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As we get closer and closer to the halfway point of our time in China, I feel a little remiss. Neither Adrianna nor myself has made a post about some of the things you just can’t get in China that abound in the states. Since I’m also running short on good ideas for blog posts now that our routine is pretty firmly established, I figured I’d take my post-Thanksgiving/Sports Day break to enlighten you, dear reader, as to what makes China so distinctly different from the U.S.A.This isn’t a full list by any means, and it is in a completely random order, but I think it’s a good little snippet about why China is so very foreign.

1. Toilets and Toilet Paper

You wouldn’t think this would be important, but it may come as a shock to many of you when I say that Chinese toilets, affectionately referred to as “squattie potties,” are not the same as the typical porcelain throne you might find in the average American home. On the plus side, Chinese toilets are much better for your colon. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but what you really learn to miss (and carry on your person at all times) is toilet paper, which is not provided in the majority of Chinese bathrooms. I couldn’t tell you why, but I can tell you that a wise person will carry a handy, travel sized pack of tissues with them everywhere.

2. Diapers

Naked baby butt on the counter at McDonalds.

Naked baby butt on the counter at McDonalds.

Diapers are not a hot commodity for the majority of Chinese parents. Instead, crotchless pants, which expose a baby’s (or toddler’s) no-touch bits to the elements, are in vogue here. It cuts down on the laundry, but it does lead to mysterious puddles and little piles of brown goop all over the place. Some Chinese youths are indeed clad in whatever the Chinese equivalent is to Pampers©, but they’re pretty rare, and it doesn’t take long for one to become accustomed to the sight of selectively nude kids.

3. Bars

When I use the word bar, I’m not referring to a solid metal cylinder, but instead a place where people of many ages, professions, and social classes can gather to enjoy the fruits of yeast, barley, and whatever else goes into all those fancy beers people make. A simple establishment, perhaps with simple fare, but usually with a “come as you please” attitude, where a customer can sit, relax, and have a few drinks to top off their day. While bars vaguely like this do exist, they’re usually in expat areas, meaning their much more expensive than they’re worth, and they’re full of foreigners who are more focused on coupling with other foreigners than with sitting and having a relaxing pint. Shenzhen has a few beer gardens, where you can order one (and only one!) type of beer, along with some food.

Large spaces, Chinese tweens, drunk Chinese adults, what's not to like?

Large spaces, Chinese tweens, drunk Chinese adults, what’s not to like?

These are a decent alternative, since the beer and food are usually pretty cheap, but they lack the intimacy found in most decent bars. If you want a relaxed but contained drink in China your best bet (in my experience) is to go to a restaurant, sit down, and order only drinks. This is a good option, but comes with the stigma of being a foreigner at a restaurant doing nothing but drinking booze. All in all, there is no substitute for a simple, neighborhood bar with a simple, neighborhood bartender (simpleness of the bartender is not a necessity).

4. Cooking

Previous fruits of our American labors (pan-seared cod and a gazpacho salad)

Previous fruits of our American labors (pan-seared cod and a gazpacho salad)

I’m putting this on the list mostly for Adrianna, but I feel the pain here too. Although many may have better living situations than us, we currently can do little in the way of cooking. We have a hot plate (woooh! he says, sarcastically) and a rice cooker (missing it’s power cord). Cooking utensils aren’t expensive, but we’re not going to bring them back, so it’s hard to convince ourselves to buy them. Most of our cooking so far has been heating up frozen dumplings, reheating leftovers, and occasionally making pasta. There’s also a good deal of instant oatmeal that we “prepare” as well. Consequentially, we go out to eat a lot, and mooch from our cafeteria even more, despite the fact that it’s food ranges from good to…edible. Cooking is fun, cheap, and highly missed.

5. Family, Friends, Intangibles

With Thanksgiving behind me, I’m starting to feel some little pangs of homesickness. I’ve never really experienced it (I’m not sure why), but this Saturday, surrounded by my fellow CTLC-ers, eating some surprisingly praise-worthy chow, I missed home. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, for the food and the family, and no amount of (really very good) pie was able to fill a little hole inside of me. Being in a place that is so very different from home only serves to exacerbate any small feelings of homesickness I’ve developed, and the little intangibles, from loud yelling at night (in English) to dog kisses all pile up into one big block of things you miss. It’ll be awhile before I experience any of those intangibles again, so I guess I’ll just buck up, move forward, and do my job. It’s not all bad though; Thanksgiving dinner was really pretty delicious!