That About Sums it Up

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Thanks to the internet, my (and possibly yours) expectation of China was menus consisting of such wonderful things as dog and insects. The reality is that, at least for Shanghai, these foods are not very common. Just like in America, there’s the usuals of  chicken, beef, pork, fish, and vegetables.


Cheap
I’ve gotten rather used to the prices here and sure will miss them when I move home. On average I’m spending about $38 a week food shopping and my coworkers say I still pay too much. In America, I’ve come to the realization many years ago that eating out is expensive and for the most part will not be of a similar price to buying  the food in the food store. I took this with me to China and would bring my breakfast everyday to work. For about 85 cents I would eat a banana and a breakfast bar. The problem with this is that this meal is both not filling and American. To kill these two problems with one breakfast, I decided to give the street vendor outside the subway a try. For 70 cents, I could get two meat steamed dumplings and a soy milk. I must say that I’m a little embarrassed that it took me two months of work to give these a try because they are amazing. Just goes to show what can happen if you decide to step out of your comfort zone to try new things.

Awesome
So I originally intended to put pictures of awesome food here. Two things happened. First I only took one picture. Second, I cut the English description off. These are supposed to be Blueberry Lay’s. I promise I will take more awesome(and weird) pictures on my next adventure to the food store.

Weird
While dog isn’t common, there are some other equally bizarre things that are. The meat section of the food store could be equated to the beyond of Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I’ve wandered in there a few times on accident to find random animal parts just piled up in their respective open freezers with no plastic covering. I’d like to believe that I’m more adventurous now with new foods but I don’t think that adventurousness will ever drive me to buy meat in China. However, I have motivated myself to try chicken heart and duck blood. I was also tricked into eating cow tongue. Sadly, I believe that my motivation stops somewhat short of foods like this and I did not enjoy them. I’ve failed of my dream to be able to compete with the openness of a garbage disposal to new foods but that’s ok; I’m happy where I am.
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Chicken Nuggets to China

Today I realized that I’ve strayed somewhat from the original path of my blog. I like the direction it is heading so I will not alter that but I feel an explanation for the title of my blog is in order.

As a young child and into my early teens, I was an obnoxiously picky eater. To better understand what exactly this means, I present to you a stereotypical adventure to get food with my family. One night my mother decided to take me and my sister to go eat at our usual restaurant. As we arrived, I decided a trip to the toy store around the corner was in order while the rest of my family went in to sit down. Lacking foresight at such a young age, I didn’t realize my absence during ordering would hinder my ability to pick something edible from the menu. My ignorantly blissful state of mind was quickly shattered after returning to the table. To my horror, my family had ordered me chicken fingers. Any normal person would either like or dislike both chicken nuggets and chicken fingers. I was the special anomaly to the statistic in that chicken fingers did not resemble the same shape as chicken nuggets and were thus inedible. It was only after several minutes of fussing that I was finally convinced to eat the chicken nuggets.
Several years later found me being presented with my first opportunity to travel abroad to China for three weeks with my sister and our friend. This would be my first extended stay in a place that didn’t regularly consider chicken fingers and other similar American delicacies to be important enough to end up on the menu. Not content with such a situation, I decided to add my own items to the menu. Into my suitcase went forty health bars, enough to last my three week stay so that I would not have to try anything new. 
The first few days went rather successfully with me generally consuming only rice and health bars. Any ‘weird’ foods passed my way were discretely disposed of to my traveling companions. Around day five I took an inventory check of my health bars and found that I still had twenty bars left. Twenty bars!? At this rate I’d be eating nothing but rice for the last ten days of the trip.
Something had to change and fast or else starvation would slowly take over. I found my solution in a few words of wisdom passed on to be by my sister. “It’s only a mental thing, nothing more.” I tried to take these words to heart but a transition from chicken nuggets to chicken fingers does no way compare to a transition from chicken nuggets to chicken feet. In hindsight there probably isn’t much difference between the two except maybe a trip through the blender, but hopefully you get the point. Thankfully, I halfheartedly took these words to heart and managed to finish off the three weeks with no loss of weight or signs of malnutrition.
I can’t say that my trip ended exactly the way I wanted it to but it did spark my shift towards being more open to new foods. The gradual transition however did take its toll and four years later I was ready to go again to China, this time with a more open mind.

Three Months Down Part 2

Night and Day

I packed my bags with several hygiene products that I expected to be in short supply upon arriving in China. I fully expected that China would be an extremely different place than America in all aspects. On my first trip to the food store I found that every item I packed in fear of not having could be found on the shelves. During the first few days I quickly discovered that almost all of my expectations of China were wrong. Another expectation that was completely wrong was that day to day­­­ life would be completely different. After three months, I’ve found myself waking up, going to work, coming home, showering, eating dinner, relaxing and going bed. As for the weekends, they’re filled with the typical fun and relaxation also found in the American routine. Because of this, I have come to believe that all people really aren’t that different, we go about our lives in generally the same way.
English and Chinese … and German­­…­ and French… and Indian… and … 
My feelings toward the language barrier are more dependent upon the day and less upon the amount of time I’ve spent here. I knew it was going to be a challenge coming into this so I’ve tried to be accepting of the fact that all my coworkers and roommates (no native English roommates) will tend to speak their native language and not the language I know. I’m lucky enough to already be fluent in the common language, English, that everybody knows a bit of. Thankfully, I’m not in the same situation as a French or Indian person coming to China who will only be in conversations where nobody speaks the native language.  My Chinese is progressing rapidly, sadly not quickly enough to be conversational before I leave, but at least I’ve got a good foundation so that if I ever return to China, the language barrier will be a non existent problem. 

