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China through the Kaleidoscope of a Curious Traveler

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The stares occasionally were accompanied by action by the most assertive ones who attempted to talk to us. Ironically, many of those confident Chinese could continue only a few words beyond their initial reaction to our inquiry about the level of their English: “I know little.” Then you ask, “Is there a restroom around here?” “I know little.” Where is the bathroom?” “I know little.” You will soon learn that the word “bathroom” is not included in their short list of English words, neither “around” nor “here”! All they knew was “I-know-little” and it was indeed very little.


Unlike the USA, China is very homogenous. Westerners are easily noticed here. From an animated description of a Chinese woman who was watching us together with others in awe, I learned that their Foreigner Diagnostic Algorithm (FDA) has a very simple formula, which I will call: Pinocchio Identification. In their eyes, we are people with vertical (if you wish, you may read it snobbish) noses! There are two categories of people: those with flat noses and those with pointy long noses! We belonged to the second category. As we confuse Japanese with Chinese, they also confuse Mexican and Anglos, Turkish and Italians; they appear to be blind to some of the visual clues easily recognized by us.


Chinese are Slim, but Horizontal Growth might be in the Horizon


On June 2nd, I wanted to get some fruits and a few bottles of water nearby my hotel, which is at a major crossing. I could not find a grocery store on the street; most were fashion boutiques, restaurants, or banks. I decided to use the underpass to cross to the other side. Well, suddenly I found myself, like Alice in Wonderland, in an underground market, as big as the Super-duper Wal-Mart, perhaps bigger than that. I was very excited and started to buy some familiar fruits and snacks, and a few more that I had no clue about. I was going to let my taste buds experience new things. There, I searched for diet soda--you may not believe it, but the spirit of my dietitian wife has followed me till here--but the word “diet” and its Chinese equivalent does not yet exist in their daily language. They are slim people; I rarely saw an obese Chinese. It is either because of their diet, or their tradition of eating slow with those uncooperative chop sticks. I do not know.


However, this fitness might soon become an old glory. Already, the golden ark of McDonald’s, the red hut of Pizza Hut, and the goatee of the KFC are blinking and winking in major corners of the city. If the Chinese do not pay attention, they might soon import our obesity in addition to paying us hefty franchise loyalty. I remember reading an article in Time magazine on Wal-Mart’s expansion in China. The reporter directed a loaded question to the director of the China operation, which I paraphrase: “Wal-Mart is carrying junk food and fatty snacks. Wouldn’t those items harm the health of Chinese population?” The leader of Wal-Mart’s Chinese operation did not lose a beat, “Well, no problem. They will learn through experience. And we will also open up a new shelve selling diet products followed by exercise equipment. The business will be good!”


Being in China and personally experiencing the fact that they are humans like us, with families, feelings, concerns and dreams, I am disturbed by the audacity of financially attractive, yet morally questionable business plan of that Wal-Mart top manager.


Right Foot, Left Foot. Chicken Foot, Pig Foot. Here Comes Chinese Food!


Compared to Americans, Chinese are petite, yet they have promiscuous appetite. They eat every living creature, every flying, swimming, walking, crawling, swarming, slithering organism, except humans! Even a French stomach would not compete with theirs. In addition to variety of plants such as sea weed, taro, and bamboo, they enjoy all animals and insects. Frogs, turtles, snails, pigs, beetles, scorpions, worms, snakes, cats and dogs... You name it. They also eat almost every organ of an animal or insect. For instance, pig feet, pig head, pig skin, pig blood, chicken feet, chicken head… You imagine. I went along as much as I could. Upon insistence of our Chinese teacher, I ate a boneless chicken foot at a first class restaurant. It had a very delicious spice; but the foot was as tasteless as a cardboard. Coincidentally, that night at hotel, I could not sleep until 2:30 AM because of an unusual itch that inflicted my right feet; by itching so hard I damaged my skin. If I were as superstitious as Chinese, I would connect the toes and would conclude that eating left chicken foot causes itch on my right foot!

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EDIP YUKSEL, J.D. is a progressive American-Turkish-Kurdish author/philosopher/lawyer/activist (too many hyphens and slashes, I know). His recent English books "Quran: a Reformist Translation", "Manifesto for Islamic Reform", and "NINETEEN: God's (more...)
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