Looking back on the visit

I have just returned from yet another visit home. I no longer have many reverse culture shock experiences (e.g. the cliché “Americans are so fat” one), but I notice lots of little things. This is how I measure the growing disconnect between modern American culture and me. Here are some of my observations from my last visit:

– Having lived in China for so long, I no longer like sweets as much as I used to. I find myself somewhat repulsed by the ubiquitous sugary goodies, and I have to carefully space the ones I want to enjoy if I want to stomach them.

– I no longer want pizza when I go home. Between Papa John’s, Hello Pizza, and New York Pizza (Jing An Temple), I’ve got all my pizza needs covered in Shanghai, with a satisfactory array of styles and prices. The same goes for pretty much all fast food.

– I have zero interest in American TV anymore. Anything that’s good will come to China on DVD. (Same goes for movies, unless there’s something really new that I want to see.)

– My parents’ ADSL connection was often slower than my connection in Shanghai. I know it’s partly because my parents’ connection isn’t very good, but still… how sad.

– White girls get hotter every time I go home. (Also Hispanic girls, black girls, etc.)

– Life is hard without an ayi. (Oh, China, you have spoiled me rotten.)

– Americans complain about the cost of real estate, but many homes in Florida are actually cheaper than homes in Shanghai.

– The last couple days of my visits are always characterized by frantic shopping trips for friends in China. I’m getting better at remembering all the people I should shop for, and even getting better at figuring out good presents to buy. (More on this soon.)

While I was home, I pretty much only heard mainstream music. Two songs stood out: Ridin’ by Chamillionaire (what a stupid name, but I can’t help loving this song) and SOS by Rihanna (good use of the Tainted Love beat). And what do you know… both can be found through Baidu (here’s how).


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Some parts of your list were pretty familiar to me, but others are very different from my experience:

    Boulder, Colorado has had free wireless internet access for the entire city for over five years. Guishan will probably won’t have it until I’m a grandfather.

    A 600 sqft. apartment back in Boulder is about $800USD/month. The same here would be about a third of that. I’d definitely have to get a job fast if I ever moved back.

    I’m getting to the point to where I’m starting to beg random foreigners on the street in Taibei to move up to Guishan and open restaurants. A pizzaria would be awesome. So would a Qdoba… or a Subway… or …How come you guys get Papa John’s?

    PS. How common is it for grad students there in Shanghai to have an Ayi?

  2. I never lived in China, but having been married to and living with a Chinese woman I’ve seen my taste in food change dramatically. Less sweets, meats and Italian foods. More veggies, noodles, and meals with a variety of foods.

    Comparing Florida and Shanghai real estate prices is like comparing apples and oranges. Try comparing real estate costs between cities like NY and Shanghai, LA and Shanghai. Buying a “house” in Manhattan will cost you in the 6-7 digit range. It could cost you 150k+ for a small studio.

  3. I always used to have a sweet-tooth, and in fact during my first 18 months in China (while I was in Dalian) I bought Dove chocolate regularly (dark or hazelnut), but now I just don’t crave it the way I used to. Still tastes wonderful, but I don’t get the “I need chocolate” urge anymore.

    If you stayed in America longer, I wonder how quickly you would “revert”? When would you reach the cross-over point, and start drooling more at Oreos than at the girls 😉

  4. Justin (Parasite) Says: May 9, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    The white girls->look hotter thing is interesting to me. They start looking ‘exotic’, am I right ? I started noticing that effect after just 1.5 years. But actually, I was pretty sure I was the only one — thinking it was likely because I could never have a GF in the states. I figured if you had had a white or other GF before, then you wouldn’t be subject to the effect.

  5. Greg Pasden Says: May 9, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    When you are a traveler it is as if you have an entire book to read. when you don’t travel it is as if you never turn the page.

    I often experience the same things as you. This morning I saw American “French” Toast on the menu. I tried it and it was awfully sweet even though I lightly dipped my food in the syrup.

