Blackmandarin Jamaican in China

dorothy, we are not in kansas anymore by louis davis

Many of us are completely discombobulated by the thought of changing zip codes, much less changing countries… even more so when the country we are relocating to is completely different from our comfort zone.

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one of my last views of ‘merica

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my first view of china

Since late February, I have been living in Tianjin, China.  Tianjin is a port city in northern China, some 80 miles/129 kilometres to the southeast of China’s capital Beijing.

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When the news ‘leaked’ out that I was moving from Ft Lauderdale, Florida to China, the response was predictable, “What!  Why China?”.  Many people were happy for me, though puzzled by my choice.  Many openly wondered how I would survive there, “The Chinese are so different. They have a different government.  Why don’t you go to somewhere safe (meaning less of a challenge)?”.

I do admit that I knew that coming to Tianjin would be challenging, but it was one I am prepared to meet.

One of the ingredients for enjoyable traveling or successful migration, is not to bring too much baggage and negative perceptions with you.  You have to be open-minded.  Just because ‘they’ do things differently doesn’t make you right and them wrong.

People everywhere will be different, even if they are just a few hundred miles away.  Language, foods, lifestyles, transportation, race, religion, politics, climate are just some of those differences.  Countries have their own identity, and the people develop along that identity. Change happens, in one direction or another.  The cultural norms you are used to certainly isn’t the only way, and certainly isn’t ‘right’.  That attitude will just aggravate and frustrate you, and make your stay miserable.  Go with the flow.  Be observant, curious, but not judgmental.  Learn to adapt.  You’re not in Kansas anymore.

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this is an area Dawn calls 'spanish town road'  because of its similarities to the same place in jamaica

this is an area Dawn calls ‘spanish town road’ because of its similarities to the same place in jamaica

I take it this way, ‘The Chinese love their children too’.  In essence, they are not different from anyone else. They just want to get up in the morning and live a fulfilling life.  The differences are inconsequential, they can be overcome. I simply adapt.

I knew that my main challenges would primarily be language and food differences.  Language is obvious. But I’m prepared to meet that and hopefully in a few years, I will be conversant in Chinese. At least I’m willing to try.

So far I have been getting by with help from a few friends (well-known South Florida figures Professor Darby and Mrs Darby- who have lived in China for many years, and from Dawn, who has been residing here for a year).

Bit by bit, I’m making new acquaintances in some form or another. Recently, (March 2) I went with a couple students (Harry and Danny) of Tianjin University of Commerce to buy some badminton gear.  That went well, and now I’m playing badminton.

But I constantly meet new people.  And as expected, I find myself an item of curiosity, especially for small children and older people.  After all, there are not many of my complexion here.  The babies stare, hide behind and draw their parents attention, and they in turn tell the babies to wave ‘hello’.   The older persons just stare.  Its not hostile and I’m getting used to it.  I’m more often than not, tempted to smile… which is an ice-breaker. The smiles are not always returned but its not out of hostility.  Sometimes I just nod my head and move along.

Many have engaged me in casual conversations (as casual as one can have without either knowing a word of the other’s language). Recently, a man and I started to converse about hats.  He didn’t like the selection at the store and neither did I.  I liked his hat and he tried mine on.  Then we went our way.  Things like that.

On other occasions, Dawn (THERE is someone who really draws curiosity) and I have been approached by strangers eager to try out their English, and many times random strangers have come to our aid when they notice our querulous looks (like when we are ‘lost’).

Being here a year longer, Dawn has mastered some key phrases, expressions and words that are key to communication. My vocabulary so far consists of ‘Ting bu dong’ or ‘Wau ting bu dong’ (I don’t understand), and ‘Ni hao’ for ‘hello’. But I will get there.  Other than that, its a lot of pointing, miming and other gestures.

Daily, I jot down stuff in my book.  Words, phrases, observations, numbers, directions etc. How to say “Wo rou or bu rou” (no meat), or “Wo buneng chi rou” (I can’t eat meat).

For some people food wouldn’t be a problem.  For me, it is.  I don’t eat meat, in any country, in any way, shape or form… except for a little fish, usually prepared by myself.  And despite what many people think, I’m not a vegetarian.  My menu choices even in vegetables are thin, one page at the most, double-spaced.

Yet almost everyday, I’ve eaten something new (hopefully no meat), cooked, fried, sautéed in ways I never imagined.  Some I enjoyed and others will take a little getting used to. I’ve come to love noodles and there is quite a variety here.  I am trying to eat with chopsticks as well and that’s a source of amusement to those (everyone) around me lol (why would I force myself into another challenge?  I have no idea… but).  Practice.

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nightlife in tianjin

nightlife in tianjin

Because of how cheap dining and transportation are, the Darbys, Dawn and I, eat out frequently. Perhaps my best dining experience ever, was a trip to the Banyan Tree restaurant, downtown Tianjin.  Folks, if you go there, be sure to ask for the hotel tour.  Fabulous place… but my next visit certainly won’t be for the decor.  They have a wonderful buffet (not talking Subways or Sbarro… a totally superior level). That grilled snapper… damn.  Perfection.

Same night we went to the Tangla, a so-called 6 star hotel.  Not sure it would get that rating from me, but it seems that every visitor to Tianjin is encouraged to spend at least one night in their luxurious rooms.  You can arrange for a tour there as well.  It runs 50 stories high so I guess the view is the thing.  Haven’t eaten there as yet, but I’m told that its certainly not on the level of Banyan Tree.

