t know just how much. For years now young people, artists, activists, and bloggers have led a campaign to take back their right of expression (in all forms), and the Grass Mud Horse just happened to be a mascot they could rally behind.
The GMH is a species of Alpaca, apparently. There were stuffed animals made, people paraded actual alpacas around in the streets, and a song was even made.
Ai Wei Wei, an artist, made big waves because of his dissent and artwork, but he’s just one name among many.
I can’t even look up certain Yahoo! News articles here (I know, why would I even go to Yahoo for the news, right?). Simple things like air quality measurements to sensitive things like ANYTHING WITH POLITICS and some historical facts are all banned. I’m only on here now thanks to my VPN.
Yes, you can say that Chinese culture is still very conservative regarding a wide range of topics, but more and more, today’s young adults are pushing back and, in some cases, breaking those perceptions. Many of the people I’ve gotten to know during my time here are between the ages of 19-30, and most of them can’t stand the censorship or hypocritical nature of the government’s policy’s and officials’ behaviors.
But…so far, the fight is largely relegated to the virtual world where “50 Cent armies” commissioned by the govt. to perpetuate propaganda scour the web to shoot down dissenting voices, sites are shut down by agencies, keywords are monitored for sensitive topics, and the citizens are forced to use internationally-based servers just to get the news about their own nation.
Taxi drivers in KaiFaQu, the development zone just outside of Dalian city can run the gamut. They can be complete turds so vile that they require special instructions for disposal or you could end up singing duets with them (see previous entry). I’ve had my fair share of experiences with taxis, and in September I will have been here for two years, so I can at least offer my insights with a tiny bit of credibility on the subject.
As you travel, though, you run across many more turds in the taxi biz than you do possible singing partners.
First night in China: an 8 RMB ride becomes a 10RMB ride just because. I remember being suspicious of the price right off the bat, but powerless to tell the driver I thought he was being a bit turdlike, so I paid the fare.
Not a specific because it happens every times, but holiday hikes in prices. If it’s two days before Tombsweeping Festival chances are you’ll be charged a flat rate of 10 RMB no matter what time of day, and the price will continue until a day after the holiday. And if you know holidays here you know it’s not even a big deal! I can see Spring Festival or National Day Holiday (Which is like a week long despite the name), but there are times when I swear these buggers are making this stuff up. And these prices are non-negotiable. I’ve tried, going as far as even opening the door while still moving and just telling him to let me out.
The other near-constant is when it’s raining, has been raining, or has just stopped raining. They will charge you 10 RMB because they’ve spilled water on their windshield and called it rain. Okay, not that bad, but just about. They will also try this crap when it’s snowing, but you can wiggle with them during the winter. Is it because it’s more dangerous to drive in the rain? Does the two extra yuan really justify the risk they’re taking driving me three minutes? And isn’t it their job to drive? In all weather? If I don’t pay the extra two yuan will they become more reckless? What exactly is the extra charge covering? Oh, and did I mention, it can be considered rude to put on your seat belt with drivers because they can take it as a judgment on their driving prowess?
Let’s see, we have simple cheats, holidays, rain and snow…what else?
If you’re traveling a distance that’s not a part of their immediate territory there’s gonna be a little battle, too. For example, if I were to get a cab from Kaifaqu to either Dalian or JinShitan (Golden Pebble Beach) both about 20-30 minutes away they won’t even turn on their meter. Instead, you must wheel and deal before he starts driving. Of course, this is only a need if it’s at a time when the Light Rail Train is closed.
Remember that one time when I helped that couple find their boat and we had to drive around for a while, looking at the docks and ports? Well the meter said something like 63.40RMB, but he charged the couple 100RMB. When I asked why, he just said it was because he had to drive around a lot and it was so far from he next passenger. Hogwash, considering I was his next fare and I was right in front of him. On the way back I got him to agree to 50, and the couple paid it for me, so that wasn’t one that directly cheated me.
The most common answer to the long-distance taxi ride is to call a sharecab. It’s what it sounds like. Multiple folks sharing the cost. They actually have that specific service, and I do have the number for the local one.
However, if you are out for the night, hanging with your friends at a restaurant or a bar, the share cab isn’t always an easy thing to secure. Then it’s just you and the driver going back and forth until he beats you into submission. Because they almost always win. I’ve seen gorgeous women try to bat their eyelashes and flirt with them in perfect Chinese, just to get like five RMB off the original price. And if you’re inebriated in the least, and they can see it, you’ll need to be able to negotiate or have someone who can do it for you.
I saw what should have been a 10RMB ride become a 50RMB because someone was visibly drunk.
Some easy solutions I’ve found for a few of these situations include simply asking the driver to turn on the meter (a phrase you can say like, “Ni neng da kai biao ma?” or “Biao, da kai.”), asking for a receipt (I usually say my boss wants it. “Wo xuyao fapiao. Wo de jingli xuyao.”), or just talk a lot about how much you like China (The goal here being that you’ll persuade him not to cheat you too much just because you’re a foreigner).
