The Wal-Mart of America

I’ve been anticipating this day for a while now- a few weeks ago I was ordained licensed to drive the short bus.

Image

(pic or it didn’t happen, amirite?)

Today, my training (all 20 minutes of it) paid off. Not only did I successfully manage the beast that is the short bus, but I exposed the Chinese kids to WarMar… or, as we call it in America, Wal Mart.

While I have my own personal reservations about shopping at Wallyworld, we took the kids there because it had more options for them to get what they need in one place.

We arrived and told them to stay with a buddy and meet us back at Subway in 2 hours. That’s right, I trolled WM for 2 hours. And helped the kids find stuff.

Highlights of the WARMAR trip:

Two girls bought birdhouse-making kits. Adorable, I know.

I introduced them to Twizzlers. They were a sort-of success.

I was expecting them to all buy fruits and veggies, but I forgot we were dealing with 12- and 13- year olds. Obviously, the pop aisle was the most popular. They’re going to be wired.

The laundry detergent saga was the most confusing. I had to direct them away from dishwashing detergent and to the correct laundry detergent aisle. Then I had to direct them away from the fabric softeners to the actual detergent (which, if you say enough times quickly, stops sounding like a real word). The conversation went like this: “That’s not for washing. That’s for smelling good. These are for washing. But only these 3 products in this entire aisle are what you want.” Cue the confused looks…. Just saying, we have a lot of just available to purchase just to wash our clothes. Think about it.

Yoghurt was another popular purchase. One boy was drinking it out of the carton as we were leaving the store (to each his own, eh?).

Two girls found some cups that were “so so cute and small!”…. which turned out to be a party pack of shot glasses. In their defense, the shot glasses are close to the size of everyday Chinese cups. I got a chuckle out of it.

I walked around a corner to see one boy, Eric, surrounded by 3 WarMar workers, who were looking confused and also entertained. Turns out Eric wanted to buy white sugar (hello teenage choice), and they thought he was saying ‘white rice sugar’ or something along those lines. We figured it out quickly. He didn’t buy the sugar (vetoed by le teacher).

 

Overall, I’m glad Tahlequah is getting a little variety. The woman at the check-out counter learned that the kids were speaking Mandarin, not some ‘Asian language’ (after I corrected her). The people around the store were all helpful and kind to the kids, which was reassuring for me to know we’re not all jerks in America.

I was also super proud of them for braving the language and cultural barriers and making it all work.

And yes, the drive back to campus was incident-free. And I played country music for them. Gotta love Tahlequah.

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A YEAR (ALMOST) LATER…

Almost a year ago, I chronicled my stay in China.

As of yesterday, I am teaching 12 8th grade students English for the next month. Where are they from, you ask?

That’s right. China.

Not only China, but they’re from Weifang. The exact same city I made my home for those 5 months.

I’m having reverse culture shock mixed with deja vu mixed with memories of China. I don’t know how I stumble into these situations, but they always make for good stories.

Anywho, here’s what the 8th grade Weifangians have loved/hated/made note of about America thus (24 hours in) far:

On their way into Tahlequah, they stopped at a Chinese restaurant. I asked them if it was like ‘real’ Chinese food. They emphatically told me, ‘NO.’ One boy added, ‘It may be good to some people, but it is not like our Chinese food. It is much more oily.’

They’re freaking out with these chicadas all over the place. The girls scream and run away and the boys try and stomp them. I hadn’t noticed there were any at all until today.

We got to explain to them how a water fountain worked. The concept of tap water avable to drink was new. They didn’t like that it was cold.

SQUIRRELS. The girls legit squealed when they saw a real life squirrel. And ran after it trying to take pictures. I was secretly excited because I marvelled at them for about a week when I came home.

The kids didn’t like the ranch I brought for their pizza (gotta go with the best of the best, right?)

