China Dispatch: Final Thoughts


I had absolutely no interest in going to China. I went there solely because it was the only place my Virgin miles could get us during the timeframe we had. I was frightened about going, probably because I read books like Hegemon and The China Threat. I was so worried I wouldn’t be coming back that I prepared three copies of a half-ass Will and left them in my sock drawer, just in case.
But the trip was remarkable. China had me at hello, which is ni hao in certain areas. I’m a changed man. If you get in front of me on the sidewalk now I will brush past you and not apologize – as if we lived in an incredibly over-populated city. I’m more daring crossing the street – as if we can afford to lose some folks here and there. And I have a new appreciation for Chinese food, just not the freakish menu items like goose head medley and zesty goat stomach.
I ate a bird’s nest and made a bird somewhere in China homeless. But he got me back because a nice Chinese girl here in New York told me that the bird makes his nest by regurgitating, not with saliva as the waiter had said. So I ate a bird-barf house. Color me cultured. Thank you China.

China has the best asparagus I’ve ever had. How good is their asparagus? So good that I’m still thinking about it and telling people. Our asparagus is stringy and tough. Shame on America’s asparagus farmers. We can do better. Maybe non-stringy asparagus is a mission we can actually accomplish.

Bar is great. You feel welcome from the very moment you see the Christmas decorations on April 13th. Plus, they are the best! You can drink whatever you want – as long as it’s Tsing Tao beer or Mao rocket fuel. Pack your wallet though – there’s a 20 RNB ($2.50) minimum.
China’s wine industry has a long way to go. Fortunately Australia is not too far away and makes wine you can drink.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What are they selling, and why haven’t they used a pirated version of Photoshop on this thing?
America, which is over-regulated, seems even more so after China. I can’t imagine explaining to a guy hacking a chicken on the back deck of a decrepit tour boat that we make the Syrian deli guy wear plastic gloves when he slices our bagel. They’d laugh and laugh and laugh at us as they washed the hacked chicken in polluted river water.
In fact, their total disregard for dirt and germs makes me wonder if they aren’t developing a superhuman immunity. Meanwhile, I panic when I touch the milk thermos at Starbucks.
We rode by Longdong Avenue. For a brief moment I contemplated moving my family to China just so I could tell people we lived on Longdong Avenue. It was a simple, base joke and I figured I could get some mileage out of it. But I was wrong. In short order we’d be tired of living on Longdong. Maybe we’d move to Pudong after that.
I like China because you can set off enormous fireworks next to an outdoor café, for no apparent reason. Perhaps he was celebrating brunch.
I have new contempt for “homeless” able-bodied 22 year old Americans sitting near Union Square with their dogs, $7/pack cigarette habit and multiple piercings. When you see a homeless guy in China – he’s homeless and covered in filth. And when you compare some skateboarder who wants money for beer with a guy who has no arms and is sitting with his feet cradled around the only bowl he owns – skate dude loses. I think we should ship them to China for a bit to see some real poverty. And maybe eat some bamboo worms sautéed in garlic if they’re truly hungry.
China has 300 million bicycles and seven reflectors.
Asians love bullhorns according to an Asian tour guide. And who wouldn’t love 12-20 tour groups touring a museum with 12-20 tour guides barking history into 12-20 bullhorns in 12-20 languages? Paradise.
But it doesn’t have to be tour groups. Imagine an outdoor market where every vendor has a bullhorn with a recorded, incomprehensible message set to “auto-repeat.” Actually, don’t imagine it – just go to an outdoor market.
I don’t need a car, because I live in Big City, but if I were in the market for one I would definitely test out the Volkswagen Santana and perhaps the Toyota Morrissey. I’d avoid the Fiat Lachey because of its spotty performance record.
In America we try and make everything idiot-proof, and while we’re well-meaning we always ruin everything. If we owned the Great Wall it would have railings and barricades and traction pads on the worn stone steps and wheelchair access ramps and Braille plaques and toilet facilities and signs saying “Danger!” every thirty feet lest we forget we’re on an ancient wall.
China’s attitude? Here’s the Great Wall. You fall off… eh. At least you got to see it for a bit.
I like that.
I think the Internet Snack folks really know their demographic well: A fat, lonely guy who longs for a hot medieval girl and is willing to eat ‘at’ symbols.
I met a variety of Chinese people and most were exceedingly friendly. They sometimes took pictures of us and made us feel special. When I took pictures of them back, they panicked and ran away like this lady:
I’ve never had a harder time trying to communicate in my life, though I like to think I’m pretty good with languages. I think they appreciated me trying to speak theirs, even if they only understood 8% of what I was trying to say. At the very least I entertained them by saying You’re welcome when I meant No thanks.
Though I tried to talk politics, I only got straight answers from one citizen, who China’s government might consider an enemy of the state. He was still sad about the Tiananmen Square uprising he was part of. And he called Mao a dumb peasant who filled the government with other dumb peasants who pretty much ruined everything. He also thinks America is too bossy.
Chinese beggars are a little too aggressive for my liking. Lots of touching with the filthy hands and not taking no for an answer.
If the Irish had seen this they might have seen Cromwell coming. Now it’s only used when Sinead’s entourage enters the pub.
Did you know they make silk by boiling moths alive in their cocoons? PETA? Are you there? PETI, maybe? Anyway, next time you’re wearing silk, remember the nasty silk-making process.
The Atlanta Celtics bring up a lot of fond memories of other things that don’t exist, like Nacho Pimp Doritos and Vice President Baggins.
Someone tell KFC that Colonel Sanders was ripped off. Perhaps this is General Tso.
There’s a lot of talk about China being the next superpower but my uneducated opinion is not right now. There’s an excellent observation by Boris Johnson in the UK Spectator which sums things up quite nicely.
I have received several emails from people thanking me and saying they’d never go to China because of my observations. That was not my intention. First of all, traveling is a great education, so not traveling is like dropping out of school or going to Apex Technical on 6th Avenue.
China was one of my most memorable trips – and I’ve been on several memorable trips: I accidentally stumbled into an Austrian bordello to call home; I watched my brother impale his feet on the fence at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin; I spent my entire time in former Czechoslovakia holed up with some girl from Vancouver I’d met on the train.
So, you should go to China because it’s interesting, has a lot more history than Tulsa, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bird-barf entrée here in the States. Their government is a little creepy, sure, but their folks are quite nice, the prices are great, the sights are amazing, and the food is fantastic when it’s not a Twilight Zone episode.
They’re destroying and paving everything for the 2008 Olympics, so now’s the time to see stuff before it gets all dolled up.
I’ll definitely be back. Unless they all come here first.
With guidance such as “avoid the toilets like you would an evening with Steven Seagal” the Luxe Guides won my heart. They’re witty must-have guides which introduced us to many things and places we’d never have known about. And they conveniently fit in your back pocket.

At $18.90, DK’s Eyewitness Guides are priceless:

And this was helpful when looking for phrases like “Get the hell away from me”: