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I have been living in China three years now. During this time I have had the opportunity to observe the Chinese people going about their daily lives. I am struggling with the fact that I don’t yet speak Chinese. For some people, learning a language is like learning any subject. Unfortunately for me, learning Chinese is a frustrating procedure. But in my defense it is also a frustrating language to learn. When I go out and try some words, people don’t understand me. While pronouncing words is difficult in itself, there is also the fact that the local dialog spoken in Kunming is different from Mandarin. I expect at some point I will reach a threshold where I can say enough words where they will be able to understand me. My American friends tell me patience is the key to grasping Chinese.

In any case I have been here long enough to see things I am trying to understand. From my observations, I came up with the theory that the Chinese in general are in a new era, what I call, “de-evolution”. Let me explain.

The Chinese gave the world the most amazing technologies history has ever seen. They invented the compass, gunpowder, kites, paper, printing press, seismograph, ink, chopsticks, umbrellas, astrology, the planetarium, fans, hot air balloon, animal harness, rockets, bombs, books, medicines, the abacus, the mechanical clock, the crossbow, playing cards, silk, Porcelain, wheelbarrow, ice cream, suspension bridge, pasta, paddlewheel boats, natural gas deep drilling, the blast furnace, toilet paper, the newspaper, parachutes, zoos, decimal system, binomial mathematics, and they even invented the “zero” for Christ’s sake!

These things have changed the entire course of history in the world. They are also one of the oldest civilizations in history. Going strong after 5000 years. One could say that the Chinese must be very smart people. With all the great things China has given the world, I can only ask, “What the hell is going on here now?” So herein lies the source of my confusion.

As I observe the Chinese going about their daily lives, logic and common sense are nowhere to be found. At first I just thought Chinese are just a vastly different culture than us Westerners. While this is true to some extent, there appears to be more to it. They do things that fly in the face of everyday common sense. There are some examples.


Crossing the street Most often they simply do not bother look for oncoming cars, or, they will only look right when they cross. They never look left which is the primary direction of oncoming traffic. The result being that they step right in front of a car! Instead of jumping out of the way, they just freeze and do not move. Same reaction as a deer caught in your headlights. This happens all the time. It is more the norm than the exception. I think that in their minds they believe that if they don’t see a car, it is not there. So, how could one see a car if he never looks in the first place? You see…..very different logic used here. Sidewalks are rarely used. They usually walk in the street, no matter how busy the traffic. Children, babies, old people all walking in the street. Most of the time they walk in the middle or in a car lane, not even to one side. Mind you, there is a sidewalk empty along the street. At night this is very dangerous.You never know when they will just decide to just cross the street without warning.


Driving There is a reason why countries of the free world do not recognize a Chinese driver’s license for car rentals or for any other function. It is very simple….they can’t drive. Oh, they sure try hard enough. So far in the first six months of 2008, they’ve managed to kill over 100,000 in traffic fatalities alone trying to drive. You can’t fault the Chinese for not trying. So what is the deal anyway? I’ve realized it is two basic genetic things going on that will naturally put the Chinese behind the eight ball with driving. First is the inability for them to process incoming data fast enough to react to it. Really, as smart as the Chinese are, their brain waves just simply run at 50% of normal speed. So fast moving objects, or situations, will have already happened before they realize a problem even exists. This makes crash avoidance impossible. The second missing piece of genetics is “depth perception”. I don’t think there is even a Chinese word in for it! In any case, they don’t have it. They do not have any idea about the space they occupy and how it relates to others. They will see a bicycle rider on the curb of the road. As they approach in their car , they will move all the way into the next lane, while braking, thinking they are about to hit it. They shouldn’t have a reverse gear on any car in China. I will give 1000 RMB to the first person who can back in a straight line for 30 meters! Hell, make that 15 meters. It will never happen. They can’t do it. Usually when a car must be backed up, a family member will exit the car, go stand in the street with the other traffic, and direct the driver as he backs up. Talk about the blind leading the blind! Besides the genetic flaws of Chinese drivers, there is the complete and utter disregard for traffic lights, signs, laws, right of ways, people, whatever. They really believe that the entire road system was built solely for their own private use. There is never a fleeting thought to using indicators to change lanes or make a turn. No, the only time you see an indicator light is when they are passing another car on the highway. NOT changing lanes, just passing a car. Then they turn on the left indicator as they approach to make a pass. Doesn’t matter that he is going to change into the right lane after passing, he still uses the left turn indicator. They are taught to always turn on the signal while passing a car. It has nothing to do about lane change. Ah yes, and how about those horns. Noise is in their blood. I think they buy a car just because it has a horn. No need to light firecrackers when you got an electronic horn! I don’t even pay attention to horns anymore. It is no different to engine and road noise. Horns never stop. Every car is honking, moving or not. It doesn’t matter what the reason. They got one and by damn they will use it! I actually read that there is a traffic law that states, if you honk your horn before an accident, then it is not your fault. So they drive down the street always honking at nothing. Kind of scary huh?