The best instance of a culture chasm was at lunch. The Caf was serving lo mein and a fortune cookie (kismet, I know). Of course, they all got some because it looked like something they knew. Wasn’t a hit. One girl got her fortune cookie (and didn’t know what it was because they don’t have those in China. Totally an American invention), bit into it, and started freaking out when she found the paper inside. She asked me what it was and I told her the cookie was not, in fact, a factory mistake, but the paper was normal and she should just try the cookie. I decided to save explaining the American idea of the cookie for another day when they weren’t on new-information overload. But really, a fortune cookie on their first day? Fate is funny.

One Week Back: The Return to America

One week ago, arrived in the States.

Here are the initial reverse culture shockers:

When I arrived in the Newark airport the first change I saw was the brightness. The airport was bright, the floors were shiny, the signs were colorful. China seemed much grayer.  There were so many different hair colors.

The jet lag is still kicking my butt. I’ve gone to sleep around 1 and woken up around 9 every day. Not on purpose. The afternoon is the worst time of day because it’s the middle of the night in Chinaland. I’ve been sucking down the Coke to try and keep myself awake. This is, by far, the worst part about being back.

My stomach hurt after every meal for a few days. I’ve also noticed I can’t eat as much (I can’t even finish a hamburger #notusualbeforeChina). Now my stomach’s more acclimated, but I get a taste surprise every once in a while from flavors I haven’t experienced in such a long time.

My mattress is SO comfortable.

The day after I arrived, I had to make my goal for the day to stay awake and go to Target #togetshampoo. While I drove to the store, I couldn’t help but feel a lack of endorphins– usually I felt my life was at risk at least once in a cab ride. I noticed I was in one lane for a long time #notinChina.

At Target, the people’s conversations were overwhelming. It made my head buzz for a second before I got used to so many people speaking English in one location. I was also def eavesdropping.

The shopping cart was huge.

In Weifang, I was one in a city of about 5 million. In Tulsa, I am one of about 300,000. I feel more isolated in America. In my Weifang neighborhood, families were outside every day. Children played in the streets. I took the bus or a cab, and there were always people everywhere. In America, I drive. There are simply less people around, and I notice the empty space #weirdbuttrue.

Throwing up the Peace Sign: 2 Days Left in China

This is my last night in Weifang. I catch the evening flight to Beijing tomorrow and the afternoon flight to Newark on Wednesday.

I’ve spent the last two days attempting to pack up my life, finish grades, saying goodbye, and cramming as many of the minute details of China into my memory as possible. Thankfully, even on my last evening the citizens of Weifang gave me a gem-

I hopped on the bus to meet the Canadians for dinner #hotpot. While I was walking to the back of the bus, every single person looked at me like I was an alien. They started chattering. It made me laugh #inmyhead that, even 5 months into living in China, I’m still an oddity. Sometimes I forget I don’t look like everyone else.

One of highlights of China was meeting the Canadians. I’ve met several kindred spirits #AoGG and am confident we’ll be visiting each other often #Vancouvercan’twaittomeetyou! However, it will be nice to be around people whose national history I’m familiar with. I mentioned SNL tonight, then asked if they had SNL in Canada. I mean, really, I had no idea if they had their own tv networks or whatevs. It turns out that they have NBC as well as Canadian channels #oops.

Although it’s bittersweet to leave Weifang, I am confident I’ve changed for the better during my time away. I’m not sure it’s possible to not change for the better when you decide to undertake a change as big as this, regardless how afraid you are of it. Being forced to examine your lifestyles, customs, ways of communication, and perception of the world changes you every single time. Thanks, China!

We’re Down to One Hand

I leave China in four days. So. Many. Emotionsss.

This, of course, begs the question– what will I miss? (Obvs I’ll be able to answer this more accurately after I leave, but here are some predictions. More accurately, this is a list of what makes China uniquely China.)

I’ll miss the little kids who blatantly stare and point and YELL ‘Měiguó!’

I’ll miss riding my bike like a boss.

I’ll miss H&M #obvs.

I’ll miss the completely unexpected encounters with strangers who want to practice their English.

I’ll miss the smell of funk that is uniquely China #indescribable.

I’ll miss the chicken palace explosion dish.