I’ve traveled a little bit lately. Not too much, but enough to see different types of drivers in different cities. When you travel in China and want to avoid being cheated the best thing to do is be Chinese. If you’re not, you’ll probably get ripped off in some way, somehow. That’s not just a Chinese thing. I’ve seen it happen in America and heard about it everywhere. Travelers just need to resign themselves to having targets painted on them. Your goal is to make that a smaller target anyway you can. Good luck.
But being an American in China, it doesn’t matter. I have a target. And what’s more, it’s not only because I’m white. Some Chinese drivers will just cheat EVERYONE.
A few tales from the road, if you’ll indulge me.
Almost two years ago Noelle and I were in Beijing during the October National Day holiday I mentioned a second ago. It was the last day of our trip and we were trying to get to some of the must-see places. We were somewhere on the street and we wanted to be at Tienanmen Square. We declined a few crazy looking fellows, but then got won over by an unassuming old dude on a rickshaw. We went back and forth for just a moment about price, but then agreed on something like 30RMB. The price was already outrageous, but, you know, whatever.
We both climb into the seat and off the guys goes, not even peddling because his was a hybrid peddle/engine rickshaw, I guess. A minute or so goes by and another rickshaw driver, a bit younger, rides up pointing at one of the back tires frantically and basically just being a very concerned rickshaw driver. Turns out the back tire was too flat and one of us needed to get in the rickshaw with him. This is sounding funny to me, yeah, but I really have no way to convey my thoughts, so I just repeat the price we agreed on and the old driver nods passionately.
Well, off we go again, this time in two rickshaws, careening through dirty alleys, neighborhoods that are definitely not on the must-see list, and then we pull up in a dark, empty alley the man says is right next to the square. We hop off and then things get loopy.
They pull out a laminated chart with prices—all much more than 30 RMB. What ensues is a flurry of frantic gestures and raised voices in Chinese and English, and more and more furious pointing at the prices on the oh-so-official laminated sign. The gist: he wants us to pay 600RMB. Three for each cart. My first thought is, I can take these two little shits. And I give it more than just a cursory look before passing on the option of knocking them both over their rickshaws and just taking off. After all, it’s National Day, as in, Chinese patriotism out the butt, and we’re in the capitol—an alley in the capitol. We open our wallets to pay something, not the whole thing, but something, and what does one of them do? He literally snatches the money out of Noelle’s hand. Seriously. It was tantamount to being mugged, the way it wall went down. In the end he got around 300 or something from us, maybe 400RMB. And as we walked away he still huffed and puffed.
Things we could have done differently: be Chinese, not ride a rickshaw, jump off the rickshaw, push the man over the rickshaw, give him the agreed upon amount and walk away from the man and his rickshaw…
Sometimes, even now, when I think about the whole situation, I get royally irritated and want to go find a rickshaw driver, pretend I know nothing of Chinese, get him to agree to a price, and then wait for him to cheat me…just so I can curse him and yell at him in Chinese, or, maybe just knock him over his rickshaw. But not in Beijing and not during the National Day week.
And then when we got back into Dalian from that very trip we almost let ourselves get picked up by a black taxi.
We had just gotten off the plane and were walking around the terminal looking like lost laowai (informal name for foreigners) when a dude with the Chinese version of swagger just casually approaches us and offers us a ride back to Kaifaqu. I ask him if he’s a taxi driver and he assures us that he is. We ask how much, but he busies himself with looking official and leads us deeper into the terminal and away from people. We descend two flights of stairs with not a human in sight, and finally agreed on a price—something like 80-90 RMB.
At the ground level, we walked out to a dark part of the parking lot and he motioned for us to stay put while he goes to get his car. Noelle and I are exchanging worrisome glances, but it’s when I see him reach his black car that I make the call. We pick up our bags and speedwalk to the front of the terminal, about two hundred feet away. We make it there just as he comes up behind us and tries to motion us in. We stand firm and step in line with the other people waiting for actual taxis.
In the end, the ride home was 100 RMB, so chances are we might have saved money with the black taxi, but probably not. And if he had tried any funny crap we’d have had no way to combat him. The whole thing with him just had a strange vibe, so I’m still pretty certain we made the right decision by ditching him.
Two more recent ones…
On our way to the airport in Zhengzhou on our last day of vacation, Xiao Ming and I fell into a pretty elaborate trap.
We got off the train, and then walked to the bus stop. Tons of people everywhere, some standing in line, others gawking at nothin’ in particular, a few mothers holding their babies out in front of them so the kid can pee right on the street, and of course taxi drivers trying to catch fares.
As we approach the bus a taxi driver intercepts us and offers to take us anywhere, but we push past him and ask the bus worker about bus ticket prices. They’re not expensive at all. Then we ask him how long it takes to get to the airport. At this point the taxi driver we pushed through is right next to us. The bus worker looks from him to us and says, with a straight face, that it takes four hours. Four hours! That’s absurd. We ask why and he says because the bus must drive around the city first, collecting others from different stops.
Well, that is unacceptable. Our plane takes off in less than three.
The taxi driver then says, no problem, he can get us there in less than an hour. We reluctantly play the negotiating game with the man and eventually settle on 80 RMB. It’s a bit more than we’d normally pay, but whatever.
