Tag: observations


Jan 2007

The One-kuai Roll

The starting fare for taxis in Shanghai is 11 RMB, or, as the locals say, 11 kuai. This amount increases as a function of both distance traveled and time. This is all well and good.

What is not well and good, however, is a trick the taxi drivers frequently pull which I will dub “the one-kuai roll.” The typical one-kuai roll scenario is something like this:

> Scene: in a taxi on the streets of Shanghai, in light traffic.

> You: OK, this is good. Stop here.

> Driver: What? Here? [taxi slows down but continues moving forward]

> You: Yes, Here! Here! [taxi still moving forward]

> Driver: OK, I’m stopping. [taxi still moving forward]

> You: Stop! Stop! [taxi still moving forward]

> [Just as the taxi finally rolls to a stop, the fare increases by one kuai.]

> Driver: That’ll be 21 RMB, please.

> You: D’oh!

That’s the one-kuai roll: a sly move to bump the fare up by just one more RMB. It seems like almost all the drivers do it. It’s only one kuai ($0.12), but man, it’s annoying.


Nov 2006

Rock, Paper, Scissors: the Store!

Over the weekend I noticed this home decor store:

RPS sign

The name is 剪刀·石头·布, which translates literally as “Scissors · Stone · Cloth” and more colloquially as “Rock, Paper, Scissors!” Cool name.

I must take issue with the logo, however. It depicts two hands, which appear to be in scissor and (very weak) paper mode. Where’s the rock? It’s the best! To quote Bart Simpson, “Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats rock.”

Furthermore, there are hearts on the hands in the logo. Hearts? Come on. This shows a profound misunderstanding of the game (or perhaps an underlying cultural rift?). I mean, RPS is an international “sport” with a very competitive annual competition. It’s not about “love,” it’s about all-out psychological warfare. You gotta know your gambits. You gotta know your strategy, because “the game itself is as complex as the mind of your opponent.” The ignorance implicit in the above logo sickens me.

But speaking of crappy logos, the logo on the World RPS Society website is not. The crest on the left is not so noteworthy, but the graphic to the right is at once a nod to early Communist area dynamism as well as to Fountainhead cover graphic sensibilities. I like.

In conclusion: 剪刀·石头·布, your logo sucks, but your heart is in the right place. Rock on.


Nov 2006

So True

Meg at Violet Eclipse says:

> China is so safe, a girl could walk alone at night without worrying she’d be attacked or robbed. China is so dangerous, she might fall into a gaping hole in the middle of the sidewalk, left but the constant construction.

> Chinese people are the hardest-working people I’ve ever seen. People like Juice Aunt and her husband are outside with their cart, all day, every day, no matter what the weather is. But Chinese people are the laziest people I’ve ever seen. I’ve gone into restaurants and seen the staff asleep on the dining tables.

Read the whole entry.


Oct 2006

Some t-shirts I've seen lately

These were all spotted on t-shirts on the streets of Shanghai:

– Labial
– Herpes Club
– Naturally Two-Two
– Tomorrow is Peace. Tomorrow is Yesterday.

I have no explanation for the first two, although to be fair, “labial” is a legitimate linguistics term, and “herpes clubs” actually do exist (although I can’t imagine there being t-shirts for it). The second one is obviously a knock-off of the Taiwanese clothing company “Naturally JOJO.” The last one is confusing because there are no grammar or spelling mistakes, and it almost makes me want to believe that something clever is going on, but in the end it really just doesn’t make any sense at all.


Oct 2006

Fortune Cookies for Shanghai


Fortune cookie fortunes

Some Americans, not realizing that fortune cookies were invented in their own country, are dismayed by the lack of fortune cookies in China. It’s a fun little tradition.

I was equally surprised, then, to discover fortune cookies in Shanghai recently. Some company was offering free fortune cookies at Zentral (a yuppie restuarant). The catch, of course, is that there’s advertising on one side of the fortune slips.

On a side note, one thing that really annoys me about fortune cookies is when my fortune is not even a fortune. Take these fortunes for example. “Home is where the heart is” is not a fortune! You get fortunes like these all the time. I don’t want some cute motto, I want a fortune. I want to know what my future holds. The more specific, the better. For example, “you have only three days to live” would be an awesome fortune to get. It doesn’t have to be true; in fact, I rarely make my major life decisions based on fortune cookie fortunes. (Take note, fortune cookie makers.)


