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.
GIGANTIC PIG TESTICLES
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.
RANDOM FIREWORKS DISPLAYS
I like China because you can set off enormous fireworks next to an outdoor café, for no apparent reason. Perhaps he was celebrating brunch.
HOMELESS AMERICAN TWENTY-SOMETHINGS
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.
THE VOLKSWAGEN SANTANA
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.
THE EIRE ALARM
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
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.
COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT, PART XXIII
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”:
I have been reading your site for quite some time now, but as yet haven’t commented. Why? Insanity? Quite likely.
I found my way here after hearing about the whole leather pants incident and laughed my ass off. I just love your style (writing, not choice of pants, obviously), your view of the insanity that surrounds us every day, and your ability to make me howl with laughter every time I read your posts.
The whole squat toilet post had me in tears. I forwarded the link to a number of my friends.
If you don’t mind, I’m planning on putting a link to your site on my blog. Don’t worry, you won’t get flooded. I only have one reader I know of.
Keep up the great work!
Brian, your China dispatches were brilliant. I have laughed until I’ve cried. Thank you for sharing your travels with us. You’ve made me want to go there.
Must be an impressive journey. It looks like the wold of china is spinning at the different speed as in other parts of the Globe.
Very interesting picturres.
Keep on posting them.
For those of you who want to read Boris Johnson’s article (linked to above) but aren’t inclined to register, here’s the URL to his own site: http://www.boris-johnson.com/archives/2006/04/china.php
Well worth the read.
“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.”
Welcome home. I too shall miss your China Dispatches and I want you to head to the Middle East next.
Thank you for all the great posts from China. I’ve looked forward to reading them every day. You need to become a full-time travel writer; your observations are better than any travel books I’ve ever read.
This is your Mother, when are you going to write a book?
Okay, I’m not your Mother but, if I was that is what I’d say because, this stuff is too good to be giving it away for free!! Although it’s also probably too random to bunch into one book, but, I would still read it, and so would your Mother. So when are you going to write a book????
Thanks for making me laugh, it is alway a joy to read the hilariousness you write!
Also, I would like to order one pig poster please.
That Internet Snack girl really got medieval on your @s.
More pics in a similar vein from my own China trip:
I enjoyed your trip posts a lot. Shieh shieh ni.
Awesome. I’m going to miss your posts about China.
Don’t take this the wrong way but I’m sorry to say, “Welcome Home!” These China posts have by far been my most favorite (regular reader since the ebay pants thing).
Shoot Brian, based on recent comments you might be able to convince us to make donations to ship you off elsewhere. Since you’ll just laugh that last sentence off, I’ll finish by saying I second the book idea.
Toyota Morrissey, indeed! Very, very clever.
And the Atlanta Celtics are for real! http://www.atlantaceltics.com
This is some of the best travel writing about China I’ve read and it’s brought back some great memories of my two years studying there.
Your observation about not traveling being like dropping out of school hits the nail right on the head. This is why I went to China, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, etc. and am currently longing to go to South America.
By the way, the billboard is for the Beijing Capitol Pig Breeding Company, Ltd. I have no idea why they need a billboard, but back in 1992 I remember seeing commercials for coiled steel on prime time TV. I also have no idea why they would breed pigs for the attributes depicted on the billboard.
Ni hao to you, Brian!
Your China dispatches were among my favorites on your site. My husband and I were laughing madly about your visit to the fake market because it so closely paralleled our own experience there last fall.
I’ve been all over the world, and China was one of my favorite places just because of the absolute culture shock- many others I’ve been to just seem like USA-lite because of the cultural assimilation.
And for anybody wanting to go to China, but is worried about language differences, you’ll do just fine… I managed to get by with just being able to say hello, goodbye, thank you, liquor (“baiju”), and ice cubes (“bing quar”) in Mandarin. You’ll always have pre-printed taxi cards with directions to tourist traps and back to the hotel, as well as somebody who knows the phrase “you like, you buy?” to help you get by. Love it!
I have thoroughly enjoyed your China posts. Having visited there numerous times myself, I had to laugh at many of your adventures. I have also “enjoyed” such delicacies as duck tongue and bee larvae (described as “baby bees” by my host). I’ve learned to be suspicious of anything that is described as being “good for health” and to be doubly suspicious if it is described as “good for man” or that it will make you “strong in the night”.
I just can’t thank you enough for these posts! My favorite since the e-bay pants thing. I second the travel writing or the book idea! I have been laughing my “@s” off for weeks. I think I actually lost a dress size!
Your posts about China were awesome. Me being Chinese, you kind of don’t notice alot of the really obvious stuff that is just crazy until you hear it from another person. haha.
Your post about the pottys were how i felt when i went 5 years ago…i was shocked and horrified. and my aunt had the gall to say “it’s cleaner than an American toilet b/c there is less water.” I DON’T THINK SO!! lol
I love your site. you make me LMAO.
i think the pig testicles are awfully sexy! it turned me on
i think China is the best place i ever went to! the people in there are very nice.
I love China
Is it possible that the exceptional asparagus was duck tongue?
I always thought duck tongue looked like asparagus…