Drinking Westerners go out to the a bar with friends to enjoy a few drinks. During the course of the evening, maybe they drink too much. It happens all the time. However, the Chinese have a different approach to it. To the Chinese, drinking is not a social function, it is a national competitive sport. It is a competition that is taken seriously. You buy beer by the bucket. When you order a beer, they bring 15 at once to the table. You have to make a special order if you only want one beer, and you pay a much bigger cost to do this. Before you take a drink, you must toast every time so everyone will drink at the same time. It is bad manners to take a drink by yourself. Then soon the table begins playing a vast selection of drinking games to speed up the drinking process. Conversations are basically about who will pass out first, or fall off the chair. If you prefer to drink liqueur, it is usually sold by the full bottle only. Then it is usually mixed at the table with 7-Up. The beer is also mixed and served in shot glasses so that during the drinking everyone can verify how much you are drinking. The whole process is designed to make sure everyone is consuming at the same volumes and rates. After a while, people begin to spew to the others delight and taunts. Later people simply pass out and are dragged away by their buddies, and this usually marks the end of the evening. By the way, there is no drinking age in China. You can be 8 ~ 80. Funny enough you rarely see very young people drinking. By nature people are 18 and up. I think this is more due to affordability than anything else. I think they tried to enter drinking as a competition in the Olympic games this year. China gold is a shoe-in.


Health and safety This one is a little complicated to put a finger on. Granted, China is an emerging 3rd world country with a boatload of people jammed into a little space. You really have to see it for yourself because reading numbers does not give you a picture of just how many people are here. The sheer density of urban populations is staggering. My city, Kunming, is smaller than Seattle. Seattle has 1.5 million people. Kunming has over 5.5 million. Imagine 4 times the people walking and driving around Seattle alone. Apparently human life holds little value here. If someone gets killed on the job, he is quickly replaced so work can continue without interruption. There is no such thing as company safety programs, OSHA, or safety equipment for use by the worker. Construction workers do not wear helmets, eye protection or safety shoes. They wouldn’t have a clue about such things. They grind away at steel and hammer rocks without a thought to eye protection. They work high up on bamboo scaffolds and iron beams wearing sandals. Forget about safety straps. Many fall and are killed. There is always someone else ready to take their place. Children run around and play alongside working large cranes and steam shovels. Construction sites are simply open for people to walk or drive through during construction.

As far as health goes, China seems to be stepping up with implementing some sort of national food safety programs. In light of the recent problems with tainted food exports, there is a direct economic benefit to inspecting food production in China. So the government has starting to implement inspections.  I read in local newspapers on several occasions where numerous schoolchildren were sent to hospitals because the school lunch food was contaminated. The open markets, where you buy all your food, have no sanitary standards. Meats are put on open tables in the sun until they are sold. Vegetables lay in the street or on small dirty tables in the open. Who knows how many chemicals or tainted water was used to grow them. One learns to spend a time carefully washing everything before using it. I average food poisoning about once a month, even being careful. Everything looks great and is fresh picked daily, but you must pay attention from where you buy it. Still, somehow it all seems to work out ok. However, I tend to believe the western approach leans too much in the other direction now. I have been eating this stuff for 3 years, and I’m not dead yet. Smoking is just short of being encouraged here. The billions the government takes in taxes from the factories cannot be overlooked. Cigarettes are very cheap and plentiful. Packs sell for less than one dollar. You can smoke almost everywhere. Many smoke and eat at the same time in restaurants. I have not seen anti smoking material anywhere.  Public toilets are nothing more than open sewers, only the brave can muster a trip inside. Most children simply stand on the public sidewalk and do their business like a dog would do. You can see this everyday. I don’t care about the openness of public bathroom activities as much as I don’t wish to see it done a few feet from me where I am sitting eating a bowl of noodles.

China is a remains beautiful country despite the fact that people throw trash everywhere. It is thrown from the cars and dropped to the street. Nobody gives it a second thought. Finish a can of soda and simply drop it or throw it out of the window. There are armies of people wearing orange vests that are stationed every few blocks. Their function is to sweep the street clean and monitor their assigned block to keep it clear of debris. Maybe this is what you call job security. Still it is annoying to see people throwing rubbish everywhere.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I am frustrated mostly by the apparent lack of citizens respecting their own country and city. Something needs to be done to instill pride in the population and start teaching their children the same. As I said, China is an amazing country filled with beauty and history. I don’t believe these habits were this way in the past. But as China opens it’s doors to the world, these problems seem to be getting worse. Maybe as more and more Chinese travel outside China, they will bring back better habits to show their communities.


