Friday, December 9, 2016

My New Found Love for McDonald's

I have always seen myself as a happy-go-lucky type of guy. I am not someone who really gets depressed. Very few things actually upset me and I can recover very quickly from anything that somehow manages to get me down for a moment. Despite all of this, it does not mean I am stress-proof.

I do get stressed, but quite often I am not even aware that it is happening. My apathetic "hey, things could be worse" attitude is real, but that doesn't mean none of the crap happening in my life doesn't rattle around in my head sometimes. Stuff does get caught in there occasionally because, if I'm being honest with myself, there are some things that do require a little more thought than a simple shoulder shrug and cute smirk. Although, I've been told I have an adorable smirk.

Because the concept of stress is so foreign to me (this is not a joke - it's just not how my brain works), I don't always recognize the signs that I may actually be stressed. Whatever situation comes along, I just keep plugging along and do what I do. It is often later when I am exhausted or experiencing muscle tension that the events of the day occur to me.

Wow! That was really messed up! I hope tomorrow is easier.

Another way for me to discover that I was stressed is for something to happen to suddenly remove the stress. It's like when you are doing something outside in the winter and don't realize how cold you are until you step into the warmth of the house. At that point you feel your toes beginning to thaw and the color coming back into your face. Stress works the same way sometimes and I discovered that this happens to me here when I sit down at McDonald's. It just leaves because it is so familiar.

Fruit doesn't even look right.
What is this thing?
Since moving to China, there has been plenty to stress about. I can't read the signs. I don't recognize any of the food. I can't talk to anyone to even ask for directions. I don't know how to pay my bills. Nothing happens the way I expect it to. All the rules are different and I don't have a rule book. Plus, moving is generally considered to be pretty stressful anyway. My wife and I just added the culture and language barrier to the process.

This is why the McDonald's here is so great. It's familiar.

I'm lovin' it

Yeah, I do have to order off the picture menu because I'm basically illiterate. I can't order anything custom like extra pickles or no ketchup because…well, the language again. And they don't have everything on their menu that we have in the States (although they do have a lot of extra weird stuff), but the few items they have that coincide with the U.S. menu are identical in not only appearance but taste.

Now, please understand that I am not someone who always gravitates to the familiar. I love the food here. I've had my share of sheep intestine soup, millet pie, ji'angbing, and more rice than you could imagine. I visit the back-alley street vendors every day to eat some fantastic exotic foods, but every now and then, I need to step away from all the different and come back to the familiar just to refocus my brain. McDonald's provides that for me. It has become my once a week treat. Every Sunday morning, on my way to work, I stop in for a Sausage Egg McMuffin and a hash brown. It helps me reset myself for the coming week and gives me a break from tackling this new culture for a few minutes. For half an hour, I'm not in the new world of China. I'm just at McDonald's reading about the anti-Trump riots on my phone.

In a few months, this place can be my normal.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My #2s Should Be Someone's #1 Priority

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I pride myself on being a person of above average intelligence. In fact, I can often be downright arrogant about it and impatient with people who are deficient of the 50th percentile mark. Did you catch all those big words?

Now, I am not claiming to be a genius or anything, but there are some things that I can recognize about myself concerning intelligence.

  • I retain knowledge easily
  • I can learn by a variety of learning styles (watching, listening, reading, doing, etc.)
  • I hate Nickelback
  • I can explain the reasons behind my opinions (there are many) rather than just shout them louder
  • Stupid people make me want to cry/scream/punch/set fire to things, etc
  • My momma always told me I was too smart for my own good
So, while I have walked around for the last four decades with my head held high because of my superiority over all the troglodytes surrounding me, it all came crashing down the moment I left the country. I've been in China now for two months and have come to realize that there just might be a few things I don't know.

I have already written about my confusion over paying bills, getting to work, traveling, doing my job, the crazy traffic and understanding my role here. Things are slowly starting to fall into place and every day that Red and I figure out something new it feels like a huge victory. Especially when we figure out that we were doing something incorrectly and it's not just "the way China is".

We may live in the land of advanced computer technology, radically cheap communication services ($15/month for cable and internet combined and less than $2.50/month for a cell phone w/ a data package), bullet trains, cell coverage everywhere (including tunnels, 30 feet underground parking garages and remote mountain regions), apartment lighting that changes softness depending on the need, monthly power bills that cost less than a trip to Starbucks in the States, and Jackie Chan, but simple things like plumbing are still a problem.

Since coming to China we have had to have the toilet in our hotel and our apartment fixed because we broke them. As dumb Americans, we didn't know that most of the world's plumbing cannot handle the increased stress of flushing toilet paper. It's just too much. Don't do it.

That little bit of water makes
all the difference.
They also don't use a piece of plumbing that is very common in the States. It is the lowly S-pipe. The S-pipe is a very simple piece of hardware that serves a purpose that I have only recently learned and apparently always taken for granted. It keeps your house from smelling like three day old sun-dried fish.

I'm not a plumber, but this is my understanding. Having that S-shaped (or U-shaped depending on what was installed) curve in your pipes causes water to not drain completely through it. The simple force of gravity keeps some water in place at the bottom of the curve. That water provides the fantastic service of preventing the potential for poo gases from the sewer lines coming back up the pipe.

Now, this is a pretty low-tech solution, but it is very effective. However, it is not a common practice throughout the world. China being one of those places that does not do this evidenced by this photo of the space beneath our sink.

That open pipe leads to where all the
apartment building's fluids converge

This design is sufficient for its intended purpose which is to get used and contaminated fluids from the home.  I know this because I'm so smart. Unfortunately, I am also one of those stereotypical spoiled Americans who has a stereotypical spoiled American nose which has historically proven to be more easily offended than most of the noses throughout the rest of the world. Even the big Italian noses.

Because the Chinese don't regard the practice of pampering their olfactory orifices to be a priority, we have had to learn how to adjust. By adjust, I actually mean get used to it. It actually was just a slight smell and could easily be forgotten about. However, on some days, it was downright unbearable, but it took a little while to discover why.

Our entire apartment is heated by hot water-fueled radiators. The heat is actually controlled by the government and they decide when we do or do not need to be able to feel our toes. The only control we have is the ability to turn it off or on once they have started the heating. Although, I can't understand why anyone would ever turn it off since they only turn it on when Yetis start wandering out of the surrounding mountains and onto the city streets. So, we just keep them on all the time and go to bed every night praying that the Chinese Ministry of Hot Water will still be nice to us when we wake up.

The controls for the radiators are pretty simple. Each one has a shut-off valve on the top and the bottom to allow the flow of water through the unit. These valves are mostly inconspicuous, but we have found a use for one of them.

Bathroom radiator
shaped as a towel rack
This is the radiator in our bathroom. The bag hanging from the valve at the bottom of this photo contains our "haunted" toilet paper. As I mentioned at the beginning of this story, Chinese plumbing cannot handle the added stress of paper. This means we have to collect our precious bundles of tissue to be transported out of the apartment at a more convenient time when our pants are up.

This improvised bag hanging method worked well for the first six weeks we were in China. However, it eventually got cold enough for the government to finally turn on the heat and it was soon followed by a horrible stench that we could not escape from without leaving the apartment and risking the inevitable Yeti encounter.

It took about two weeks for my wife to discover that our malodorous dilemma was actually our fault and not due to Chinese plumbing practices. I quickly realized that I wasn't a smart as I thought I was when she pointed out that we had been cooking our poop by hanging our used toilet paper on hot radiator pipes. This is one ancient Chinese secret that should be included in a pamphlet given to all foreigners coming to live in this country.


STEP 1: Don't cook your crap