Sunday, May 04, 2008

Travelling is Understanding

It's interesting what travelling does. Big revelation here ... it teaches you something about your home.

J and I are in China (my pics). Currently, We're in Shanghai but we have also visited Hangzhou and Xitang (all within a few hours of Shanghai). All thre
e places exposed us to new experiences -- the people, practices and prawns (I needed another p word). But, what keeps amazing us is the fact that visiting China has taught us about our neighbours back in Canada.

In Toronto, we live in an area filled equally with young white families (2nd/3rd generation Cdns), Portuguese and Chinese immigrants. I must admit we've always pondered some of the aesthetic renovating decisions of the last two.

Now that we have visited both places and marvelled at the beautiful tile work in Portugal (we went last May with my parents) and the pagodas and red lanterns here in China -- we get it. We also understand way more about the funny personal traits that seemed wrong to us. But of course they weren't wrong, just different.

Here goes:

1. Clean Clothes are more important than the aesthetic of
Laundry Lines. You see it everywhere here. In the polluted city of Shanghai to the picturesque riverfront of Xitang. Laundry is hanging out constantly. Everyone does it. Why? To clean your clothes of course. A colleague of Martina's asked her how could her clothes possibly be clean if they weren't allowed to dry in the sun. It's part of the cleaning process. Ahhh. I get it. I still don't like the way it looks hanging off the front porches of our little Toronto neighbourhood, but I understand it now. Hmm. Not enough sun in London.

Spitting is not a slight. It has always disgusted me how in Chinatown you'll be walking by a fruit salesman and you hear a deep gutteral horking sound. I always thought it was a slight at me. Not so. It's just acceptable (but don't you dare point that teapot spout at me - bad ediquette)

Butting in line is the best way to make a train. Yes, as a WASP, I was trained to wait quietly in the queue. Here it is mayhem. We first encountered it at the airport when we arrived in Beijing. We had to get our bottle of Whiskey re-packaged. So, we found the line and waited patiently. Then out of nowhere a little old granny marched to the front with 6 bags to be packaged. What??? We were here first. That's the way the cookie crumbles here. Not to worry. We used the same granny technique when we almost missed our train back to Shanghai from Hangzhou (we jumped a queue at least 300 people long). In fact, J was quite good at it given his height. It felt liberating.

There is always a better price to be had. Well I knew that at the markets here we would have to haggle. [ed. NEVER EVER go with J if you want a good price. If you know him (perhaps you are his client), you know negotiating isn't his strong skill.] However, the negotiation even transpired for our water in Xitang. Crazy. Now I know that I could probably negotiate a better deal in some of the Chinatown shops. I must remember. Tania? Maybe you should try.

5. PJs are acceptable street wear. I often wondered why I would see Chinese
men wearing pajamas on the back streets of Chinatown. I still don't know why, but I decided to give it a go in Xitang. Of course after a number of glasses of wine and a need to go buy candles it felt great. I think I looked rather chic and I fit right in. In fact, coming towards me was a man wearing his flannels. We exchanged knowing looks.

6. U turns and driving in the opposite lanes make a more ha
rmonious driving environment. It is often said (not by me of course as my driving sucks) that women drivers are bad but Chinese drivers are worse. Now I understand it. It isn't that Chinese drivers are bad. It is just that as new immigrants to Canada they are driving Chinese style. Here everyone drives using their own rules. You'll constantly encounter cars doing U-turns, driving in opposite lanes, sitting on their horn etc. What is the most amazing thing is I didn't hear any squealing tires or yelling of profanities once. NOT ONCE. I think it is because the Chinese drivers (cars, trucks, mopeds and bikes) are basically like bats. They come really close to one another but never hit. They have an amazing radar system. The problem really occurs when you insert a Western driver or you move the Chinese to a Western city like Toronto.

So. Basically, everything makes more sense and it make me think that our London neighbours must look at us and say "what the hell!" I know for a fact you don't ask for doggie bags in London (Pasha Moment).


Isabel said...

Hi Lisa, Reading your post made me smile because most of this applies to India too! When are you 2 heading this way?

Erin said...

LOL! So, go through your post and switch all references to "China" to read "Ecuador"! Don't forget that picking your nose in public is perfectly acceptable and that being on time for anything, even your English class, only reveals you for the idiotic North American you are. Add to the section about aesthetics: all pictures must be hung NO MORE than 3 inches from the ceiling and only bare lightbulbs dangling from exposed wires will do for lighting. :)))

Anonymous said...

I agree with Isabel: insert India for China, after all, pyjamas is a Hindustani word we've adopted. However, spitting is still disgusting, budding is just rude, and incessant horn honking is unnecessary. A quick trip to Hong Kong and you will find that people are rather civilised: no spitting, no budding and no horn honking. But like Shanghai, it is full of people, Chinese people. Perhaps, had the English stayed until in India until 1999, instead of being forced out in 1948, they too might be rid of these unsavory characteristics. That said, spitting, budding, etc. are not things you see happening in the educated circles of India or China. It is really a peasant thing. So, it is a bit unfair to suggest WASPs are above such behaviour: most white trash are WASPs. And when it comes to yelling at their kids in public or beating up on each other in bars or yelling obscenities out the window of their Ford truck, they do pretty well. WASPs have also been known to have domestic disputes that the whole neighbourhood can hear (another way to hang out your dirty laundry); and at other times smash empty beer cans into their mullet-covered skulls, in addition to wearing blue eye shadow more than a decade after Dorothy Hamill had stopped competing - which is pretty radical. Why am I even telling you this, you are from a predominantly WASPy town. Are the proles in St. Kitts uptight? Is the rusting car on their lawn much an eyesore?
As for the wedding you attended: was there much spitting, budding, and the like going on?

tania said...

this is very interesting, always good to have some insight on your neighbors!
mine like to hang out just one pair of giant underpants.