I’ll miss the clothes designed with the motto ‘More is better.’ #blingtastic

I’ll miss, more than anything, the friends I’ve made here. Can’t wait to visit Janada!

The past few days I’ve felt apprehensive about going back to America, similar to how I felt before I came to China. I realized I’ve become comfortable here; even though I can’t speak Mandarin well, I’ve got a gist of what’s going on.

I’m expecting a heavy dose of reverse culture shock- I’ve essentially been off the planet in terms of pop culture, news, and communication. After Wales I felt lost when I returned, so I know it’s going to be even worse this go round.

Here’s what I know about world outside the Great Firewall of China from the last 5 months: Beyonce is preggo #thanksSon. There were several earthquakes in OK. FB changed its layout somehow. Ashton and Demi are no longer an item. Greece is in bankruptcy? Oh, and there’s going to be another Wizarding World Park built in California. Sounds like I’ve got some catching up to do.

Anything else I need to know about?

SNOWDAY

I took this same photo 3 months ago #seasonschanging. It was a lot more impressive before everyone walked through the snow and melted it.

 Guess what happened in China today? IT SNOWED!

When I woke up and saw that it was snowing, obvs I was elated. Who doesn’t love snow? Of course, this is coming from a person who lives in a state where snow occurs about 9 times a year #guesstimating.

I, the snow novice, figured there’d be no reason not to ride my bike to teach this morning- I was also running a little late and biking takes 1/3 of the time, so it was in my best interest to hustle. I arrived at the University without incident #andontime.

When I left for lunch, it was still snowing, and there was a good 2 inches on the ground. I figured a little snow never hurt anyone, so I would just bike it back #alsodidn’twanttowalkinthecold.

The first hiccup occurred when I went to unlock my bike lock. The lock was frozen #keywouldn’tgoin. In true MacGyver fashion, I poured my water bottle of room temperature water on the frozen lock. Problem solved.

On my bike ride back to my apartment, my snow elation quickly turned to annoyance. Turns out, it’s pretty difficult to ride a bike in the snow. There’s the whole ‘slippery ground’ issue, but more importantly, getting hit in the face with snowflakes makes it difficult to see where you’re going. All my practice steering one-handed was tested today, as I had to use one hand to hold my hood down over my eyes #nailedit.

At the crosswalk, I got off the bike and walked– I was taking zero chances of falling in the road.

When I stopped to grab some clemmies at the neighborhood market, my frustration at the snow was flipped when I saw this snowman. Not a whole lot is better than a snowman complete with a cig hanging out of his mouth #priorities. Thank you, China, for brightening my day.

Best snowman ever

Fast Food Nation

One of the advantages to the globalization of chain restaurants is the specific dishes that appear on the menus in certain countries.

Example: When I went to Amsterdam in 2009 #keptitclassy, the girls I traveled with and I were encouraged to try a McKroket, which is deep fried roll filled with beef ragout , topped with a mayonnaise-y sauce. Of course, we did. And it was horrible. BUT it says something that McDonald’s has adjusted their menu to incorporate the traditional foods of the countries it’s invaded (the traditional Dutch kroket is a classic).

The same is true in China.

Not only have I had the opportunity to check out the menu of McDonald’s, I’ve also frequented Pizza Hut, and made occasional appearances at KFC. KFC isn’t my fast food venue of choice because the dishes there are nothing like KFC in America. Well, that, and I don’t particularly like fried chicken #sorryAmerica. Anywho, the Big 3 have menus I’ve found delightful in their catering to Chinese taste buds:

KFC

At KFC, the most popular item is the ‘zinger burger.’ (Side note: a ‘burger’ in China equals chicken on a bun.) The zinger can be ordered in ‘zingy’ or ‘not zingy’ #sospicyornotspicy. I had one #notzingy, and I was expecting a chicken breast, the usual meat on a chicken sandwich.

Not the case. The meat was a ‘collection’ that was mashed together and fried. Some was dark, some was white. In China, what does it matter? It’s all chicken #istheirmindset. I couldn’t wrap my head around the zinger.

