Parkview Green Mall–one of the coolest and most luxurious malls I’ve ever seen
Last week my office building installed something that will change the future of my time spent in the office. Something that made me jump up and down and clap my hands. Literally. And then I thought, why the hell am I so thrilled about this? You’re probably thinking, hmm this girl is in China. This thing must be some cutting-edge technological device. Oddly enough, this thing is something that would be absolutely required in every single stall of a bathroom in the U.S., but here I am finding myself overtly excited about it.
The addition I was so enthusiastic about was a toilet paper dispenser that my office building’s maintenance workers had slapped right onto the middle of the bathroom wall. It wasn’t even in the individual stalls or anything (just think how elated I would be about that).
Basically, in public restrooms here, there is a ceramic hole in the ground that flushes. If you’re really lucky there’s an “above ground” toilet. If you have really hit the bathroom jackpot, there’s a toilet paper dispenser in the stall. Because of the lack of toilet paper, women are always carrying packs of kleenex with them…and it’s slightly awkward when men take toilet rolls with them.
This place that has some of the most up-to-date technology, but still hasn’t quite gotten down the whole toilet thing goes in hand with the vast contrast of Chinese culture. The smart phone loving, forward thinking side of China is represented with glittering skyscrapers and shopping malls filled with luxury goods while the traditional side is still glaringly evident. The hunched over, arthritis ridden man grilling your chicken kebab just outside of his hutong home still must walk outside each morning to use a public bathroom. A bathroom that doesn’t even provide toilet paper.
This is what remains so fascinating and, at times, frustrating. Beijing is a city of polarity and it’s compelling to see the culturally advanced part mix in with the traditional. Even if it does mean that I have to carry my own toilet paper.
During my first few months in Beijing, I received more stares than I had ever gotten in my entire life. At first it flattered and amused me. Later, that amusement grew to irritation, and eventually I began to ignore the stares. Now, the hundreds of looks I receive daily are just background in my commute to work or the supermarket. There is definitely a comical variation of how people look at me.
The Obvious Gawker: Most often, the perpetrator is an older male. This stare remains persistent and is often accompanied with an open mouth. It is unbroken, even after eye contact or a gesture, such as a smile, that would normally render the perpetrator embarrassed or indicate friendliness. The only way to avoid this type of stare is to leave the vicinity of the unbreakable stare.
The Stealth Starer: These kinds of oglers either know it is impolite to stare or do not want to appear uncool. Their gaze is felt just as much as the Obvious Gawker, but instead of maintaining their stare, they slyly avert their eyes to avoid eye contact. Despite their attempt at surreptitiousness, they are just as guilty as the others.
The Gossip Gaze: This kind of stare is commonly committed among several people in a group [typically teenagers]. The onlookers not only stare, but also proceed to whisper about the object of fascination despite the possibility that said object may understand them.
The Busted Onlooker: These are the perpetrators who, once they are caught staring, have no other tactic than returning a smile. Whether the intent of the stare was to establish a connection with the stare-ee, this onlooker usually gains the notion that they now have an established relationship and may attempt to make verbal contact.
This year Christmas was different, to say the least. I began the holiday by saying goodbye to three friends with whom I had become closest since arriving here. My roommate Keith, Amy, and Lorena had all planned to leave China in time to be home for Christmas, so right before the holiday we had to part ways. I was not terribly unsettled about those goodbyes. Maybe it was due to the fact that I truly believe I’ll stay in touch with them (and I’m definitely inviting myself to the U.K. to visit them).
My friend, and new roommate, Katie, seemed more upset than I was about not being home for Christmas, so we drowned her sorrows in hot chocolate, Christmas candy, and classic movies like The Santa Clause, Elf, and The Polar Express.
On Christmas day I forced Christmas cheer upon my Chinese roommate (who doesn’t celebrate Christmas). I had the honor of giving him his first Christmas card he’s ever received and later I taught him how to create paper snowflakes. To make ourselves miss home less, Katie and I went to get massages and lunch together and afterward, we joined a friend and his co-workers for a big American-style turkey dinner. The wonderful air of relaxation I found after a full spa day and delicious meal confirmed that was the best money I have spent so far in Beijing.
After speaking with a friend I realized this was the first year I have ever spent Thanksgiving away from my family. I felt okay about it…until I began scrolling past Facebook and Instagram photos of friends comfortably snuggled in their parents’ homes eating enormously juicy turkeys and garlic mashed potatoes. Sigh. That certainly made the Black Friday I spent at the office feel a little bit longer. Luckily, my expat friends felt the same pain and we all gathered on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to celebrate. We even ordered a turkey which was about $128 USD.
The men trying to strategize the turkey carving
Although nine of the 14 friends attending were either from Europe or Asia, they knew just how to contribute to the holiday. I can honestly say this was the most stuffed full of food I have ever been on Thanksgiving!
I am in constant amazement of the people I meet from other countries while in Beijing. In the community of expatriates, I have found that English is the most common mutually spoken language. Those who are not native English speakers have such an impressive grasp on English as well as their own native language.
For example, I have met an awesome girl who is two years older than I am from Guatemala. She speaks her native language, Spanish, as well as [perfect] English, French, and is on the way to mastering Chinese. She knows four languages! That is astounding to me. My boss at my company is from Denmark and knows Danish, German, English and Chinese. His three and four-year-old daughters are also trilingual.
This trait of knowing several languages is so common among people from Europe, South America, and here in China. It makes me feel a little silly knowing how to speak only very basic Spanish and struggling to learn Chinese.
While my Chinese barely at a basic level, I am so lucky to have such great co-workers who are helping me learn Chinese. Our translator in the office teaches me one Chinese phrase each day and I’m hoping this will add up to my being able to communicate in Mandarin.
Wish me luck/ hǎo yùn / buena suerte / bonne chance 🙂
Those who have tried to communicate with me via Skype recently already know that my internet has been acting up. Given that my roommate Keith has a decent grasp on the Chinese language, he had made it his mission to get the internet company to fix our server while my native Chinese roommate was away for a few days. Having come to our apartment three times within two days, I’m sure the company was slightly irritated with us. Even after several tries, our internet was still not working, so Keith persisted in calling to request they come out again.
I walked by his room and heard a bunch of Chinese, then, “c’mon, bro! Are you messing with me right now? Seriously?!”
Apparently the internet guy was acting confused over the phone and said he didn’t know what Keith was talking about. After trying them back every hour, Keith concluded that they had turned off their phone and were ignoring us. Since the internet companies here don’t have much competition and they don’t need to provide great customer service, we assumed they were just annoyed and ignoring us.
Three days later, my Chinese roommate returned and once he heard what happened, looked into the situation. He discovered that Keith had been calling Pizza Hut and bothering them to come fix our internet. This poor man that Keith had been calling every hour had been a Pizza Hut delivery guy and had either shut off his phone or blocked our number. The pizza guy sent him a message saying (in Chinese, which Keith couldn’t decipher at the time) “I’m sorry, I work at a Pizza Hut, I don’t know how to fix your internet.”
At least we now know that Pizza Hut is not a good place to call to get IT help.