Oct 2006

Asian, Brunette, Blonde

Asian, Brunette, Blonde: that’s the order. A friend of mine recently explained this to me.

Most people with any China experience know that when there’s an Asian among a group of foreigners in China, Chinese restaurant/hotel/etc. staff will naturally approach the Asian in the group. This is very understandable; there’s no way of knowing that one of the white people has been in China 10 years but the Asian has lived in Idaho all his life and doesn’t speak a word of Chinese. It’s still a fair enough assumption.

A friend of mine (who is dark-haired) explained to me that she has two friends she hangs out with frequently in China: an Asian and a blonde. When the Asian friend is present, Chinese staff all approach her for any communication needs. No surprise. The funny thing is what happens when the Asian friend is not present. The Chinese staff all naturally go to the brunette rather than the blonde. Never mind that the two girls are “equally white”; apparently subconsciously, darker hair equals higher likelihood of speaking Chinese.

Funny stuff.


Jul 2006

Good People at Bad Times

It’s something that’s pretty self-evident, but foreigners living in China easily forget: sometimes when you catch good people at bad times, they come across as quite rude. The sad truth is that when this happens to a foreigner in China, it’s all too easy for the foreigner to mentally toss it into the “Chinese people have no manners” file as further evidence. Chalking up each incident as proof of a generalization applied to the whole population requires less mental effort–and most of all, less tolerance–than remembering that Chinese people have bad days too.

I give you an example. The other day I bought a few items at the local convenience store. It was around dinner time and the store was pretty busy, so there were people in line ahead of me, and by the time it was my turn to pay there were people in line behind me. The middle-aged lady at the register was not one of the three familiar faces I knew, so I figured she was a new hire.

My total came to 30.9 RMB. I gave the lady a 100 RMB bill and the 0.9 in exact change. She made a very irritated face and said to me, “don’t you have smaller change?” (A side note here: not having small change is one of the greatest consumer crimes one can commit in China, and will frequently invoke the ire of the cash handler.)

I told her no, I didn’t have change. Giving her the 0.9 in change was the best I could do. Muttering in Shanghainese under her breath, she pulled out the nearly empty change drawer tray and picked up a stack of bills from underneath. She removed a 20 and a 10 from the stack, slapped the rest of the bills on the counter, and proceeded to ignore me.

Had I been a little quicker, I would have realized that the stack she had pulled out was worth 100 RMB, so the stack on the counter was worth exactly 70 RMB in 10s and 5s. But she didn’t say anything to me and I wasn’t especially quick at that moment, so I asked her, “what does this mean?” (but I didn’t say it in a rude tone).

She then snapped at me, “you didn’t have any small change, so that’s what you get!” I took my stack of small bills and left.

Two days later I returned to the same convenience store, and my new friend was on the register again. It was sort of late, and there was only one other customer in the store, just browsing.

My total came to 13 RMB and change. I slapped down three 5 RMB bills and joked with her, “I’m returning some of those 5s you gave me the other night.”

She remembered me and knew what I was referring to, but rather than smiling at my joke, she proceeded to apologize profusely for that incident, telling me that it had been very busy, and she had no other change, and that she really hoped I understood. I told her it was not a problem.

Leaving the store, I realized that if I hadn’t made my pointless little joke about returning the 5s to her, I would have always considered that woman a cranky bitch. But through that little exchange, my view of her had changed.

Sure, assholes exist too, but we also catch good people at bad times every day. Sometimes it’s our first impression of a person, and sometimes it’s the only time we’ll ever meet that person in our lifetime. China is no different from the rest of the world in that respect.

