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Published: November 28th 2007
Riding the bus
On my bus ride home the other day we were stopped by a train crossing the road. It was a cargo train carrying coal, but loaded up with lots of folks traveling as passengers. There were workers, men in suits with briefcases, streetsellers with their goods in a big bundle or canvas bag, all just sitting or squatting atop the heaps of coal. Maybe two dozen people spread over several train cars. It is possible that the men in suits were not business men. Many men, of all occupations and social classes, wear slacks, dress shoes and sports coats. I even see construction workers wearing such outfits (a suit totally covered in dirt and dust is quite a site). I need to keep a running journal of transport hear cause it is truly hella crazy.
Another day on my bus ride home from my teaching job I got on the bus and the driver immediately pulled up the parking break, exited the bus, and ran off. With the motor running he ran away and into a nearby building. Everyone just sat on the bus waiting, I think most were just as confused as I was. A few
moments later he returned. I am pretty sure he had run off to use the bath room. As he sat back into the drivers’ seat he gave a quick glance to the back of the bus, and with a smile said ‘sorry folks’ and we drove off.
Pissing in the street
This is something that I somehow, being in Beijing, the capitol city of China and the host of the upcoming Olympics in Summer 2008, thought I would not be experiencing on a day-to-day basis. I see daily a little boy or girl, with the aid of his or her mom, open that funny gap in their pants and just pee in the street. All Chinese children wear pants with a slit down the crotch so that when they need to go they an just go. It is the exact opposite logic from the concept of wearing a pamper to conceal their business. It appeaers to me to be completely acceptable for the child to just 'go' anywhere—not just in the bushes. I on several occasions have had to maneuver around a mother and baby combo who, in mid-stride, have stopped to stoop and pee on the sidewalk. Today
On my walk to work
Often I ride with Liu Lan to my teaching job on thursdays and fridays--we split a cab and the driver pulls over on the highway near my exit. From there it is a walk up the off-ramp and then 10 minutes or so to my school.
I was on my way to the bus stop and there was a man in his mid-40's peeing on the edge of the sidewalk where the cement wall, enclosing the adjacent apartment complex, met the sidewalk. The slope of the sidewalk was such that the pee had created a river traveling across the sidewalk and to the curb on the other side. I carefully stepped over the 6 inch wide flowing stream and kept on walking. I find this a very odd 'socially acceptable' behavior. (**In fact I imagine that this is in fact not completely acceptable behavior, and that the reason I see it so often is simply that there are so many people in Beijing and for a select few this is aceptable).
A few days ago, Sunday, I took an unmarked taxi cab to my 10 AM English teaching job. Unmarked taxis are very common in Beijing, in fact most of them look exactly very similar to the next one which makes it easy to spot them and use them. They are, my brother says, legal modes of transportation though they are not permitted to travel the streets like other taxis looking for passengers.
Anyhow, there are a few of these guys who always wait outside John and Liu Lan’s apartment complex and this morning I decided to take one of them. I knew the guy, I recognized him as one of the drivers that John and Liu Lan occasionally use.
These unmarked taxis have no meter on them; you do not receive a receipt at the end of the ride. Instead, you negotiate the price when you get into the car. It is decided beforehand. This, in general, means that you will get a slightly better price than with a real taxi because the guy’s incentive to get you there as fast as you can is very high. The price is already decided and it does not change if the trip is long or short. Also, in order for him to get business he must in general slightly undercut the normal taxis to attract customers. When you take an unmarked taxi, traffic or no traffic, the rate has already been set. In a normal taxi you never know how much traffic you will find.
I failed to ask the price of my trip to my teaching job in Wudaokou before leaving. And when we arrived the driver quoted five RMB higher than the driver I had taken the previous day. I knew the price was too high but was feeling shy and not in the mood to argue, it was sort of my responsibility to ask the price in the beginning, and besides, five kuai is only just a bit more than fifty cents. Not a big deal.
Then this morning when Liu Lan took the same unmarked cab, the driver gave her five RMB and said to give it to me. He said that when he got back to the apartment complex that day he asked his other taxi buddies how much he should have charged me for the ride, and they said fifteen. He decided, on his own free will, to give me back the five RMB. This is truly thoughtful of him—five kuai in either direction is not very much money, but he simply wanted to do the right thing. Maybe he was also concerned about wanting future business from me and did not want me to think he was ripping me off, but I obviously had not been upset by the price which leads me to believe that this was simply a gesture of kindness. So in this moment where I thought he was trying to get a higher price out of me, the reality was to the contrary.
Can I get some cream?
This may be one of the more difficult challenges in Beijing: trying to find 'heavy cream,' like the kind you bake pies and desserts with.
This was my assignment when I stopped off at the grocery store on my way home saturday afternoon after my English Class: buy 1000 ml of cream. We were having a 'welcome Will to Beijing' party that evening, and Liu Lan and John were busy at home cleaning and cooking to prepare for the party. Liu Lan wanted to make a pumpkin pie.
I arrived at the dairy section and was faced with a huge wall of dairy products, all of which had chinese characters on them but no english writing. Some of dairy products were in small cardboard cartons, which in the US would usually be cream or half & half. But i was a little unsure of myself so I called John and asked him how to say 'cream' in chinese. He told me, and when I told the shop clerk that I was looking for cream she directed me to the opposite side of the supermarket. There I found the cheese counter, with a seletion of Western-style cheeses. I again asked the employee managing the cheeses which one was 'cream'. She picked up a packet of american cheese slices. I said 'no, that's not cream.' She insisted it was. Our conversation was not going anywhere, so I called John once more. I gave the phone to the shop clerk and she and my brother began speaking. As they talked i watched her eyeing the cheese and then the butter. She picked up a stick of butter, and began nodding her head in satisfation. I began shaking my head. She hung up the phone and proudly handed me the stick of butter. I told her this was not cream but thanks anyway. I left the shop having failed my mission, and headed to the small and over-priced Western foods store not far from the big supermarket. There I bought two cartons of cream.
When I got home I learned from my brother that one of the cartons I bought was not cream--it was skim milk. I guess I could have guessed that by the drawing of a slim female figure with a measuring tape around her waste on the front of the carton. 😊
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