Lost In Translation

Xièxie (Shi-eh Shi-eh).  “Thank you” is the only word I’ve picked up over the last 4 days in China. Well, not really, because the pronunciation always sounds more like “sushi”, so I’ve given up on even attempting basic Mandarin words. Andrew is a bit better, he’s learnt 3 words and the equivalent of “um” that I can’t actually write without being called a racist. Besides the language, the culture here is quite different, we both feel like we’ve stepped onto a different planet!

If you’ve tried basic Chinese food before, you might think you have an idea of what it is all about. Not even close. The only place we saw American style Chinese food was at the airport and in the hotel. The food for sale here is just plain weird. Everything is used in every dish – I mean all the bones, insides, feet, heads, whatever. If it’s a chopped dish, you’ve got to spit out the bones. If it’s a whole piece of meat, it’s a whole piece of meat – skin, bones, feet, nails, tongue, but mostly you’ll see the whole dried crispy limbs of the animal packaged in vacuum sealed bags hanging in windows or metal tubs.

The malls are odd too. So many crazy colours that do not go well together and ridiculous giant stuffed animals for sale in stores with names that are a lazy attempt at English. Missing letters, misspelled words, and just odd combinations of English made us lol many times.

The knock-off stores and carni rides are everywhere. And just really random things in random places that words can’t even describe. Like, why do you sell giant jigglypuffs and flashing LED candy suckers with a salty nut in the middle at the club? Why do people wear face masks all the time, even indoors and working at a job? Why do the men walk around with their shirt folded up over their belly? Why are the public toilets built into the floor at ground level so you have to squat? And why is there no toilet paper?!

Besides the randomness of the culture, it was very cool and interesting to see. The distance between towns and cities is huge. To give an example, we only visited Ningbo and Shanghai (which are supposed to be close to each other) when in reality it is about 2.5hrs away. Ningbo has a “small population” of about 5 million people and is a major shipping port in the south. Shanghai has 14.35 million people and spans 7000km2. In comparison, Toronto is only 630km2. They say there are a lot of people in China – while it’s true, the cities themselves span large distances, so the population is relative.

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Shanghai was a beautiful mix of old British-type architecture, and new modern sky scrapers. LED and neon lights were flashing advertisements everywhere. There were whole buildings (we’re talking 70-80 floors) scrolling through colourful ads spanning the entire structure. Nice hotels, good (normal) food, and many interesting sights to see. We both really loved Shanghai and can’t wait to see more of it.

We were only here for a short time, and most of it was spent on business matters. No surprise here, I ended up getting sick off some Szechuan spicy chicken bone soup at a restaurant called “Hot Skreech” in a Ningbo mall. So we didn’t venture too far off from our hotels. While I was resting, Andrew hit up the Karaoke clubs. And we did a few tours of the city in a Maserati, saw the second tallest building in the world (Shanghai Tower), and walked the cobblestone streets of the French quarters at the original communist headquarters.

We had a fun night out at a popular nightclub in Ningbo. The best way to describe the scene is to take everything that a foreigner would think about American culture and combine it into one place, all at the same time. The female DJ wore pleather and danced just as hard as the male dancers on platforms surrounding her. There was no dancefloor, instead a catwalk for hired dancers, surrounded by booths and pedestal tables where groups of friends mingled separately. We had a private closed room booth, complete with fancy fruit platters and our own servers. There were 20ft dragons and pyrotechnics. Giant screens, lasers, and lots of anime. Instead of homeless men trying to sell roses, there were women trying to sell giant stuffed animals and flashing LED candy suckers. Not a moment went by where something wasn’t happening!

 

It was eye-opening to say the least. We both are looking forward to many more China trips and new discoveries. Maybe one day we’ll move here. And maybe one day Andrew will actually take those Mandarin classes. Who knows… the possibilities are endless in China!

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