Slowly but surely China succumbs to western decadence. Hooters has just recently opened a branch in Shanghai. Actually they have 3 locations in Shanghai now! My friend Chris sent me this camera phone pic while he was there just last night. While Hooters is certainly no “strip joint”, it does symbolize the epitome of an establishment dedicated to eye candy. I don’t think you go to Hooters for the fine cuisine.

I was surprised to see that China would allow such a venue, even for Shanghai. China is quite conservative when it comes to the “nightclub” scene. Of course there are plenty of nightclub shows featuring scantily clothed girls, but these are produced like a stage show so they pass as “art”, making them allowable in China. These shows are not intended to titillate the audience in the manner of a traditional girl show like in a go-go bar. Frankly these productions are a lot more entertaining than just watching some girls shaking it on stage.

Hooters by definition is a family restaurant, but it’s real purpose is showcasing young girls dressed to show their assets. I mean you can’t possibly want to go there just to eat greasy chicken wings! I think this is why a Hooters in China earmarks a big change in Chinese attitudes toward “entertainment”. Maybe you have to live in China to really appreciate what a big deal this is for China. As for me, I guess I will have to go there and see for myself………. for the chicken I mean.



If there is one thing the Chinese know well…. it’s kites. I mean after all they invented them a few thousand years ago!

Kunming is the perfect place for this activity. Nice weather and windy! So I decided to get set up and start flying! I found a kite shop near Dauguan Park where they make their kites. I bought a 1 meter nylon job and a kite line reel. Check out the pic and you can see my rig. I’m at Fujian Lake launching my kite here. This rig is stainless steel loaded with 1500 meters of special line. This machine is unlike anything around. I’ve looked all over the web and nobody makes these, but they seem to be a standard design here in China. I paid $22.00 for it, and another $3.75 for the hand made kite.

On any day the sky is filled with kites here. It’s a lot of fun that involves more skill than I first thought. You’ve got to pay attention to keep it flying and slowly get to altitude. I’m able to get all 1500 meters of line out most of the time. It turns out that you end up getting some good exercise out of this as well.

I bought another kite thats a parafoil design. Much bigger at about 1.5 meters across and total of about 5 meters long. This one almost goes into the power kite category. It has some serious pull flying this baby. After you get this one back down, your arms feel like they are going to fall off!

Anyway, it’s a fun sport that requires little investment, plus I can load up my little moto and take it anywhere. Every year the world’s famous kite city in Eastern China (Weifang) holds it’s kite exhibition. Competitors from all over the world come here to take part. I’m planning to go next year.



Ever since I came to Kunming I have observed what I thought to be an amazing amount of weddings in this city.

On a daily basis I see these caravans of cars all decorated with fresh cut flowers moving through the city. Usually on average there are about 10 cars following a limo. The cars have these flowers all over them and the whole line follows a dumpy little van with it’s back door open. Inside is a dude with a video camera filming this procession.

I see these caravans on an average of 5 or 6 a day. On the weekends I easily see 10 or more. Close to my condo is Dianchi Lake and a waterfront public park where I like to go fly my kites. This seems to be a popular destination for these wedding caravans. This park is a few km’s in length and is just a big walkway for people to walk along the lake shore.

The wedding party stops along this road and everyone piles out with the bride and groom in full dress regatta. Then they spend time taking photos all along this park. As I stand there with my beer and kite, I can see several brides around me getting their pictures taken. On the weekends this park is full of groups of these weddings. It is not unusual to see 10 weddings at the same time. I cannot believe there are so many people getting married in Kunming.

Just the other day I met a fellow who owns a wedding photography business here. I had the chance to ask him about how many weddings are done here. He said that there are 1000 weddings a month that register their caravan permits. But he said another 1000 people marry who just go to the register office. So it’s not my imagination. There are a TON of people who marry in this city. It is simply unbelievable. So how many people all over China marry everyday? It’s scary to think about it.

The mandatory “one-child” per family law makes perfect sense to me in China. No wonder there are so many people in China!

1 Year in China!


It’s a few days before the Chinese New Year and I have lived in China for just over 1 year. The time seems to have past so quickly!I thought I would post some general comments about my life in China along with a few pics thrown in for good measure. Just when you think you’ve seen it all…BAM!, something else comes along you see here. In a nutshell, living in China is always full of surprises. It must be that the culture here is so different from Western culture. Chinese people just process information totally different from what we Westerners would consider logical.

