To Miss and Not to Miss

Posted by on August 13, 2012

And the Streets Shone

For the past 18 months China has become our home, and it’s surreal because many things are now just normal; the way things are. Readjusting to what I remember as familiar back home will be an interesting comparison.  As we prepare to leave China and return to the US I’ve been keeping a list of those things I will miss about China and things I won’t.  It’s important for me to emphasize that in listing these things I often say them with a wry sense of humor and wonderment not with a feeling of negativity. Some things in life aren’t negative they are just different.  Some of them are simple and trivial and some of them much more important.

Stuff I won’t miss about China

  • pollution – clean air is a blessing we often take for granted. Workmates in China sometimes seem unaware as it is part of their normal, one asked me : “is the air really that bad in Beijing?”
  • waiting for the elevator to go home or leave home (29th floor)
  • elevators with carpet that smell like wet dog and dog pee (lots of people in our apartment complex have pets)
  • having to pay an arm and a leg for American food stuffs. They are all imported from the US and subject to import taxes.
  • people smoking in public buildings, bathrooms and restaurants
  • people standing up on the airplane as soon as it lands and getting their stuff from overhead bins
  • people butting in lines without regard to place (see here for more about this “getting ahead syndrome”)
  • people hawking loogies everywhere
  • traffic – my own personal frustration with being stuck in traffic has become much more tolerant. I can sit in traffic for 30 minutes without getting upset, but I won’t miss the 20 minutes it takes to go 3 blocks and cross the 3rd ring road to go to SanLiTun.
  • sewer smells that randomly emanate from the bathroom or greet you on the street as you walk along
  • public restrooms that smell beyond your wildest imagination and seem to always have wet floors from an ayi that is constantly “mopping”.
  • slow and frustratingly blocked or disabled internet. Some of the speed issue is oversold or contended internet in apartment buildings, some is me wanting to access US sites that are world away and accessed through a small pipe that runs under the ocean. Some of this is the great firewall blocking sites entirely (YouTube, Facebook, IMDB) or just intermittent interruption, like gmail and google maps. I look forward to free unfettered fast access to the Internet – something I definetely l took for granted
  • Cable TV. We haven’t really had TV with real America TV channels since we’ve been here, we haven’t really missed it, won’t be getting cable when we get back.
  • preening that seems to be so common in the mirrors here in China
  • loud talking in the early morning that we over hear in hotels while on vacation or staying at the Zhao’s at the Great Wall (Chinese don’t know how to whisper it seems)
  • hot at the office : in the winter the heat from the heater is so unbearable I wore short sleeves to work and would sweat profusely.  In the summer the heat from sun cooked us, especially before 8 am when the AC turns on.

Stuff I will miss about China

  • the people. More than anything those individuals that I’ve been able to genuinely connect with, be they people I’ve had a chance to work with or that we’ve met on our travels.
  • driving in China : (much longer post here) – being able to drive with extreme flexibility when it comes to speed, lanes, uturns and general traffic laws and no fear of policemen or being pulled over.
  • feeling of security : no worries at night walking around, our daughter taking a taxi by herself to SanLiTun, to walk around with friends getting her nails done, buying crepes and eating dinner
  • food. I could go on and on about the food. And yes it’s “Chinese food” but it’s not the food you get at your local family Chinese restaurant in America. Its diverse, it’s delicious and it’s relatively inexpensive.
    Some of my favorite dishes or things about eating :