The other item I tried was the popcorn chicken. It was surprisingly zingy #spicy, but not my fave only because I didn’t get full. A good snack food, not a good meal food.

The fries at KFC=winners. Salty and greasy, just like America. It also has ice cream and Pepsi #rare. And egg tarts #random?

The ketchup at KFC, I must note, tastes different #I’maconnoisseur. It’s spicier.

McDonald’s

I’m more familiar with the menu at MickeyD’s because I have a weekly brunch with the Canadians every Saturday morning #theygetbreakfastIgetlunch.

At both McDonald’s and KFC, they have the menu printed #likeaplacematandlaminated in English so us foreigners can just point and say ‘one of these please.’ Quite handy.

On the menu is the traditional hamburger #myfavorite, a Big Mac, and a double cheeseburger. Other than that, the burgers are also chicken on a bun #morepopular.

Corn is offered as a side.

A tarot pie is a popular dessert- tarot is a veggie like a sweet potato, but purple. They’re pretty tasty.

Of course, McDonald’s has fries. They’re the same, as is the ketchup.

The ice cream at McDonald’s is so popular there is a special window at the front specifically for it #onthego.

There is no drive through and no sweet tea. And no supersizes. There is a playplace, though #childhoodmemories.

Pizza Hut

Wednesday #tomorrow is Pizza Hut day with the Canadians. It’s also the highlight of my week.

Pizza Hut in China is a swanky place. It has greeters at the door. It’s fairly expensive #forChina– the prices are about the same as in America.

The menu has an appetizers section: escargot, chicken kiev, waffle fries, onion rings, mashed potatoes

A drinks section: any kind of juice or smoothie imaginable #notmadewithmilk, beer, wine, coke, tea, coffee

A main dishes section: steak #seriously, any kind of pasta, lasagna

A desserts section: chocolate cake, ice cream, an assortment of fruit

A salad section: salad with fish, salad with fruit, salad with dressing (no ranch)

A rice section: fried rice, rice with a topping, steamed rice, etc. There are a lot of options here.

And, of course, a pizza section. The ‘cheese lovers‘ pizza is the most expensive, 12 RMB more than a usual #4kindsofcheese. Topping options in the pizza section include #notlimitedto: veggie lovers, complete with corn, New Orleans, with bacon, pepperoni, onions, shrooms, and cheese, Atlantic seafood, with salmon, Seafood Medley, with shrimp and a kind of fish #Iskipthatone, Supreme #typical, and Hawaiian, with pineapple and Canadian bacon.

There’s no straight pepperoni, and no ranch to dip. There is, however, the option to add a cheesy crust to a pizza #suchawin.

The most difficult part of Pizza Hut is getting the attention of the waitress. We’ve all learned the word for waitress, and are super good at gesturing what we want to order.

The best part of the Hut is the leftovers. We each order our own large #America’smedium pizza and take the leftovers home– delicious breks the next morning.

All in all, the fast food restaurants have done well in China– every time I go, they’re packed (and I feel like a walking stereotype for going to eat there). The addition of the cultural dishes has made my trips much more amusing, and hopefully makes the food more enjoyable for the eaters.

“My Uncle is a Doctor!”

Some random pictures from a day shopping in China:

1. The view from the back of a taxi #lookslikeapolicecar. Some have Plexiglass instead of the bars, and some have nothing. Does this happen in big cities in the US?

2. KFC delivery van. Pausenot. How convenient would this be for transporting groceries?

3. Shirt in H&M. I find it ironic this is for sale A) not in America and B) in China.

4. There was #I’mguessing a celebration of some sort because the drummers were out on Saturday. They were fantastic- it reminded me of the stereotypical China I imagined #beforeIlivedhere.

5. Photo 5 has a back story. While I was shopping in the grocery store, a girl approached me and introduced herself to me and said, ‘Oh, you need help, yes? I’ll help you.’ I told her I was fine, just getting some groceries, and she said, ‘No, you need help!’ Soooo I had a #selfappointed shopping buddy. Basically, Annlon talked my ear off while I gathered my groceries. Her English was quite good, but there were a few phrases I didn’t catch:

She was telling me that her uncle is a doctor in Nanjing, and he is doing much (this is how I heard it) ‘kilring down there.’

