where am I?

Sitting here at my desk with the window open, I can currently smell roast lamb. Well it smells like that to me, but its almost certainly not. I’ve already eaten a big dinner but the smell is still making me hungry. Its times like this that I forget I’m in China and I feel like going out to a pub and ordering roast lamb (impossible).

Sometimes in the mornings, when I get up early enough, I look out my kitchen window and see lots of young guys practising kung fu, I think they must be from a proper school because they are very good. Its great to watch, and its times like this that I KNOW I am in CHINA!

Other times, like the day I went to “Pinnacle Plaza” out in the suburbs where the rich foreigners live, I think I am actually in Australia. Pinnacle Plaza could be any little local shopping area, with all the signs in English and nothing at all around giving you the impression you are in China. I spent the whole day there for an exhibition once and when I got on the local bus to go home I was surprised to be back in China so suddenly.

Its amazing how so many things in our life are so entwined with things we were brought up with. For me, a stop-off at a petrol station always means soft drinks and lollies or icy poles on the way somewhere. Here though, you are lucky to be able to buy water and the only snacks are unappetising, plastic-looking meat in vaccuum sealed bags (like pig snouts, yum!) and rice snacks. As any long-haul bus I’m on approaches a petrol station here, I find myself having to banish my dream of the “Aussie Petrol Station” – slurpees and icy poles – and replace it with the Chinese one – where you’re lucky if the toilet has a door to keep out prying eyes, let alone toilet paper or the ability to be flushed. Squatting down on that toilet, making sure I don’t fall in, and trying to avoid any ominous looking puddles, I know for sure, I am in China!

Another non-Chinese person asked me the other day if I go to Starbucks or McDonalds to remind me of home. I do go there, because its convenient, and YES, I like the food. But it sure doesn’t remind me of home. The last time I went, my fries were cold, and when I asked the guy to replace them he just stood there looking at me (he was the guy who has served me and understood perfectly weel when I was ordering, so it was not a miscommunication issue). Finally the manager looked over and asked what was wrong, then told him to replace them. He brought over a new one and said “are these good enough? Because if they’re not then you should just return them right now and get your money back”. I was so stunned, I took the new, also barely warm ones and went and sat back down. The time before that, while waiting for our second packet of fried to be brought over, my friend and I started eating our burgers instead. When the lady finally brought our fries, she walked off, then looked back and came back over. “You two are really wrong you know!!”

We looked at eachother, worried about what we had done wrong…

“You should eat your fries first or they’ll go cold!!!” and she walked off. At that point, I knew 100%, I was in China. (I also started to get the inkling that these were all signs I should stop going to McDonalds)

After all the craziness of a day in Beijing, when I lay down to sleep in my little apartment and, through the very thin, cracked walls I can hear the guy upstairs snoring, then without a doubt, I know I am in China!

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