TIC- This is China


A whirlwind few days it has been since our arrival here in Nanjing, China late last Wednesday. We’ve finally gotten settled and are on our on our feet but not without a few minor hiccups. Let me explain..

We arrived late last Wednesday night in Nanjing after 22+ hours of travelling only to find out that our checked-in bags had not arrived. Then, when we finally arrived at our apartment at 1 am Thursday morning in a half daze, we had another little hiccup. What is the first thing you want to do when you arrive at your new home after traveling and sitting for 24+ hours? You of course want to use the bathroom. No sooner had Derek finished his business when he told me the toilet did not flush. The next morning, we discovered the phone in our apartment actually didn’t work as it needed batteries. We bought the AA and AAA batteries but those didn’t fit. Today, when we thought we were finally in the clear of all these hiccups, Derek’s key to our apartment got stuck in our door. An hour and a half later and with the patient work of two men, several tools and W40, we finally have an entire new lock and two new sets of keys. Of course everything works out in the end- the toilet does flush, the key does work, and yes we finally got all of our bags. Normally such events would cause my stress level to spike but I’m learning to not worry about things that are out of my control and to take such small hiccups here with a grain of salt. Why? TIC- this is China. This is what people say around here when something doesn’t work, breaks or there is a little hiccup. It’s just what happens here and all you can really do is relax and trust that things will work out in the end.

So, in addition to experiencing the concept of “TIC”, I have several other first impressions and experiences I would like to share. Keep in mind we are on sensory overload at the moment. Details that may seem rather mundane are both intriguing and amusing to me.

Cute overload
I really can’t get over the obsession here with cute things. If you go onto a dollar store here (which I think are the items that are too cheap to sell at US dollar stores, so you can imagine the abundance of both treasures and crap) and want to buy a lamp, all that is available are little plastic lamps in different pastel colors and with little cartoon sheep and bunnies on them saying “Everyday Goodday! Clouds!!!”. Or if you go into the stationery / bookstore on campus, you can pick from two type of notebooks: Communist party- recycled toilet paper notebooks or pink, polka-dot Hello-Kittyish notebooks. In the Carrefour (it’s a French Wallmart) we bought some household essentials. Waiting in line at the checkout, I eyed a freezer bag that had weird looking cartoon sheep on it that were called something like “Sheep-breeze-bearded Glory!!!”. I thought about it and thought that these Chinese manufacturers must secretly have a way to read my creative five year old nephew’s mind and steal his ideas for nicknames, slogans and expressions. But really the oddest and biggest abuse of cuteness I saw was the other day when a white toy poodle rushed by me in the market with bright orange dyed ears and a tail.

Pictionary and Charades
Honing in on my past Pictionary and charade game skills from my childhood, I have been able to communicate on a basic level with people if I am not with a person who speaks Mandarin fluently or on some level. This still leads to some rather embarrassing situations. A few days ago, I went into a nice pharmacy where they sell beauty and personal hygiene products. I was on a mission to find some- ahem- tampons. I looked at what seemed like the Great Wall of Sanitary Napkins. Rows and rows of different brands of pads- and yes- even Hello Kitty ones. Well, I didn’t find my coveted tampons so I finally went up to a couple of woman working in the store and started spouting out names of tampons. “Tampax? Tampons? OB?” They all drew a blank. I then asked is they spoke English (in Chinese- it’s the one sentence I can say) and they summoned a man in the store over. Well, he also really didn’t speak English. Pretty soon there were five of them crowding around me. I searched through my backpack to see if I had a tampon that I show them. Nope. In the end and out of desperation, I had to draw a picture of one. Immediately they stepped back as if they were all embarrassed for me. The man quickly pointed to some boxes of OB tampons- which by the way, were right in front of my face before when I had been scanning for the last five minutes. Honestly, I think they were more embarrassed for me than I was but I felt no shame, because a woman has got to have her comforts. At least now I know where to find them and I’m pleased that my Pictionary skills are up to par.

Dining out
Visiting Derek’s family this summer, his cousin said, “You know what will be the best part of living in China? Chinese food!”. I can happily say Taylor was right and wish we could share some of the wonderful cuisine we’ve tried in the last week. I’m still trying to- literally- get a grip on chopsticks, but we’ve enjoyed some delicious food at street vendors, fancy restaurants and little restaurants under the nearby shopping center. When you arrive at a restaurant here, there is a package of utensils wrapped in plastic wrap at each place which includes a small ceramic plate for food, a small bowl for rice and food, a small teacup for tea, a ceramic spoon, and a small shot glass for drinks. Chop sticks can be found typically in a dispenser on the table or individually wrapped. Napkins are usually not available so it’s best to bring your own packet of tissues (this also comes in handy for public restrooms). Once you sit down, a waitress will immediately come to the table and wait there as the host selects items on the menu. Rather than ordering dishes for each person present, the host selects four or five dishes of meat, chicken, fish and/or vegetables which everyone will share. As the plates arrive you can help yourself to portions of food with your chop sticks and transfer them to your own plate. Rice is viewed as a filler and is something you have to request. The reason for this is if you are a host, you do not want your guests to be hungry. However, if you notice that the dishes ordered are almost empty, you can order rice at the end so that your guests can fill the rest of their appetites with it. Typically I have seen from other tables that people will only eat about half of each of the dishes they ordered and that might be a sign of politeness to show that they are full and have had enough to eat. At some other point I will have to dedicate a separate blog just on food and some yummy dishes we have tried.

Can I help you?
Derek and I have been very lucky to have friends here who have helped us get settled in over the last week. I should add that some students here on campus have also been very helpful and friendly. Over the last couple of days, students have been very helpful making sure my classroom is set up okay, showing me how to use the AV equipment, or how to buy a meal card for the university canteen. I’ve been very impressed so far.

So these are some of my first impressions and experiences. I look forward to sharing more stories, pictures and videos in the weeks to come!

Originally published: August 31, 2010


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