    • noodles – home made, either hand shaved or freshly pulled by hand
    • breakfast street food : guanbing and jianbing : round pancakes fried and filled with egg and sometime chicken and vegetables. Around $.75 and so delicious.
    • Peking duck – roasted with a wood fire , crispy skin and smokey flavor with plum sauce, I think the best value for your money is at Peking Duck Private Kitchen.
    • dumplingsDintaifung, fresh made by our Ayi, dumplings in the local basement cafeteria at work
    • being able to yell “fuwuyuan” (waiter) in a restaurant whenever you want something and they come running
    • no tipping – not required, don’t need it. Gonna be interesting going back and having to add this on to the bill.
  • Bathroom stalls where the walls go from floor to ceiling And the doors dont have 1/4 inch cracks at the seams. I like privacy in my bathrooms and China has it figured out, as does Japan. It’s not a matter of know how, clearly the US knows how to make bathrooms this way but it must be a matter of security over privacy.
  • our Ayi, Mrs. Li who took care of us everyday, her dumplings were amazing and I’ve forgotten how wash my clothes. Readjusting without here will be interesting.
  • living on the 29th floor and the view over ChaoYang Park or the view from the 28th floor at work.
  • being able to walk to the store in 5 minutes, 2 minutes if I ride my bike
  • mangosteens – a delicious tropical fruit that isn’t that common in the US
  • Monday at work – so quiet because its Sunday in the US. I could focus and get so much done
  • ice bikes and chair skating at QianHai during the winter
  • The Great Wall : I’ll write up a longer blog on this soon but I’ve been there over 21 times since we lived in Beijing.  This has been my refuge from the city and my substitute for the mountains of Washington.
    • JianKou : The prettiest and most wild section of the Wall close to Beijing. I’ve been there over a dozen times.
    • Zhao’s hostel : The small farmer hotel at the end of the road in the valley of Jiankou.  The family that runs this are some of my favorite people.  Their faces light up when they see me, as does mine when I see them; we are genuine friends despite our limited communication and I will miss them.
    • Camping at the Great Wall : From Miles and I’s first adventure there to the times in between, truly a memorable and treasured experience.
  • All the crazy exercises that the Chinese do in the morning along the streets and in the parks, hitting their arms with their hands, hitting their stomachs, walking two steps and then screaming “Hooaaahhh” at the top of their lungs.
  • being able to have Miles go to the bathroom literally anywhere when he’s really got to go.  This holds true for many people in Beijing, I’ve seen taxi drivers pull over on the side of a main road, open the passenger door and and take a leak on the road side or park and walk over to a bush to take care of business.
  • readjusting my sense of personal space in elevators and in walking in crowds. In China if you bump into someone it’s no issue, it’s normal and you don’t even say anything like your sorry.  In the US that will be considered rude.
  • my 10 minute bike ride commute to work
  • early morning bike rides along ChangAnJie, past Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
  • Sofi being able to go to Sanlitun for a Saturday with her friends, get her nails done and get lunch all for $20
  • BCIS – what an amazing educational institution, great teachers who care, small classes, great tech integration, great facilities and resources.

As we return home, we leave China behind, our second home for that past 18 months. We’ll miss her and we look forward to return visits.

7 Responses to To Miss and Not to Miss

  1. Alyse

    Mark this is very well done. Helped me get a sense of Chinese culture. I sometimes wish I could walk to the store but then I remember I’d have to live in a building 20 something stories high. I never knew China was that safe. That is something I like about certain parts of SLC it’s actually pretty safe.

  2. zhangchao

    Missing everything you will miss. Now I live around Pike Place Market, alway walk to the store, walk to work, and not feeling quite safe at night in downtown.

    Well done, Mark! Always enjoy reading your blog.

    • Mark Griffith

      Hey Chao

      I think of you often and wonder how your doing in America, how your adjusting and what you miss and find shocking. That feeling of safety is something that is hard to describe until you notice it’s gone.

  3. Chelin Miller

    And we will miss the wonderful accounts of your life in China. Safe travels and God bless.

  4. Kevin Liu

    Hey Mark – time certainly flew by since I first met you back in 2006 on FBA launch with Tom and we did that trip to Joyo. Looks like you finally got a chance to go there on assignment!! based on your blog it looks like you had an absolute blast.. your points are right on. I miss a lot of parts of Beijing too (not Shanghai one bit though), and also obviously don’t miss a few of those things you listed. It’s a good place for sure especially post the Olympics, things are a lot cleaner. Ask Ben about it when we were there in early 2007 – the Joyo building was renovating and they boarded up our entire floor. crazy drywall dust (prob asbestos) flew in the air everywhere.. we had one gal getting nosebleeds and I think Ben was getting allergic too… crazy days but good memories.

    hope all is well – I’m moving back to Tokyo later this year. -Kevin

  5. Mike Fischer

    This is a great write-up, Mark! Looks like you hit on all the highlights. I’m wondering, will you miss or not miss being stared at and feeling like a foreigner? (or is this not a big deal in Beijing?)

    Did you notice the possible connection between “go to the bathroom literally anywhere” and “sewer smells”? 🙂 I remember walking through a park when I was in Beijing last summer, and a mom was there with her two-year-old boy and his pants-flap was down as he was squatting next to a tree. I’d heard about that before, but seeing it was surreal.

    When are you moving back?

    • Mark Griffith

      Ahh getting stared at…. By now I hardly ever notice in Beijing. It’s interesting how this stare factor differs between some Beijing neighborhoods, in ChaoYang or the CBD (Central Business District) few state at me. This changes when you visit some areas that have fewer forigners like the west side of Beijing. However since we have two adopted African American children they get stared at much much more and when we traveled to rural areas at times it could be overwhelming.

      As for the sewer smell I think usually it’s related to unsealed sewer gases though at times it can be related to the open season effect. 🙂

      As for when we leave? In about 3 hours, time to run!

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