Related posts:

No, I do not have change. (Talk Talk China)
Overcome by Friendliness (Weifang Radish)
Taxi Incident (Sinosplice – wherein I commit the same mistake that I accuse foreigners of in this entry)

Living in China is like an RPG


Jan 2006

Living in China is like an RPG


nerdy RPG dice

For a foreigner, living in China can be like a (classic, non-computer) RPG. Let me count the ways…

1. It offers an escape from an ordinary, monotonous existence

2. It appeals to nerds

3. There’s more than a reasonable amount of dice rolling going on (Chinese bars)

4. Money is counted in “pieces” ()

5. The fast way to do things is “on horseback” (马上)

6. Dragons are real (恐龙, lit. “terrible dragons”)

7. Players usually enter the game with special abilities (e.g. English, foreigner charm)

8. It’s really fun at first, but can get old pretty fast

9. It takes place in a magical world where people believe in mystical concepts like qi and fengshui

10. The people take legends very seriously (even 5,000 year old ones)

11. The word “peasant” doesn’t seem out of place

12. There are plenty of barmaids in the taverns and women of ill repute on the streets

13. The background story: a legendary kingdom has fallen under the control of a powerful, malevolent force, and heroes are nowhere to be found…


Dec 2005

Sweet Tomato Juice

There’s this brand of Chinese juice called 味全每日. The brand’s juice (and it actually is juice, instead of flavored water) is pretty good… with one exception. The tomato juice is sweet. At first I just thought that this is one of those little cultural differences I would get used to. I got used to sweet popcorn instead of salty popcorn, and I even like the stuff now. But no, there are some things you have to just declare vile and never look back. For me, sweet tomato juice is one of those things.

Sweet Tomato Juice

As long as I’m mentioning 味全每日 juice, I should mention another thing. This brand’s juice bottles have a special status here in China, especially among students. In the winter, when everyone is drinking boiling hot liquids nonstop all day long, many drinking containers are required, sometimes of the disposable (or at least extremely cheap) variety. You can’t use a regular plastic water bottle for that, because they crumple and shrivel when boiling water hits them. 味全每日 bottles, however, are nice — thick and sturdy. They hold even boiling water. Thus they can hold your hot drink, and simulataneously keep your hands warm without burning them (the plastic is just the right thickness). These bottles are the makeshift thermos/hand warmer of choice.

There’s only one problem. The inside of the bottle opening is quite rough. I find drinking from these bottles rather uncomfortable on my lips. Chinese friends don’t agree, though. Apparently I have wussy white man lips.

P.S. I had some technical difficulties yesterday related to vulnerabilities in old scripts I had left on my server. Yikes. With great scripting power must come great responsibility. Remember that, people!


Nov 2005

Ah, ah, ah! Hey, hey, hey!

I went to a punk show at Live Bar on Thursday. I especially wanted to see the Japanese bands. (Japanese bands usually know their punk… moreso than me.) Some observations:

– There were five bands: three Chinese, two Japanese. One of the Chinese and one of the Japanese bands were all-girl bands. Another Chinese band was composed of three guys with a female vocalist. Girl punk invasion!

– The Chinese bands, when setting up, usually test the mic by saying “?” (“Hello?”) and “听得见吗?” (“can you hear me?”). Both Japanese bands said “ア, ア, ア! ヘ, ヘ, ヘ!” (“Ah, ah, ah! Hey, hey, hey!”) over and over. It sounds pretty funny.

– The music was all right.

– I wondered about the practicality of a Japanese band coming to China on tour, and a tiny little local bar like Live Bar at that. I asked one of the mohawked Japanese guys how it worked. He said they have to pay for their plane tickets, but the rest of the touring costs are covered.

– I confirmed that after five years in China I can still speak Japanese, but I am starting to suck at it. Yikes. I have to do something about that, or my major is going to become completely meaningless (and it wasn’t worth a whole lot to begin with!).

Two photos from the event, via Shanghai Streets (click photos for more):


Nov 2005

SPR Coffee

I spend an hour or two in a local coffee shop from time to time. The name of the place is “SPR Coffee.” I was a bit curious as to where the name came from, but I didn’t have to look far to find the answer. A sign told me “SPR comes from SPRING.” Yes, that’s right. They took the first three letters of the word Spring for their name. Bizarre.

Once again, Asians show us that they may be learning English, but they don’t have to totally play by our rules.

The store also has an interesting discount system for regulars. You can buy a 200 rmb pre-paid “coffee card.” It looks a lot like a credit card. I thought I knew this system. It would have a magnetic strip and a declining balance, and it would give me a discount. Nope. Wrong.

