The 4 Strangest Things Nobody Tells You About Life in China
You love kung pao chicken and Jackie Chan, and now, with so many jobs supposedly going to China, it's time to pack your bags, hop on a plane, and go live where you truly belong. Surely this hasty adventure based on ill-informed stereotypes will pan out where all those others have failed!
Before you start boning up on kung fu films, however, hear me out: My name is Michael Pearce, and during my career as a teacher and writer living in Shijiazhuang, I've discovered that moving to China has its own unique challenges that in no way involve kung fu, pandas, or kung fu pandas.
The Counterfeit Problem Runs Way Deeper Than You Think
Cracked has written about insane Chinese fakes before, but at least with faux Apple stores and prehistoric fossils, you're not slathering your counterfeits in soy sauce and then putting them inside your body. (And if you are, you're really using that ePad wrong -- there's no way the warranty covers attempted digestion. Or anything else.)
You're prepared for fake Rolexes and bootleg movies. What you're not prepared for is the counterfeit meat. Take this highly publicized case from last year involving rat, fox, and mink being passed off as mutton. It wasn't exactly a freak occurrence. The whole Chinese fake-steak situation has gotten so bad that I now refuse to eat meat unless it's from a place that hangs the animal's carcass outside for me to thoroughly inspect and deem worthy of being devoured.
You. You ... amuse me.
Dead animal bodies hanging outside of shops aren't just exotic set dressing -- they serve a purpose. They're a sign for expats these days, one meaning "This meat is probably legit." A slightly less gruesome example are the counterfeit textbooks. As a teacher, I often find myself ordering a bunch of books for my class and ending up with only two copies that contain the same material. Perhaps the inability to tell fox from sheep was not duplicitous in nature, but just one long-term consequence of shoddy off-brand textbooks.
And that's just the start of the counterfeit problems. Picture this: You're getting money from an ATM, but you accidentally put an extra zero in there. You turn right around and try to deposit the excess back into the same machine, only for it to tell you that the bills you've inserted are counterfeit. This is a pretty common problem for people in China, who are now surely nurturing an inherent distrust of robots that will serve them well in the inevitable uprising.
"You son of a bitch. I'm coming back with a gun."
You can of course go inside the bank and try to straighten the whole mess out, but only if you have the entire day to waste, because ...
Inefficiency Permeates Every Aspect of Daily Life
I have never spent less than an hour in a Chinese bank. One time, just changing a 20-pound note took nearly two hours and involved scans of my passport, six forms, a dispensation from my childhood priest, and three different people with stamps to make it proper. This is from a country that has managed to put up a 30-story hotel in 15 days. Usually when this type of amazing feat is accomplished in China, it's done by utilizing a cutting-edge construction technique known as "half-assing it." To be fair, that particular building was more "assembled" than "built," and there's no reason to suspect it of being more unsafe than anything else. It's just that, from what I've seen, quality control and maintenance are virtually nonexistent in the Chinese infrastructure. Deputy Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing himself said that Chinese buildings are meant to last 25 to 30 years. And the roads are even worse.
"Gravel counts as paved, right?"
But what are you gonna do? Take the train? Godspeed, noble daredevil. If you want to experience the joy of traveling on Chinese rail, try shopping on Black Friday in the United States. At a Walmart. After the meth guy hands out his free promo samples.
This is the fast pass line.
Just hundreds of angry people pushing against the closed entrance to a platform until the train finally arrives, the human floodgates open, and you find yourself rioting your way to the passenger car. You call it a good day if you don't have to bite somebody's ear off.
White People Are Fashion Accessories
I was once asked to pretend that I was the American vice president of an air-conditioning producer. I am not American, but that didn't matter. I was supposed to go to a huge restaurant where I would be on a stage with the local mayor and other party bigwigs and make a speech to 500 farmers and their families. This only happened because I "had the right face for it," which in China is code for "chuck a whitey in there to look more official."
Presenting President John Everyman, CEO of America.
Some large Chinese companies hire white guys to stand around the office and look successful when a prospective client visits, because nothing shows hedonistic excess like being able to afford a pet white dude. Most of the Caucasian teachers hired for work in lower-tier Chinese cities aren't there for their expertise, but because it looks good to have a white face around. I know Filipinos, African-Americans, and other Asian nationals who are much more qualified than their white counterparts but haven't been offered jobs because their faces made the tragic mistake of not having escaped from a J.C. Penney catalog.
No white person in China will ever go thirsty, because most clubs will straight up give you free booze just so you'll sit around and class up the place with your alluring pastiness. China loves Westerners so much that they're building entire replicas of European and American towns right on their own turf. In my city, there are currently plans for at least two Italian-style towns full of luxury villas, despite the fact that no one will ever live in them. But that's not a new problem in China. It's like the construction companies consider people happily living and breathing within these spaces to be an unpleasant side effect of building them.
Finally, all the pleasures of the quaint English countryside with none of the damned people.
The Government Controls Everything. No, Seriously: Everything
You've probably heard tales about the Orwellian Chinese government arresting journalists, or hiring 2 million people to police the Internet (as though mere humans could ever stuff that particular monster back in the box). Then there's the whole birth control issue. You're probably aware of China's one-child policy, but it's a different matter living with it. Women who work for government departments are subject to an invasive medical exam once a year to make sure they're adhering to the policy, even if they already went through menopause. Just in case they're ... harboring a secret uterus?
It's slightly more insane if you actually do have a child: When we bought our first pregnancy test, there was a discount card for an abortion clinic inside it. Half the Bible Belt would explode if they tried that kind of thing in America. When my wife actually got pregnant, we had to go to about three different government offices to get checked out, fill in a bunch of forms, and then get a little book with the number of our fetus on it. Remember when people were worried that smartphones were the mark of the beast? They're bar-coding the unborn over here like the evil robots from The Matrix, and it's just business as usual.
"I'm sorry, but according to my bar code reader, you're not due for another two months."
Those are the big issues of government control, but they're not the only issues: There's lots of small stuff they want total authority over, too -- like when you get to heat your own house. There are no private utility companies, meaning that the heat gets turned on when Beijing thinks it's sweater weather, not before. The heat season usually starts mid-November, but what if you're dealing with a particularly cold October? Tough beans, buddy. Have you tried snuggling? If not, you're in clear violation of the government-enforced spooning program.*
*Not actually a thing ... yet.
If it's a particularly cold winter, try a threesome!
And then there was the time they forced people to smoke more cigarettes, like a stern sitcom father trying to teach a rebellious teenager the dangers of peer pressure. Officials at the Hubei province once famously ordered government employees to smoke more cigarettes to boost the local economy. Maybe it was also their way of slowly culling the number of old folks in China so they wouldn't have to force so many people to visit their elderly parents? Because that's another real law China has on the books: Official legislation forces you to visit your elderly relatives. We're basically talking government-mandated family game night here.
Not pictured: the officers holding him there at gunpoint.
Michael Pearce is a writer with a book about China that you can buy right now on Amazon. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at email@example.com.
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