    Agreed, TV no longer interests me either (except sports). It seems like most shows are about police investigations or crime. So neither are of interest to me.

    Girls are hot everywhere. I think you are just missing SS, and it is Spring you know. Hormones seem to rage around this time. It’s nature (you Beast).

    Enjoy being home (no matter where it is) and enjoy the differences (no matter where you are). Variety is the spice of life (just don’t let the women in on this secret). haha


  6. About real estate, I think you do have to compare Shanghai to NYC to compare apples to apples — and the apples in NYC cost 20 times as much. A normal one-bedroom apt. runs about $2,500 per month in NYC. A nice one is close to 4 grand a month. What does 21,000 RMB per month get you in Shanghai these days? (yeah, i know you need to look at percentage of income, etc., to do a real comparison). Anyway, the cost of living in NYC is insanely higher than Shanghai — food, for example.

  7. You have no idea how much that I hate sweets.
    and I am chinese.
    Well, I dont really think that the reason for me not to fall even just a bit for sweets.

    I dont agree with what 88 said above.
    lets just say this, Shanghai(Mainland only) is the City for China, as NYC for US.
    so, whats going on here in Shanghai, when evaluating should be done in the US dollar way. Not the tricky rate between USD and CNY. so, now if you evaluated it all over again, you will find there is no such difference. At least, lots ppl believe so 😀


    Well, China/Chinese is cheap now, But you guys better watch out, Coz we are on our way to get over you. hahahhahahahahahhahaha, Im a huge chinese 😀

  8. see what Britney Did in 2003, you will just get why they are “hotter” and “Hotter ” each year.

    What a mess

  9. b3,

    If you want to get all scientific about it:


    NYC is the 13th most expensive city in the world. Shanghai is 30th.

  10. You also need to keep in mind that many expats in Shanghai are making US salaries (althouth this isn’t as common as it once was). So if you are making 80 grand (USD) in Shanghai compared to 80 grand in NYC, there would be a slight difference in your standard of living. “Slight” meaning no comparison.

  11. It’s funny as a Chinese living in the US, how similar my experience of visiting home (China) is–just in the opposite way. Especially the last one. Before I leave China, I don’t shop for friends in US. I just shop for myself. It’s amazing how my list of things have (and have not) changed over the years. For example, the food part never changes but more and more I see myself shop for CDs and small kitchen gadgets. It’s equally amazing to examine my shopping list for my relatives and friends before going back to China. One common thing on every overseas Chinese shopping list: vitamin or herbal supplements. Was it on your list?

  12. Mark,

    I’m assuming you’re asking about typical Chinese grad students. None of them have ayis. But they’re also typically living in dorms and not supporting themselves either.

  13. Shaun,

    My basis for comparison was that they are the two places I’ve lived and I have some concept of real estate costs. I realize it’s not a fair comparison, but many Americans are shocked that Shanghai real estate is more expensive.

  14. shamu,

    Ah, supplements… that’s a good one. No, it wasn’t on my list this time.

  15. Lantian Says: May 10, 2006 at 9:18 am

    So John, what did you buy for gifts?!! The only thing I could find last time was a nerf football, it was actually not made in China…maybe Mexico. I know there’s lots of stuff that is made in China that you can’t really GET in China, but besides food products there doesn’t seem to be much else. Anything I take to the States people call crap and anything I bring to China is called ‘lanfei qian’ overpriced.

    About real-estate and cost-of-living. I think in Florida you have the the mega-estates that would still blow away any price/land/outrageousness ratio in Shanghai. The feeling you probably had is like a Californian seeing the price of a house in Madison for US$ 120,000…what is there another zero? I can imagine it’s the same reaction of a regional Chinese person seeing the crazy prices in Shanghai. Actually I think your point was just that Americans don’t realize there are some crazy-nice-pricey places in China.

    Oh, about the gals. I think there are two factors involved. One-the overall ratio in a given sample. As in any trip you are presented with a completely new sample set, and since your sample set in China is particularly low for non-Chinese, it is like seeing a Ben & Jerry’s open up all of a sudden. Two-you are getting older, they get hotter, younger and the skirts skimpier with each incremental year. Unfortunately they will start calling you Mr., Sir, gramps, shu shu, yeye or other choice vocab.

  16. I remember shortly after I came back last time I realized that I’d seen more hot women walking on 忠孝東路 in five minutes than I’d seen in my entire two week vacation in America.

  17. RE: Baidu MP3 searches. It won’t work unless you search from a Chinese IP address. I can’t seem to find Rhianna SOS through my work’s Japanese proxy (and hence non-filtered internet). I’m sure it’ll work 100% once I go home to my Chinese connection.

    Anyway, good list — totally agreed on the girls point.

    @justin, Don’t quite agree. I’ve had white girlfriends in the states and after living in China for 1.5 years as well; I don’t think they’re exotic looking. Mostly you just start noticing things that a lot of Chinese girls seem to lack.

    @mark, he went to FLORIDA. I think you’ll feel the same way comparing Colorado and Florida, especially in the spring time…

  18. I’m always initially shocked when I find that all of a sudden I can listen in on other people’s conversations. Freaky.

    Overall, the biggest thing I miss from home? Nachos. Don’t know of anywhere (here in Dalian at least) where I can get some.

    …and maybe cheeze whiz too I guess.

  19. @eden, I really, really doubt it.

    I just need to spend a few more years in Asia, like John has. I’m still stuck at this stage, and if I’m noticing an obesity problem in Colorado, my senses would be assaulted by it in Florida.

  20. its was nice seeing you while you were home. Im on a boat now, floating around the gulf dreaming of chinese, white, african-american, hispanic, etc girls.

  21. doom,

    Yeah man, next meetup: SHANGHAI!

    Check the photo. You’re looking debonair, as usual.

  22. eden,

    Whoa, really? I never knew that about Baidu. Interesting… So it’s a “we Chinese don’t have to follow IP laws, but we respect the fact that the rest of the world does (and we don’t want to get sued)” policy…

  23. @john, here’s not-so-definitive proof. Two images after searching for “Animal Collective” one from a Chinese IP and one from an external IP:

    Baidu from outside China

    Baidu from within China

  24. What’s with the sweets? I have the same thing. I used to love eating brownies, now I eat one a it’s more than enough. I don’t like candy much either.

  25. As someone living in the U.S….

    I need to eat less sugary stuff, seriously. The problem is that its everywhere and everyone is offering some.

    American TV is crap. The only shows I watch are the Daily Show and occasionally the Simpsons. These days all the shows are horrible “reality shows” which are basically just “amatuer acting hour.”

    The U.S. in general has slower internet than a lot of the countries who added their infrastructure later (Korea is the prime example) . Mostly because the U.S. is still working with their older infrastructure and is slower to spend money to upgrade. Though my cable speeds have gotten reasonably fast, and they are laying fiber here in Tampa.

  26. Imelda Moriarity Says: October 3, 2006 at 7:18 am

    Do you have a picture of the Chinese Ear Scoop. My granddaughter is doing a presentation on a Chinese folklore tale and the Earscoop is one of the important items in the story. Are you in China right now?

  27. Hi again! Still raiding your old posts 🙂

    Your comment about “zero interest in American TV” caught my eye. I have actually lived the past 5 years with no cable service in FL, relying on over the air broadcast (which gets you FREE HD programming!!!)

    However, one thing I miss is the availability of ESPN in HD… While you can stream ESPN from various websites, it sucks that I can’t see my beloved Gators play every Saturday in crisp, clear HD Quality! (although, about half of the games are on CBS, which comes in perfectly over my OTA antenna).

    As a fellow UF alum, how do you get your Gator Football fix in China?

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