There is no magnetic strip. The numbers 1-10 are printed at the bottom of the card. Every time I use the card to buy a large coffee, the card is notched appropriately with scissors. Simple, but effective.

SPR Coffee Card

P.S. I’m always a little bit afraid to write about something like this, because for all I know this system is used all across the USA these days. I wouldn’t know.

Snobs in China


Oct 2005

Snobs in China

When I lived in Hangzhou, the “snobs” were the foreigners that lived in Shanghai and thought it was so great.

After I moved to Shanghai, the “snobs” became the foreigners in Shanghai that didn’t learn any Chinese and spent all their time and money in Western over-priced restuarants and bars.

Carl helped me realize how “snobby” I can be, towards foreigners that spend a lot of time in the bar scene (some actually are cool). They’re not all assholes.

There are so many kinds of snobs, really. (Maybe it cheapens the term to apply it so liberally, but who cares?) When I still lived in the US the ones that annoyed me the most were the music snobs. Here in China (and especially in Shanghai), there are so many other kinds of snobs to be found in the expat community…

  • There are the “Real China snobs”. Their experience in China is the real one, in some part of China that the snob deems respectably “rough.” This type of snob holds nothing but contempt for the expats in Shanghai. The funny thing, is, you can find this type of snob in Hangzhou. (Life in Hangzhou is anything but “roughing it.”)
  • There are the “Chinese study snobs”. They’re usually bookish and don’t openly show contempt. But they might mention that they don’t hang out with foreigners.
  • There are the “I speak Chinese snobs”. They speak at least basic Chinese, and unlike the “Chinese study” snobs they do hang out with foreigners, mostly because they’re always trying to impress them with their Chinese skills. Their snobbery is only half-hearted, because they love to be needed by those without the Chinese skills. They limit their contempt for the Chinese-unequipped to occasional snide remarks.
  • There are the “I am so 老百姓 snobs”. These are the opposite of the traditional snobs. They arrive in China and move right into the slums to live with their Chinese “brethren.” They get 5 rmb haircuts and eat 5-10 rmb meals, exclusively Chinese. They usually don’t show a lot of contempt for those who want normal conveniences, but neither do they recognize the absurdity of their own actions. This kind of snob is specific to big cities, but is otherwise basically the same as the “Real China” snob.

I am guessing that some of my readers find me writing about this ironic, as on more than one occasion I have been accused of being one of these types. So here’s where I’ll get honest.

I was certainly never hardcore about it, but I did feel the “Real China snob” in me resisting the move to Shanghai. I lived out my “Real China” snob fantasies in my first year in Hangzhou and when I traveled in my first 2-3 years in China.

I was sort of a “Chinese study snob” my first year in China, but that was mostly because I was poor and didn’t really know any other foreigners. I’ll admit that I am still somewhat bewildered (frustrated? shamed? saddened?) by foreigners who live in Shanghai long-term and don’t make a real effort to learn the language. I’m not sure if that makes me a snob.

Despite the occasional accusation, I don’t think I am a “I speak Chinese snob,” although certain friends of mine might say I have definitely exhibited symptoms. (It was tough love, I swear!) But yes, I speak Chinese, and not badly. If you want to label me a snob for that, have fun.

I am not a “I am so 老百姓 snob,” but I think I know a few people who exhibit symptoms.

So… how many kinds of snobs did I miss? What kind of snob are you?

Marilyn Monroe Five Drops No 5″ 1955


Jul 2005

Courage and Fear

Over the weekend I watched the movie Donnie Darko for the first time. I loved it. It reminded me a lot of a Murakami Haruki book, and a little bit of Slaughterhouse Five. It’s one of those pleasantly confusing stories, at once entertaining you and enriching your for the mental struggle it puts you through.

Completely by coincidence, I ended up reading The Courage to Live Consciously later the same night. I found the advice there vaguely reminiscent of Jim Cunningham‘s philosophy, only much more useful.

I found the two sources’ takes on courage and fear to be equally valid.

The Courage to Live Consciously–and this quote in particular–got me thinking about the decision to come live and work in China:

>Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

–Erica Jong

When I was visiting the States I got to thinking about how easy and comfortable it would be to just stay in Tampa, where my friends and family are close, and just find some job to do. But that would be totally betraying my passions and my potential.