We get into his cab and find to others—a young Chinese man with big round eyes, and a man who looks old enough to set some sort of record—already waiting to go. We quickly ascertain that we’re all going to the airport, so that’s good. I feared that he’d do something shady if we all had different destinations. Yes, I’m that jaded.
So we push off. At first it’s all good, but then the situation deteriorates quickly. He begins to talk in rapid-fire dialect that I can’t follow. Turns out that he now want 20RMB more. Xiao Ming says that he will kick us out if we don’t pay now.
The two of them go back and forth for a while, both yelling. She tells him that he already agreed upon a price and that business is carried out that way everywhere. He counters that, no, it’s not.
She then assails his manhood. She tells him that a real business man, but specifically, she adds, a man, would not lie like this.
While they’re going at it the other two in the car are just silent. I’m adding in my own commentary on how much of a moron this guy is, but I’m not making much of a dent. And the driver is just meandering through back streets, threatening to leave us.
Finally Xiao Ming calls him out. She tells him that he purposely cheated us. He doesn’t want to admit it. Instead, he claims that, of course he had to agree to our price or we wouldn’t have gotten in his cab. We tell him, no shit. He somehow doesn’t see this as a cheat or a lie…
And then Xiao Ming hit him with mianzi. Mianzi, or Face, is a big deal in China, especially among men. It is respect, influence, peer admiration, clout—all rolled up into one. At this point Xiao Ming has gotten the guy to admit that, yes, he deceived us on purpose. He actually says it, “Wo pian ni le.” I cheated you.
He still wants his money, though, so Xiao Ming asks him one final question: Will 20 RMB buy your face?
Oh, that was great. The old man is staring at Xiao Ming like he’s witnessing a crazed animal spirit strike. The driver is resolutely staring straight ahead, avoiding my gaze in the rear view mirror.
She asks him again.
And he says, yes.
I can’t believe it, but then again, by this point it was obvious that he only worshipped at the altar of the dollar, or Ren Minbi, and wasn’t a man of any value himself. Even so, I couldn’t help add something to the moment.
As I passed him the 20 RMB note I said, “Hen pianyi mianzi.” Very Cheap Face.
About ten minutes later we’re on the highway and the driver pipes up again. He says we’re all getting off. I’m like, what the heck now?
He pulls up next to another taxi and they exchange a few words. We get out and the drivers help us haul our crap into the second taxi. After a parting glance, the first driver is gone like a fart in the wind.
Once in the second cab we get the story. Turns out, the first driver had called the second one an hour ago and told him to meet him there, on the highway. The second driver was always the one who was going to take us the rest of the way, apparently. We asked him if he did this often and how much he got paid. He said, yes, this was a common thing for him, and that he got paid 70RMB each time.
For a twenty minute ride, that’s not bad, but the first driver had collected 100 from us, 160 from the old man, and 120 from the other young Chinese guy. We then learned that the taxi driver is friends with a bus driver back at the bus stop, and that the bus actually got to the airport in one hour, not four. In fact, taxi drivers aren’t even legally allowed to be at the bus stop where we were picked up.
The Taxi Relay Scam, ladies and gents.
And the one thing that happened on our last trip to Guilin also happened on our way out of the city. Though it wasn’t as bad, and much less elaborate, it still annoyed me.
Before hailing a cab we were assured of a certain price, or at least what a ride should cost, to our destination. The driver we got, however, only saw me as a white face with zeros attached somewhere. He wants a ridiculous amount, and when we counter he basically just says, foreigners are all rich, that what he’s asking is nothing. This is, sadly, a way of thinking here. It gets a lot of foreigners in tight spots. People just think we all have money. When you claim you don’t most won’t believe you.
At first, the driver only talks to Xiao Ming and I stay silent, just listen. They go on a bit, but then I finally interrupt. I ask him why he’s giving us trouble. He is surprised I’m speaking Chinese, but not for long. He asks me, “What trouble?” I tell him that he knows, “what trouble.” I add that if he doesn’t want to take us then he can just stop and we’ll get out. I tell him we’re not in a hurry and that we don’t need him. Wo men bu zhaoji. Bu xu yao ni song wo men.
He then changes his tune a bit. He offers to take us to a bus stop nearby. At a normal price, we get there. Then, as we’re getting out, he says something I don’t catch. I ask Xiao Ming what it is, but she doesn’t tell me until we’re on the bus. Chinese girl with a foreigner—what does she thing? His tone, she said, had a lot of venom in it. When she told me all I kept thinking was, “I want to break his face”—the one with a nose and eyes on it, not mianzi.” I wanted to chase the narrow-minded buttnugget down and…But she calmed me down, and soon we were driving away from Guilin and to the airport.
These have been a few of my experiences with the Chinese Taxi Driver, a species of worker who sometimes sees every fare as an opportunity to practice their own special style of kung-fu: the art of the grubby paws.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some pleasant ones (singing with a cabbie, a driver who gave great local descriptions, and even one who saved me money), but the bad ones are just more plentiful, and they have the potential to ruin your trip to some degree.
Some of the foreign teachers I met when I first got here had a phrase that helped them see their way through the hard, inconvenient, and downright strange times: T.I.C-This is China.