“Moe-Ments” From China

Monique Irish, Cactus Contributor

Even before this foreign endeavor officially began, I had an abstract idea of what I thought this foreign world was going to be like, based on what everyone told me. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of terrified. Even during the interview, I was warned of the horrors I was bound to witness (kinds involving animal rights violations), the people I was doomed to offend, and OH THE AWFUL, OPPRESSIVE, TERRIBLE COMMUNISM. Just a few days prior to my departure, I was questioning whether I should actually go through with it, I was actually kind of freaking out.

In my heart I knew it could not be THAT bad and it was going to be an eye opening, life changing experience and I decided I was willing to dive in head-first. We are barely a week in, and just a week in China has sown sweet seeds of appreciation for my home; they are just sprouting now and I can see they will be in full beautiful bloom by the time this semester is over. Not to say this is a bad place by any means, because I must say I really like it so far and have grown quite comfortable here for the most part.

I was told that when I went out to eat, (as a pescatarian, but mostly vegetarian) that bloody, animal bodies would be hanging lifelessly by their limbs, and that there would be another live animal close by awaiting the same gruesome fate. I was also told that I would not have a single say about it (no protesting of any kind is allowed, Monique). I accepted this, and prepared myself the best I could for when I would have to witness this devastating sight. Though it is challenging to find food which hasn’t been tainted with some kind of meat, (especially because I can’t yet read/understand the menu) the morbid picture that was painted in my mind has yet to become a reality, which I am truly grateful for.

I did witness a fish being descaled and it appeared to be still alive which was mildly disturbing. I have accepted that objection is not an option here, and to do so would be futile and hugely hypocritical considering I have been eating fish. However, it is challenging to continue eating fish because pretty much all of the sea food is served fully intact, with the skin, bones, and even the head so you can make eye contact with your meal while being reminded that you are eating a once living being, something I am not so fond of.

Bizarre foods and eating has been a substantially large part of our experience so far. There are pickled chicken feet and weird mystery gelatinous substances available wherever snacks are sold; the locals seem to love it. We have learned to just eat what we are given, no questions asked. The second day here, we tried to forage for ourselves and went into the student dining hall, it seemed easy enough — WRONG. We had no idea what we were doing and it became clear how truly foreign we are because we could not get any food without a swipe card, which we still have yet to obtain, but we were oblivious at the time. Someone must have felt sorry for us because they gifted Socorro with some mystery dumpling-like dough balls which I eagerly took a bite out of to find out it was filled with some sweet pork mixture. YUCK! But that is what I get for just going for it. We realize to get the most out of this experience, we have no choice but to keep an open mind; Thus, Socorro and I decided to try beetles and it was even my idea!

As far as brashly offending people by not respecting cultural differences, I have yet to do that, (or at least that I have observed) especially to the degree that was “foreseen” by my mentors. So to those school officials who doubted my abilities to be mindful of my surroundings, all I can say is you should see the quiet(ish) sponge I have morphed into. In fact, the experience so far has been quite pleasant because people act like we are some kind of celebrities around here, simply because we are American. Strangers on the street, on the bus, in the supermarket, stare at us shamelessly from every direction and occasionally snap pictures “slyly” (though they don’t turn off the camera shutter sound, which only confirms our suspicions). Occasionally, we are asked to take pictures with people too, which is nice because it’s kind of like they are asking when they just pull you aside and point at someone who has the camera already ready for action. I have been feeling that ‘MERICAN pride like never before. Just speaking English is something we often think nothing of, but the language is very sacred and precious to the Chinese people and since we speak it naturally, fluently, and effortlessly without an accent we are practically put on pedestals. So, even though we are trying to use what little Chinese we have learned so far, the small percentage that can speak English want to only use that! However, it is refreshing to meet fellow English speakers, because the language barrier has been one of the greater challenges we have faced so far and the familiarity of a common language is kind of refreshing. Being able to read and understand everything that is going on around you, as well as effectively conversing is one of the many things I have come to realize I took for granted.

Typically, it is safe to say we Americans take our luxurious standard of living for granted. How could we not though? This lifestyle is all that most of us have ever known. And most of us probably don’t take full advantage of our clean tap water supply, it is still a feasible option for Americans nevertheless. Sure, it may have a somewhat displeasing tinge of chemicals, but the tap water is readily drinkable at any given time. Here in China, one of the first Chinese terms we have learned so far was, “do not drink the water.” If we want to drink the tap water, we have to boil it first. It’s no wonder why drinking tea is such a big thing here, because drinking hot water all the time is a little weird to us. Ice in drinks is also not a thing here. Even when parched, they do not serve water cold here and that was all I wanted. I ended up chugging 3 glasses of hot water and burning off an army of taste buds and the upper half of my esophagus and drinking watermelon juice for dinner.

We also take our bathrooms for granted, everything about them from a comfortable seat to the abundance of toilet paper. The bathroom in our dorm room was normal, minus the weird shower set up consisting of just the removable head and a giant drain hole on the floor. I was very unsuspecting when I first went to the bathroom at school. I saw the sign that said toilet so I wandered in and opened a stall, there was just a shallow porcelain hole in the ground! I opened another one on the other side, “This must be the male restroom!” I thought in a panic as I tried to escape before a guy walked inside and confronted my mistake. I soon learned that even if a dude would have walked in it would not matter because the restrooms here are co-ed and we all get the shallow porcelain “squatty potties” as we call them, and there is usually pee on the floor and its gross and leads me to think that is why it is a custom to take your shoes off after immediately entering a home. BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper) is the policy which was also a lesson I learned the hard way.

Just take a minute to appreciate America, America. I was never aware of how infatuated the rest of the world was with our lovely country and lavish lifestyle. Stay tuned for more comparisons of culture as well as epic Moe-ments.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);