Some say moving to China to work takes a lot of courage. Numerous times, Americans from back home have told me that they admire my courage for doing what I do. But does what I do take any courage, really? I don’t see it that way.

To me, learning foreign languages and coming to China is simply a matter of doing what I like to do. I really enjoy studying Chinese, and helping other foreigners learn Chinese is something I genuinely like doing. I don’t think I deserve any special credit for doing what I like doing. If I’m hungry and I have a hamburger in front of me, am I courageous for eating it? No. That’s the way I see it.

That said, I do know that some people are living out what they feel are boring lives in the USA, Canada, or elsewhere, and they’d love to be able to move overseas and try out a new life. They see the hamburger, but they have a million reasons why they can’t eat it. Or maybe they’re afraid of what the hamburger has in it. I can’t be sure, because I’m not one of those people. I just eat the damn hamburger. I don’t think it’s courage.

Related? Those Who Dare.


Jun 2005

Running the Gauntlet

I recently read a funny posting on Shanghai Craigslist by an American about his daily walk to work. It’s basically a long rant about the types of people he can’t stand on the way to work:

1. Parasol Ladies
2. Loogie Guys
3. Lords of the Crosswalk
4. Guys Who Try to Hand Me Things
5. Sidewalk Scooter Drivers

Yes, it’s more exapt complaining, but it’s pretty funny (and only mildly offensive). I can identify all the groups he mentions, and I feel his pain. I’m pretty sure Craigslist ads are deleted after a certain period of time, so I wanted to preserve it for posterity. (I hope that’s cool with you, D.)



Apr 2005

Micah on Creativity

Just in case it has escaped some of you, Micah is my friend and co-worker here in Shanghai. (If you have a compulsive need to follow “all things John Pasden” (ha!) you should keep an eye on Micah’s blog because my name pops up there from time to time.)

Micah recently wrote a thought-provoking entry on raising children in China as an expat:

> Having gone to Spanish public school for so many years has cocktail party utility, but I blame it for my near-absolute lack of creativity and critical thinking. I just wonder if Chinese school wouldn’t have the same effect on a kid but magnified a hundred times. And even if you think “American parents will mean that the child will be different from their classmates”, well, no matter how much influence you think you have on your kids, the place that you send them for 6 hours of 180 days each year is going to have a strong influence on their mental development.

> The other side of the coin is that not sending your kids to Chinese schools will isolate them from their surroundings in a much stronger way than it would in Spain because the written Chinese language is nearly impossible to simply pick up naturally. And I highly value the cultural education I got from attending a public school abroad, so it is important to me that my kids be culturally conversive (if not fluent) in the country where we live.

A real-life example from my friend Shelley: at one summer camp in China, the teacher was actually dictating to the young kids what color each item should be in their coloring activity. Dissidents were reprimanded.

Through my job I have come into contact with Chinese educational materials for young children which claim one activity which nurtures creativity is allowing your child to color a picture any way he likes. Of course, this one “free coloring” activity is sandwiched between ten other activities which demand strict adherence to guidelines.

It’s not that Chinese education is deliberately against creativity. In fact, they’re always talking about the importance of creativity in education. It’s just that the educators honestly have no clue as to how to foster its development. Like Micah, I find this scary.


Apr 2005

Chinese ID Cards

Pretty much every Chinese person has a government-issued ID card (身份证). They serve the roles of American social security cards (and sometimes driver’s licenses, for non-driving-related ID purposes). These ID cards are necessary for all kinds of everyday procedures and thus indispensible in daily Chinese life, although in some cases the ID number on the card is all that is needed.

Recently I became interested in the structure of the ID numbers on these cards. I was trying to sign up with an online Chinese bulletin board. I ran into a problem, however, because a Chinese ID number was a mandatory part of registration. I wondered: did the number really need to be valid? Was this important?

I googled 身份证 to determine the appropriate number of digits, and then entered a random number. My application was denied. Invalid ID number. Ah, so they won’t take just any old number.

But, I reasoned, they couldn’t possibly be checking the number I input with a central database of the ID numbers of all Chinese citizens, now, could they? I figured the ID number had information encoded in it, which was checked against the other registration information I provided in my application (such as date of birth).