I was just reading a news article about an incident that happened in Beijing. This is a good example of Chinese logic. A man called the ambulance service after becoming very ill. The hospital dispatched the ambulance to the man’s house. En route to the man’s house, this ambulance struck and killed 3 people in two different locations. I guess he was a new driver. Anyway, he continued to the man’s house and finally got him to the hospital. It wasn’t long before the families of the accident victims contacted the hospital and demanded the hospital compensate them for the deaths of these victims. The hospital responded that they are not responsible and would not pay. They said that the party responsible is the man who called the ambulance out in the first place! This case is now going to court for review.

I have come to know that China law is a very new concept here. This is all part of the process of China’s development and transformation from a 3rd world country into a major world player. China is on the right path of change, but like any government, change is slow. More important, billions of people in China have to somehow be made aware of these changes. It will take generations before the social awareness in this country updates itself. Until then, you have to be very careful of getting into situations that can go in very unpredictable directions. Things just don’t play out with what I may conceive as a “logical” conclusion. I personally have not had any major issues to deal with, i.e. car accidents, confrontations, or “misunderatandings with anyone to speak of. Still, I am ever vigilant to keep myself out of trouble as best I can. You cannot rely on being able to have the police intervene on your behalf. Another example is I have seen several fights on the street. My guess is they seem to be about someone caught stealing from a store. The process is always the same. Several people beating the hell out of some guy while the police stand and watch. They allow the store employees to pound away delivering “street justice” while more or less providing crowd control duties. After a short time they whip out their notebooks and take down the appropriate data, usually also arresting the guy in question. I suppose this guy ends up in jail somewhere. A traffic accident (of which there are many) is handled right on the street. The police arrive and make a report. Normal enough process. They check to see if anyone was drunk or who may have broken a traffic law. Other than that it is up to the parties involved to reach an agreement as to who and how much they pay each other for the damage. The police help the parties come to some sort of agreement, money is exchanged and everyone goes their own way. Case closed. In defense of the police, they must be careful how they intervene in a dispute. It is very common that people will attack the police. They have no laws protecting them as police officers. They can arrest you sure enough, if there is enough of them to fight off the people involved first. So usually they take a very passive approach to implementing law. Basically one cannot blame the police for their seemingly lack of action in these cases. I learned to not assume that they will come to my aid should I get into a fracas with some locals. That being said, luckily crime is not pervasive here at all. Petty crime is very common and you need to be careful with your bags and pockets. Other than that, it is rare violent crime occurs here. I certainly feel a lot safer in China than I would feel in the US. People tend to leave you alone and the encounters I do have with people here are always friendly. Chinese society does not permit child abusers, sexual predators and the like. People here are just not wired for such behavior. Talking with my Chinese friends, they cannot even begin to understand that there are people who commit crimes like these. Having “face” is all important to people here. They would be outcast from family, work, or friends for even thinking of such things.

On the other hand, most common people here have little to education. They are naïve about the most basic things. One cannot “assume” that the guy walking on the street will not quickly begin crossing the street right in front of your car. They usually won’t look beforehand. In their mind they want to go across, so they just go! When you slam on your brakes, they look like a deer in your headlights. Completely surprised that they were almost hit by a car!

I spend a lot of time observing people here and I think I can sum it all up this way; Each person here truly believes that they are in their own world, with everything around them only there for their own use. They make no consideration for anyone else around them. From the outside one could see this as acting in a very rude way. But really, it is only that they have never been taught to consider other people. This explains why if you are standing in line, at say a bank, they will walk up and stand in front of you. Hey, they want to get serviced, why wait behind you? Or you are talking to the teller and someone will lean over in front of you and start talking to the teller. Better yet, in the doctor’s office, someone will walk in and start a discussion with the doctor like you are not there. I’ve even stopped them and motioned them to wait, where them they politely smile and remain right there not only listening to me talking to the doctor, but also reading my medical papers while they wait!

China is slowly recognizing this as bad social behavior and trying to educate people. Most banks have lines drawn on the floor where people must stand behind while another customer is being helped. Also’ many now have a number machine and you sit in the lobby to wait for your number. In Beijing the government is working hard to educate people on proper conduct before the start of the Olympic games.

The Chinese have a world wide reputation for “being rude”. The travel agencies now give classes to customers traveling out of the country on how to act. Things like spitting and clearing your nose, talking loudly, waiting in line, and table manners are all addressed in these classes. As frustrating as this behavior is to me, I do my best to remember that it is not rudeness on their part, rather it is simply not being educated about what is acceptable to most other countries in the world. The Chinese are really nice people that are being pulled into a new modern world for which they have little experience. Things are changing all the time in China on every level.

I encounter many things here that just don’t make any sense. But I say to myself that the Chinese have been around longer than anybody, and they are still going strong. That says a lot about the way things are here. Maybe we have a lot to learn from them as well. Patience is really the key to enjoying your experience in China. Do not use your Western ideals as a benchmark to comparing China. It is, after all, what makes China unique to anyplace in the world.