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In the brief 3 weeks or so since I’ve been here (arrival- the night of February 21st) I’ve been enjoying myself immensely with one unforeseen exception.  I never expected the level of pollution that has virtually settled over the city since I came.  I was prepared for  infrequent smog.  But man, with only a couple of day’s clean air and bright unmasked sunlight, the rest of the days have been toxic.  But hey, I’ve not seen anyone fall down and die in the streets, so onwards I go.

I guess all this is the by-product of the ‘great leap forward’, and no one can question that in a few short years, China has made an immense leap from the country it used to be in 1950 to where it is now.

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When you move that far in such a short space of time, its not unexpected that there will be cracks in the framework.  And apparently, the government is taking the pollution problem seriously, enacting legislation requiring stricter pollution controls on industry.

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One thing I can say, is that photographers might really love photographing in these visual condition, just not breathing it in. See the before and after difference above.

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Actually, the days have started to warm up and the last few days have been nearly decent in terms of the smoggy haze.

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Another surprise was traffic. No, not congestion. For those thinking of coming and renting a car to drive around… not going to happen.  I suggest taking taxis or hiring a driver. I’ve never seen a foreigner drive but I ‘hear’ it can be allowed.  But there is one good reason for that… driving here is an exercise in ‘uncontrolled chaos’.  Driving in Jamaica or Miami is like a day at the beach, compared to trying to drive here.

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popular transportation… sometimes on the edge of being ingenious.

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“Uncontrolled chaos”, a double negative.  Perhaps that’s the key, and it certainly works for them.  There seems to be some sort of psychic understanding between bus, truck, van, car drivers, pedestrians, motor-bikers, pedal cyclists, tuk-tuk drivers, all of whom seem to want to occupy the same physical space  at the same time (physics lesson anyone?) despite such things as traffic lights, pedestrian lights, white lines and many other road traffic rules that are constantly ignored (Oh, I’ve yet to see a stop sign.  I don’t think they exist).

I once saw a man standing in the middle of road (fast traffic) with his back to oncoming vehicles, on his cellphone, with a total disregard and lack of concern.  Really?  Sir, I can tell you… don’t try that in Paris.

“I’m going the wrong way? Now what would lead you to think so?”. Perhaps the fact that you are moving in the opposite direction to everyone else and the arrows in the road should be a hint, heh!  Yep.  Its not strange to see a ‘tuk tuk’ or some other form of wheels traveling without hesitation, against the flow of traffic.  Yikes!

Its all about the bluff.  Everyone bluffs and someone usually yields.  There’s no rhyme or reason for that.  In Jamaica or Florida, the small man yields to the bigger vehicle.  Not so here.  I’ve seen bicyclists back down truck drivers.  Hmm.  And like in Jamaica, the pedestrian doesn’t get a pass, even if the pedestrian light ‘gives’ them right of way.  Its everyone for himself.  Don’t don’t worry about them here… they are part of the flow like everyone else.

And like in Jamaica, there is a constant cacophony of horns… each with its own message.  But it works.  I’ve only seen a couple fender benders, nothing major compared to Jamaica or Florida.  Not saying that there aren’t any.  Just haven’t seen any. That would qualify as a miracle in South Florida.

Another thing that fascinated me earlier on, was fireworks.  When I came, I thought that the fireworks I heard were left over from the Chinese new year.  Not so.  Chinese use fireworks all the time, for every celebration, wedding, baby, store opening, sometimes no seeming reason.  I saw 3 men dressed in business clothes, setting off fireworks at about 8 am, on the street.  There didn’t seem to be anything to celebrate… but you never know.  Mostly on weekends, it often sounds like a city on siege.  From all around, you have the small fireworks (sounds like machine-gun fire), or the big bangs (sounds like heavy artillery).

chinese new year decoration

chinese new year decoration

fireworks

fireworks

I’m told that the government believes that fireworks significantly contribute to the pollution problem and is trying to tamper its usage. But its part of life here.  One day I will set off my own fireworks display.

Tianjin grows fast.  Its a very big and important city in China. Read the history of Tianjin.  Interesting.

Tianjin- 4540 sq miles.  Pop: 14 million.  4th largest urban population in China (wikipedia)

Miami Dade- 55.27 sq miles.  Pop:  420,000

You can certainly see I’m not in Kansas anymore.

While many countries fret about 2% growth, they are aiming for above 16% this year. Construction is like mad.  Places sprout up like trees.  The Darbys have pointed out areas that were farmland just 3 years ago, and I can’t tell that those areas weren’t concrete jungles for decades.

new construction. those on the left (more than 20 storeys) have been completed, while those on the right is in progress. foreground, is undeveloped, one-time farmland

new construction. those on the left (more than 20 storeys) have been completed, while those on the right is in progress.
foreground, is undeveloped, one-time farmland

So that’s it for now, my little travelogue.   Its been wonderful and I’m going to make sure it stays that way.  Stay tuned as I bring you more from China.

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About the author

Walt F.J. Goodridge

"Once upon a time, there was a Jamaican civil engineer living in New York who hated his job, followed his passion, started a sideline business publishing his own books, made enough money to quit his job, escaped the rat race, ran off to a tropical island in the South Pacific, and started a tourism business so he could give tours of the island to pretty girls every day....and live a nomadpreneur's dream life."