I googled for an image of a 身份证 and found one. Some basic analysis was all that was required to invent an ID number that the automatic form would accept. Soon after, however, I decided that an account involving a fraudulent ID number could possibly get me into real trouble, and I cancelled my application.

Just recently I came across a related entry on the excellent Chinese blog GiE: 身份证号都代表什么意思? (what do the digits of an ID number mean?). Here’s a simple summary of the information provided on GiE in Chinese:

– Chinese ID numbers are arranged left to right, composed of 17 ID digits plus 1 validation digit, for a total of 18 digits.
– The first 6 digits are the address code of the owner’s place of legal residence.
– The next 8 digits are the owner’s birthdate: year (4), month (2), day (2).
– The next 3 digits are a “sequential code” for distinguishing people of identical birthdate and birthplace. Odd numbers for males, even numbers for females.
– The final validation digit is based on a formula which, quite honestly, I don’t understand at all. (If you can read the original Chinese and explain it, I’d be very interested.)

The above system applies to new (since 2000, maybe?) 身份证. In the examples below, you can see some changes over the years:

Issued in 1994. Old-style, only 15 digits.
Issued in 1995, but with a typo in the date. Old-style, digits obscured.
Issued in 1998. Old-style, 15 digits.
Issued in 2001. Old-style, 18 digits.
Issued in 2002. Old-style, 18 digits.
Issued post-2000? Old-style and new-style side by side, digits obscured.
Issued in 2004. New-style, front and back shown, 18 digits.
Issued post-2000? New-style, digits not visible.

You’ll also notice on these ID cards that 民族 (ethnic group) is listed on the card. Most Chinese people are Han Chinese (). You may notice that in the examples above, the last guy is not (although you wouldn’t know looking at him).

I’ve always thought it would be funny to get a fake Chinese ID card (these are easy to acquire, I understand) with my real picture and Chinese name on it, that said I was 汉族 (Han Chinese). But then I doubt the PSB have much of a sense of humor about that kind of thing, so I never went through with it.

Note: I wondered briefly if it was kosher to write about this kind of thing online, but the blog entry on GiE that I linked to was public and written in Chinese, and all the 身份证 pictures I linked to were found through Baidu Image Search, which is known to wholly comply with the Chinese government.


Apr 2005

Death on Chinese Roads

from Reuters:

> China has the world’s highest annual road death toll. Traffic accidents killed nearly 107,000 people last year, the result of skyrocketing car demand, poor roads and bad driving.

Yikes. I don’t doubt it, but this was the first time I came across statistics of this sort. Of course, it would be helpful if the statistics were given more context. China ranks “highest” for a lot of things, given that it is the world’s most populous nation.

And my girlfriend wonders why I’m in no hurry to get my Shanghai driver’s license….


Apr 2005

The Rat Game

Rats don’t really freak me out at all. I recognize them as carriers of disease, so I certainly wouldn’t want any in my building, but I don’t get “disgusted” when I see one like some people.

I live pretty near the Zhongshan Park subway stop. When I walk to the subway, I pass by a large planter with some rather sad-looking bushes and grass (?) in it. The city’s attempt to cultivate this little green oasis inside a long expanse of concrete is mostly a failure, as there’s more dirt than anything in the planter. It is also in this location that I frequently see rats.

They’re your typical brown city rats, I guess. About the size of a good Idaho potato. They like to scurry around in that dirt. There are storm drains nearby, and the Suzhou River with its bustling garbage trafficking is not far to the north. The rats come out the most after it rains.

One day Carl and I started talking about how we always see rats in that one place. Since then I can’t help looking for rats every time I go by. It’s a sort of competition.

Today on the way home I saw three rats at once, all chilling within a few feet of each other. It hadn’t even rained very recently. Beat that, Carl!


Mar 2005

Marco Polo Syndrome

In a recent blog entry, Sam of ShenzhenRen discusses what Justin of Shenzhen Zen has coined “Marco Polo Syndrome.” Justin’s definition:

> **MPS: the silent social killer.**

> Symptoms: exaggerated manifestations of superiority and exclusivity fostered by the delusion that the individual was the first and only foreigner to “discover” China. While it’s difficult to fathom how one can still engage in this egregious self-deception while standing under a glowing neon 20-foot visage of Colonel Sanders, it’s apparently not an uncommmon affliction.

