In China, the place that makes everything, you still can’t find the things you need. Take for instance, a measuring tape. Lord knows they have a zillion of ‘em in the country—cuz this is where they make ‘em–but you can’t find when you need it. Which is why, when we were measuring a storage cabinet in our bathroom (which is really a bedroom dresser), we improvised and used toilet paper. The old storage unit was four wipes wide, which we replaced with a storage unit that was much bigger, 12 wipes. And where did we find our measuring tape? Behind the 12 wiper with a few dust bunnies.
Or molasses. They don’t have it. Some of the westerners use something called malt sugar. I use something called rose sugar. It tastes like a mixture of mild molasses and a Glade Plug In.
Then there are things you can’t replace, like the cereal aisle at Jewel. Instead, China has the soy sauce aisle. They have more varieties of soy, chili and teriyaki sauce than what you could shake a chop stick at.
There also aren’t coffee shops in China. Not that I’m craving a skim mocha cappuccino latte decaf with , but I do miss a place to hang out with free WIFI on Sunday afternoons. There are a few coffee shops in Kunming that cater to Westerners, but the problem is this: they are packed with all of the Westerners I try avoid seeing on weekends.
There also isn’t a replacement for watching college Big Ten football. You can get up at 3:30 am and watch it stream live on the internet, but that’s no fun. Who wants to eat guacamole and chips then? Or, I forgot, there is no guacamole and chips here. Instead there’s eggs on a stick and spicy tofu (something that smells similar to a wet dog lit on fire).
China also doesn’t have medium-pulp, low acid, calcium fortified OJ or tater tots, velveeta or marshmallow fluff. But they do have neon colored dried fruit.
You can’t find kitchen paper towels here, either.
I guess I’ll just have to improvise and use toilet paper for those jobs, too.
One of the biggest differences between China and America is something not big at all: children. In China, they grow up fast. There are no baby strollers. Even if they make them here, they don’t use ‘em. The only baby stroller I’ve seen belongs to an American family. Chinese moms carry their babies on their backs wrapped up in colorful ethnic blankets, blankets that would fail every safety standard set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
From their mother’s back, babies springboard into life, grabbing for everything, mainly independence. You see three and four year olds doing a few things in China that you’d never see in the States. We’ve seen kids who looked about the age of three and four cross major roadways by themselves—like the Kunming equivalent to Lake Shore Drive. It’s commonplace to see little people do adult chores, like carrying big pieces of glass or fetching smokes for pops from a nearby shop.
Kids can enjoy amusements at parks that you don’t see at Six Flags, like this floating hamster ball in Green Lake Park.
Or at the New Kunming Zoo. Cages are optional for animals. Kids can get up close and personal with the wildlife and see things er uh, they might other not see.
The other big difference with kids here is pooping. Don’t worry, I didn’t take any pictures.
Diapers aren’t widely used in China…yet. Instead, babies wear split pants, similar to a pair of long johns sans the trap door. Jeff thinks they are a great idea and is looking into getting a pair tailored for himself. Anyway, an infant’s pudgy cheeks hang out the rear so they can go on the go! Parents start curbing their bumpkin around 8 months. They’ll hold their child over a gutter (not necessarily in a discreet place) and whistle in the child’s ear while he or she is doing their business. As the child gets older, the parent will use the same whistling sound to let them know “mommy’s spotted a safe place to go”.
But as kids get older, we’ve learned one thing is true: kids will be kids. The only real difference between the kids in China and the ones we’ve dealt with in the states are the labels adults put on them.
When we first arrived in Kunming, we were told that a trip to the grocery store would take three hours. Yeah, right.
We’re not feeding an army.
We’re feeding something even harder to satisfy: the American Appetite.
Products on your shopping list don’t look like what you’re used to.
Take for instance, salt.
The package has a palm tree and elephant on it. Check out the white bag next to the Skippy mystery nutbutter. What happened? Did the Morton Salt girl have problems getting her Visa?
Or baking soda. This Armor and Hatchet was a real find.
Deodorant, shaving cream, and cupcake papers are also on the “impossible to find in China” list. But Depends Diapers are easy to find.
Not that I need to know.
There’s the Teenie Weenie store, which is not what you think…
There are bootleg versions of everything from ice cream to DVDS. The good news is that one DVD you purchased for 2 american dollars contains twenty-four 007 movies.
The bad news is that your scoop of Rum Raisin from HaaYin-Daz might contain ming beans.
The other thing you never see shopping is other Westerners. I count how many fair-skinned foreigners I see while prowling around Kunming’s main shopping district. Yesterday, I saw a record of five. One Swede, two Germans, an American backpacker and a parent of a kid we actually knew from school.
Now that is something to write about.
Being from Chicago, I’m used to city transit. I have a Kunming Bus Card which is quite handy. The typical fare is 1 ¥, or about 13 cents. If you use a bus card, the fare is even less.
Just like Chicago’s infamous fleet, riding the Kunming Bus is like being in a human aquarium, where Westerners are the weirdest fish of all. I keep on thinking my fly is down because of all of the stares, but then I remember I’m a white person in China, something as rare to see as Big Foot holding a four leaf clover. Kids will stare and practice their English, saying “Hall-wo’, followed by “Fine, dank-you”, no matter what question you ask them next.
There are bus passengers holding their fresh market purchases, which include live chickens, doves, frogs, wiggly bug larva and vegetables right out of a Dr. Seuss book. On the crowded confines, you’ll see teens texting, pick-pocketers prowling, babies crying, couples cuddling and something rarely seen on a Chicago bus: passengers offering seats to the elderly.
Mind you, not all Kunming buses are created equal. Some resemble long metal twinkies on wheels; others look like mini-airport shuttles. Some even have upholstered seats. All the buses have TV, which is fun to watch, unless it’s super crowded. Then the only thing you see are armpits.
There are advertisements everywhere on the bus, from the back of seats to the plastic grips for standing passengers.
Hopefully, they are advertising hand sanitizers.
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