E-mail From China...
Originally I was going to send this re-cap out after Hong Kong. But now that I am in Hong
Kong, I realize how un-representative of China it is (despite it now being part of China). I
mostly say this as I went to go shopping at the China border today and I got all the way out
there only to be denied entry because my China visa had expired. No shopping for me
today. I keep wanting to say 'xie xie' (thank you in Mandarin) to people out here but that is
not necessary as English is the primary language. I have no problem reading signs out here
(especially the ones that say '7-Eleven'...Jenna - will you hurt me when I say that you were
the first person I thought of when I saw this???). This city is so international that I have to
think about where I am sometimes - it really is easy to forget that you are in Asia.

But now it is time to talk about China…

The Trans-Mongolian train dropped me off in Beijing and that is where I would start off my
four weeks in China.

It is hard to know where to start when talking about my time there…

Do I talk about the history in Beijing? And the modernization that is taking place there?

Do I talk about the incredible Olympics-pride that they have going on in Beijing? The fact
that you can't walk anywhere without seeing 'The Friendlies' (the mascots representing the
different colored rings)?

Do I talk about how there is no way to describe how gorgeous the scenery is when hiking
the Great Wall?

Do I talk about one of the archaeological wonders of the world known as 'The Terracotta
Warriors' that is over 2,200 years old yet was only discovered 32 years ago?

Do I talk about the shopping? The negotiations for everything from a Prada bag (maybe I
should say a faux Prada?) to a tube of lipstick?

Do I talk about getting to volunteer and play with panda bears?

Do I talk about the urban mecca that is Shanghai?

Do I talk about the stunning scenery on the Li River where huge limestone formations are
coming out of the earth all along the way?

Do I talk about the most common sound in the country – the hacking and spitting of

Do I talk about the markets that had almost every kind of animal (that has since made me
have no desire to eat meat)? Or do I talk about the markets with all sorts of insects? And not
ones for eating (only in China would it seem completely normal to think of bugs as food);
these were to fight with other insects. Huh???

Do I talk about the fact that 'Chinese food' at home does a complete disservice to the actual
cuisine that exists in this country?

Do I talk about the scams that take place in larger cities that revolve around either art
students or teahouses?

Do I talk about how fun it was getting cultured a bit by doing a cooking class, a painting
class and a Chinese calligraphy class?

Do I talk about the struggle with communication between the Chinese and Westerners -  
the fact that the universal isn't English; instead it is charades?

Or do I talk about the fact that my favorite purchase thus far has been getting my hair Asian-
ized via a chemical hair straightening process?

Wow, so much ground to cover. It is not fair to your email inbox capacity to talk about it all
so I will try to summarize to the best of my ability (which you all know is not very easy for

I have grown to love culture-shock. For that reason the communication barriers didn't
bother me too much. Most of the time charades will do the trick. Sometimes it won't. In
those cases, a bystander who is watching the interaction might pop into the conversation
since they were able to understand the charades. Luckily, the subway stops are written in
Chinese and Roman characters. This is the only time a person gets off that easy. 99% of the
time you will only see Chinese.    

Chinese food can be incredible. And this is coming from somebody who would never
choose to eat Chinese food at home. (Of course I sometimes have to eat it when it involves
going to dinner with a group of people who have opted for Chinese food. All I am saying is
that I would never be the one to make such a suggestion.) The flavors and smells are
excellent out here. Every region has different specialties. The problem at home is that all
restaurants have just a couple of 'popular' dishes from each region and that is what we
know as 'Chinese food'. Meanwhile, there are the regional dishes that we have never seen
before yet are incredible.

Panda bears might be the cutest animals I have ever seen. I loved every second of
volunteering with them – even cleaning their poop. I got to go in and play with some of the
'smaller' ones (the one year-olds that was known as the 'kindergarten').

The shopping in China is insane. I really came here with no intentions of buying anything. I
know that sounds crazy…to come to
China and to not shop. But I did not intend to as I
knew I was just going to have to lug this stuff around with me until I saw my sister (as I am
not shipping anything home any more because two of the last three packages never got to
my sister <sniff sniff>). Well, as you can guess I ended up doing some shopping. But it
wasn't so much for the actual 'stuff' as it was just for the sheer fun of doing the
negotiations. I mean I will put humility aside for a moment and say that I rocked-the-house
at this. My strategy was hard-balling all the way. Here's an example:

Item: Sunglasses
Jen (J) and Salesgirl (SG)
(For the record, during negotiations all numbers are punched into a calculator instead of
doing the transaction orally.)

J: How much?
SG: 680 yuan.
J: (A slight laugh that said 'Are you kidding me?')
SG: How much you give?
J: 50 yuan.
SG: 600 yuan.
J: 50 yuan.
SG: 400 yuan.
J: 50 yuan.
SG: 250 yuan.
J: 50 yuan.
SG: 200 yuan.
J: 50 yuan.
SG: Give me your best price.
J: 50 yuan.
SG: 150 yuan. This is best price.
J: Okay. Well, let me think about it.
SG: These really good glasses. They UV.
J: These are plastic. They cost nothing to make. I don't even need them. I'm going to think
about it. (I turn to walk away.)
SG: Okay, okay. I give you your price.