> Cure? Apparently none, though foreign friends in Shenzhen also confirmed my findings through their own research.

My comment on ShenzhenRen:

> “Marco Polo Syndrome” — haha, I love it! Whatever it is, I can confirm that the phenomenon is alive and well in Shanghai as well.

> All of the explanations you offered sound plausible. I quickly came to a conclusion after about two years in China: There are two kinds of foreigners in China: freaks and cool people. I think there are more of the former.

> The scary thing is that I have caught myself exhibiting some of the behavior you describe! I’ve never told anyone to “piss off” or anything that extreme, but I’ve certainly ignored other foreigners I pass by. I’m not sure why I do it — I think it’s out of some kind of assumption that all foreigners in Shanghai are dicks. But there’s really no need for me to follow suit and act that way.

> So now I make an effort to at least smile at other foreigners. Usually they ignore me or frown back, but at least I’m not one of them.

A visitor named Ryan (the same one that comments here sometimes?) replied:

> I think part of the problem in Shenzhen is the fact that most people don’t come here to “see” China (and if they do they’ve come to the WRONG place). We have other motives for living here. I think this leads to (at least) two types of people who exhibit MPS.

> 1) The asshole foreigner is here on business. Perhaps unwillingly. You will often see him at Starbucks and overpriced bars. He may take a fork with him to restaurants. Perhaps he is focused on his job and not interested in meeting new people. Perhaps he realizes that most foreigners in China are backpackers or teachers and feels a natural sense of superiority, preferring to associate only with other people who wear suits.

> 2) The asshole foreigner has been in China a while and has gravitated to Shenzhen in order to make money, support a family, have easy access to HK, etc. I’ve noticed length of time spent in China used as a status symbol. Perhaps they look down on other foreigners, assuming they are new arrivals (as they often are). Perhaps, having been here a while, they have their circle of friends and aren’t interested in having more. Maybe they think they are so native that they aren’t interested in foreigners (this doesn’t describe me, but I do find myself staring at foreigners as much, sometimes more, than the Chinese).

> I used to be a friendly foreigner, but after being snubbed so often I now wait to be acknowledged before I will do the same.

Whatever the explanation, there’s certainly something going on. (Notice that it’s an anagram for another ominous acronym?) Check out Sam’s analysis as well as Justin’s original entry.


Mar 2005

Chinese College Dorms

Here’s a photo comparison of some Chinese college dorms. (Sorry, none of these pictures were taken for the purpose of comparing the dorm rooms, so they’re not perfect.)

Some of the commonalities you will find are: no full mattresses, no hot running water in the room, one room, not super spacious. Students get hot water by bringing it in thermoses (see Hangzhou pic). There are public showering facilities.


ZUCC, my former workplace, is definitely the nicest of the three. There are only four bunks in a rather large room by Chinese dorm standards. The bunks have decently thick pads. There’s running water (cold) in the room’s own bathroom, and a squat toilet. You can’t see them, but I’m sure at least some of the students have computers on their desks.

Unidentified Location in China

I believe this photo to be more typical of many dorm rooms across China. The “bed pad” is probably a woven mat. It’s hard to tell if that top “bunk” is actually a bunk or not, but by the “toothbrush cups” on the desk we can deduce that six students live in this room. The clothes you see hanging up are drying after being hand-washed. I’ve seen other (poor) schools in Hangzhou that looked like this.


I actually stayed one night in this very room in 2001. I forget the name of the school, but the campus was located northwest of city center, within walking distance of the Summer Palace. (Don’t misunderstand; I’m not trying to imply that Tsinghua Universtity dorms or Peking University dorms look anything like this!) Note the pipes coming out of the walls. The light hung from a wire in the ceiling. The newspapers are pasted to the walls because the white paint is so cheap that it will rub off on you if you touch it directly. You can see the woven bed mat here. The white object on the upper bunk is a blanket, not a pad.

If you have pictures to add to the comparison, please e-mail them to me.

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