My mouth dropped open, and I said,’ He’s doing much KILLING?

, is this dude working in the Communist mobile death vans? Is he a Chinese Dr. Kevorkian? What is happening in the world? She said, ‘Yes, he is. You know, c-u-r-i-n-g? Curing?’ Aaaaand then I understood what she was saying. And I was so glad she was saying ‘curing’ and not ‘killing.’

We walked past the meat section, and I saw the sides of pork. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sides of pork hanging out in the grocery store. This was a legit grocery store. I always thought images like this were reserved for back alleys or behind the door of the butcher shop, but not in China. Annlon said, ‘Oh, you don’t like the meat so close?’ I said, ‘No, I like it wrapped in a package.’ #butbeggarscan’tbechoosers

All in all, a normal shopping day is full of random experiences in Chinaland.

Winterland in China

A small collection of pictures from this week in Chinaland:

The temperature is now consistently around 40 F, with wind most days. Unfortunately, the weather has decided to rain #notsnow so it’s cloudy as well. The people of China have many specific inventions for staying warm- there are hand gloves for bikes #pictured as well as arm-warmers, face masks #surgicalstyle, and a sort of torso-wrap that’s basically just extra layers.

When I went to the grocery store, I was flabbergasted to see a Christmas section #firstdisplaywhenyouwalkinthedoor. There were trees, decorations, and, of course, a dancing Santa. I didn’t think Christmas was recognized at all in China, but this display proves me incorrect. Iris, a Chinese teacher at the University, asked me what my family does to decorate- she wants to decorate her house so her son can be exposed to the Western holidays #makesnowflakes. I would assume from the selection in Jailejai this is a popular idea for Chinese families. Surprising.

Also in the pictures below is a typical shot of the meat section of the grocery store. Even after 4 months, I have to brace myself when I walk back there. It’s not so much that the parts are just hanging out on tables, but more that each time I go there’s a swarm of flies I have to walk through #likeacurtain. I feel desensitized to the parts for sale, though. Just not the smell.

Picture 2 of meat is where I found the chicken breasts #notattachedtothechicken. If you look in the bottom left corner, you’ll see there’s a trash bin in between the aisles. This means I step over the trash bin, try not to knock into one of the tanks of still-alive crabs, and pick through the meat till I find what I want. NBD. My secret fear is tripping and falling into the tanks or knocking one over #sofarsogood.

Not only has Christmas invaded the supermarket, it’s also alive and well at Pizza Hut. Normally the waitresses have shirt/apron combos in the usual orange. This evening at the weekly dinner with the Canadians, we walked into a winter wonderland. Every waitress was wearing this outfit #hadtogetapicture. Love them.

H&M. Here. Now.

H&M opened in Weifang. #goingtoneedabiggersuitcase

Sam, Joey, Colin, and I sauntered to H&M after our weekly McDonald’s-on-Saturday brunch and it was fantastic. The slight problem with H&M is that the clothes are tailored for the Asian market- my torso is too long for most of the dresses, but most of the outfits are yesses.

Not only is H&M up and running, there is also a Dairy Queen in the same mall. Even though I probs won’t be buying any, it’s nice to know it’s there.

The weekend gained #more awesome points by the discovery #thanksSam of the baby clementines that are now in season. They’re delicious and I could eat them for every meal.

Here’s the kicker- half a bag full of baby clemmies costs 3 RMB. That’s 50 cents.

I found this out cruising around town on my handy dandy bicycle #obsessed. Pre-China, I’d ridden a bicycle for more than a spin around the block at age 10. Now I’m proud to say I can ride one-handed #workingonnohands. When she was here, Madie and I even managed to make the ‘person=sitting-on-the-back-China-style’ move work.

To sum up:

China is awesome because it now has an H&M and a DQ, baby oranges are in season #andcheap, and I’m boss on my bike.

What’s new and awesome where YOU live?