Three Months Down Part 1

Two days from now will mark three months since I boarded a plane and left everything I knew behind. While this statement is of a very dramatic nature, the reality of the situation is not so shocking.

When it’s one o’clock here, it’s one o’clock there, what’s the difference? Twelve hours.
While there is the obvious fact of distance separating me from my home, there is also the time difference. I couldn’t exactly comprehend what a twelve hour time difference meant until I lived it myself. Family members are not home when I leave for work and when I get home from work they’ve already left for work. Generally this means that communication with family is reserved for the weekend only. As far as friends go, generally only after 10pm will I have a chance to talk to them. You can take this how you like; personally I think it’s not so bad. I’m grateful to have the chance to talk to these people with the time I have.
I thought all you could eat was dog and snake…
The foods I miss are slowly starting to fill up my thoughts more and more with each passing day. I would love to be sitting at Qdoba or an all you can eat breakfast buffet right now. Sadly, these are not popular food choices among Chinese people. Luckily, Shanghai is home to just about every other food imaginable. Since arriving, I’ve managed to find suitable restaurants for Greek, German, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, American, Korean, Brazilian, Indian, and Mongolian. In terms of food stores, I know of several places to buy almost all of the foods I could possibly want. Sadly, this solution for food cravings comes with a markup of between two hundred and four hundred percent. For now I’ve managed my desire to buy these foods, preferring instead to save for travel. Although the desire to save for travel is strong, I expect at least once or twice I’ll cave in and spend $3 on a drink that costs $1 in America.

Blurbs

Always Connected
Homesickness has not been a major concern and I think technology is somewhat responsible for that. In just twenty years, we’ve gone from post cards and scarce phone calls to so much more. Thanks to the internet, I can now make phone calls for pennies a minute anywhere in the world. At my disposal for free there is video chat, email and instant message. I feel that China would be a much more different experience if such devices did not exist. I’m not sure whether to classify the difference as positive or negative. On one hand there’s the fact that I wouldn’t get to talk to anyone regularly from the United States. On the other though, the immersion into Chinese culture and language would be so much greater. It is hard though because there is only so much Chinese I can digest before I need an outlet for English. Hopefully with passing of time, my knowledge of the Chinese language will grow enough so that I will not need to retreat so much.
Building a Bridge Over the Language Barrier
I originally intended this post for just one short message but I figure an update on my language journey would be very fitting given the previous topic. I’ve now been learning for about a month and a half and I feel I’ve come pretty far. My vocabulary sits at around 200 words right now with another 200 words being looked at in my flash cards. With these words I’ve managed to construct some basic sentences. I’ve had a few interactions solely in Chinese and have managed to get by successfully. My next step is tackle the tones so that I can understand people and they can understand me better. Once I’m over this hump it should be smooth sailing but until then it will be a bump ride. For example, in pinyin, the words “buy” and “sell” are both spelled mai. The way to tell the difference is in the pronunciation. It can also lead to trouble because the difference between asking for help and calling someone a stupid pig is rather small. However tough the journey may be, I’m going to stick it out until the end and hopefully a stupid pig will help me out in my journey instead of kicing my ass. 

I wish I was kidding.

In case you didn’t know, and you probably don’t because I didn’t know until yesterday, there’s a massive storm headed for Shanghai. When I originally saved this picture from the weather.com report, I had no idea of the storm. I saved it to note the absurdity that is Shanghai weather. It was not until yesterday that my coworkers brought up the topic of the storm did I realize what was headed my way. Back in New Jersey, two inches of snow would warrant a big notice of impending doom in the coming days on the weather.com website. However, a storm with winds of potentially 100mph or so isn’t of much importance it seems. Thanks weather.com!
P.S. The above weather forecast has been typical of Shanghai for the past week or two.

Better Late Than Lose Face

Over the two months I’ve been living in China, I’ve heard the term “saving face” several times. The definition, at least how I understand it, is that being embarrassed in front of others is something to be avoided at all costs. The only way I could relate is to my American culture in which being embarrassed is not a very fun experience. To my surprise, I realized that the relation was not very accurate at all. Yesterday, as I was walking home from the food store, I passed two cars facing each other in a one way street. It’d only take about fifteen seconds for either car to move out of the way but instead, to save face, the occupants of both cars sat and did not move. I only got to watch for about two minutes but in that time neither car moved. Makes me wonder what things we do and how the rest of the world views them.