And just like that, success was had. This was my strategy everywhere I went. Only one place
did I need to increase my 50 yuan offer for a watch to 60 yuan for a deal to be struck. I
really didn't care at all about what I was buying…I was just having such a good time during
the process. I am no longer just 'Jen Nathan'…now I am 'Jen Nathan: Negotiator

Their phlegm-producing mechanism in their bodies is overly efficient. I don't know how
they have so much. One night I came back to my hotel and in the confines of my own room
I attempted to do a 'hack'. I failed miserably. They make it look so easy and effortless when,
in fact, it is not at all. Don't get me wrong…I am quite pleased that I don't have the knack for
this. But at the same time, I just thought I should report the skill-set that it does take. I was
also excited when I came across the revelation of what I can compare the hack to. I knew it
sounded like
something but for the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. And then it came to
me! You know when you're at the dentist and they start spraying the water into your mouth
and suctioning it out at the same time?
That's the sound!

And now it is time for a segment of my email that I will call 'China vs. China Town (in San
Francisco)'. I decided to do this considering so many of my views on China were based on
my views of China Town. So here is how they measured up…

China Town: People disgustingly hack and spit all over the place. Every time the person is
near me, I shoot them the 'glare of death' as there are few things I find more repulsive. I am
allowed to glare because that is just considered poor manners in the United States.

China: People disgustingly hack and spit all over the place…yet I can't give one stare or
glare when it happens since I am on their turf. I just say a little prayer that when I hear the
hack from behind me, that I don't feel any 'thuds' land on me. I did overtly glare once. I was
in the main pit at the Terracotta Warriors and someone spit a loogie right on the stairs. I am
confident that UNESCO wouldn't want spit-wads everywhere so I shot him my evil eye.

+1 point for China Town.

China Town: People literally push their way through the streets. I can't count the number
of times I have been pushed. I finally got to the point where I would just push them all right
back. But still…not the most pleasant way to walk down a street.

China: I have not been pushed once out here. Not once! And this includes while being in
the masses in Beijing during the week of their National Holiday (where all Chinese get the
week off work).

+1 point for China.

China Town: People out there bring their smelly dried fish products onto the packed buses.

China: I never smelled one pungent odor on a bus or train.

+1 point for China.

China Town: The place where I would sometimes buy my fruits and veggies (despite my
roommates telling me I was going to get SARS) always had the most unfriendly people
working there. They had a scowl on their face every time they were doing the transaction. It
seemed as if they held it against me that I only knew English (meanwhile, we were in San

China: Nine times out of ten, people are very pleasant over here. Pleasantries such as 'xie
xie' ('thank you') are always exchanged. This is true whether I'm at a grocery store, street
vendor or restaurant.

+1 point for China.

China Town: The markets in China Town have dangling chickens all over the place hanging
in the windows. That is pretty much as bad as it gets.

China: The markets in China have hanging animals…and cages with live animals just a
meter or so away. I don't think I need to state what process takes place in that meter of
space. I also have to report that the 'Chinese people eat dog' myth is not a myth at all. It's
true. I will leave specifics out but this was one of the animals featured at the market. This
left me absolutely, positively ill. So much so that I am now entering my nineteenth day of
being a 'pescetarian' (meaning I will eat fish but nothing else). This is pretty extreme for
somebody who was not-so-long ago convinced that I could never go an entire day without
some sort of meat. I am sure I will go back to eating meat at some point but the idea of it
still haunts me so I am opting for veggies and shrimp dumplings in the meantime.

+1 point for China Town.

China Town: I am scared to eat anywhere that doesn't come recommended. It's as simple as

China: I am sure there are some shady places…but there are also so many restaurants that
are extremely nice and clean which makes it easy to select a restaurant to eat at.

+1 point for China.

China Town: This is one of the loudest neighborhoods to walk through. Everybody is
always appearing to be yelling to somebody within inches of them. It can give anybody a

China: I can't stress how surprisingly quiet it is out here. People don't yell when they talk. I
mean it happens occasionally. But it is definitely not common.

+1 point for China.

China Town: From what I recall, I was always dodging trash on the street when walking
through China Town. This was made even more evident by the smells.

China: I have found China to be extremely clean. The sidewalks were spic-and-span clean.
The only smells are those of some of the excellent street food.
+1 point for China.

Final score: China: 6; China Town: 2.

As I said in the beginning of the email, there is so much more to say about China from the
great prices to the great bakeries to the great landscapes to the inescapable smog (no matter
what city you are in) to the lack of fortune cookies at the end of a meal to all of the old men
with their little fluffy dogs to all of the children with no siblings to risking your life as a
pedestrian every time you walk across the street (including when there's a crosswalk and a
green light).

It is time for me to sign off…

Considering I'm feeling a bit of Chinese pride after spending my last month there, I'm going
to sign my full name…

Jennifer 'Lee' Nathan (maybe my parents knew when I was born that I was destined to go
out there and like it???)

PS I attached some pics from my 'volunteering with panda bears' gig. In these pics, you can
also notice my favorite purchase of 'straight hair'...