I grew up in Chantilly, Virginia about 45 minutes outside of Washington D.C. Chantilly consists of a patchwork of middle-class neighborhoods and run-of-the-mill strip malls. You did your grocery shopping at the local Giant Supermarket. You bought your clothes at T.J. Maxx, Ross or, if you had a bit more pocket change (pocket change? Nobody says pocket change. Who am I?), Fair Oaks Mall.
Everyone had a dog, a garage and a job. Weekends were filled with soccer games, swim meets, sleepovers and Sunday morning church sessions. It was the suburbs. And it was mind-numbingly “normal”.
That may sound like an insult, but I actually mean it as a compliment. It was predictable, safe and familiar. It wasn’t exotic or glamorous, but I wanted for nothing (except a pair of Guess jeans and an Esprit sweatshirt) and experienced nothing in the way of genuine discomfort. My biggest problem in a given week was that Mike Machado wasn’t paying enough attention to me or that my bangs weren’t curling just so.
It wasn’t until I moved overseas that I really started to grasp the fact that my excruciatingly “normal” upbringing wasn’t actually “normal” at all. I mean, it was normal to me, but it was a very different existence when compared to the rest of the world. One does not need to acquire very many passport stamps to figure out that pep rallies, prom and GPA’s are merely one brand of normal. And, obviously, the other brands of normal come in packages that are as different and as countless as the stars.
It is a mind-opening experience to come face-to-face with a person, culture or experience that so distinctly challenges your ideas of normalcy. These encounters leave you questioning, laughing, judging and, almost inevitably, very, very homesick.
In China, these experiences happen to me
daily hourly minutely(?). To say that Beijing, China bears little resemblance to Chantilly, Virginia would like saying that donuts are unhealthy. Or Donald Trump is a dick. Or Tim Riggins is hot. In other words, this statement couldn’t be more true.
That being said, you can find the undercurrents of similarities between cultures embedded into aspects of everyday life. For instance, like most urban cities these days, we have food trucks here in Beijing. Shoot. I’m pretty sure China invented the food truck. Except that they are less like trucks, and more like bicycles. And they are not manned by groovy, gluten-free hipsters but rather, old, smiley men.
And we have delivery trucks too, but they look less like this….
And more like this…
In other words…they are piled precariously high with heavy objects and held together with approximately 2 thin strings.
With this in mind, I thought I would write a new series called ‘Same-Same, But Different’. In this series, I hope to explore the many ways in which China and the States are the same but, also, very (VERY) different.
The theme for today’s same-same but different post?
In the States:
When you honk: Almost never.
Why you honk: There are only two acceptable times to honk. 1. You are the maddest you have ever been in your life because some other driver did something so incredibly stupid that you almost died and/or 2. to let your friend know that you are in their driveway ready to pick her up.
When you honk: A better question is, when don’t you honk?
Why you honk: You honk when you are mad, frustrated, happy, concerned, annoyed, bored and generally indifferent. You use the horn a minimum of 15 times for a 20-minute drive. Sometimes you use it to warn pedestrians and stray dogs that this would not be the best time to walk blindly in front of your car. Sometimes you use it to remind people that they probably should not park their car in the middle of the street so they can get out and talk to their friends. If you are Brado, you use the horn to “educate” Chinese drivers. This consists of laying on the horn for an uncomfortably long period of time after someone cuts you off (like… minutes. I wish I were kidding.). And if you are Chinese, you honk the horn at the car in front of you the second the light turns green. Sometimes even BEFORE the light turns green.
It makes driving super peaceful. Swear.
In the States:
People ride their bikes to work generally because they either want to save the earth or they want to get some exercise. Often both. And regardless of their reason for commuting by bike, they look, more or less, like this:
In other words, they are pretty geared out. They have fancy bikes, special biking backpacks and helmets. Definitely helmets.
People in China also ride bikes to get to work…but mostly, because they have to. And they look more like this:
Or they are riding 3 deep. Often they are wearing high heels. One thing is for certain, they are definitely not wearing helmets.
Acceptable modes of transportation for highway travel
In the States:
Motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses.
Bicycles, scooters, golf carts, electric bikes, tuk-tuks, horse-drawn carriages, cars, buses, miniature-car things that aren’t really cars, trucks, hoverboards….Basically, you just have to ask yourself: Does it move? If yes, then it is an acceptable mode of transportation for highway travel in China.
In the States:
People park in designated spaces. Like…there are lines…and you park in-between the lines. Or if you are parallel parking, you park in-between the two cars, in the direction that that side of the road is facing. Pretty basic.
People park where ever the f#$! they want to park. Sidewalks are generally the preferred location. Just pull right up and make yourself at home. Nevermind the pedestrians, they will walk around. Also, if you do happen to find a designated space to park, chances are you will: a. have to pay for it and b. not be able to get out of your car because the space is so damn small.
Phone Use and Driving
In the States:
Big NO, NO. Danger! Jail! Fines!
I think Texting and Driving 101 is a course taught in Chinese Drivers Ed. It might even be a law that you have to be on your phone while operating a moving vehicle.
Safety first, kids. Safety first.
In the States:
Traffic laws are kind of a big deal. Pretty important. Generally abided by.
Traffic laws are mostly optional. Suggestions. And mostly ignored. Especially those pesky lines in the middle of the road. Seriously, who needs lines anyways?
Can you tell what is going on in the above picture? Nobody wants to wait behind the severely overloaded truck (do you see it? That wad of tree branches is a truck!) so they are just going around. On a busy 2 lane road. That is under construction. Oh, China. I love you. Never a dull moment.
It should be noted that I did not have to work hard to capture the photos above. This is everyday stuff here. Actually, often it is way more crazy than these photos represent. The
chaos craziness fun never ends.
In fact, this post could literally go on forever.
But you probably have other shit to do and I need to wrangle me up a latte, so I’ll do us both a solid and stop here. Life is short and lattes are delicious.
See you Friday for The Friday Five (which I totally was supposed to post last Friday but got all busy planning road trips and birthdays and whatnot). I’ll make it up to you…promise.