"I might kick some ass in this race," I thought, weighing my recent training against China’s lack of home-grown competitive runners. Then I saw the pics from last year’s race. Well, it was a nice thought.
I’m fulfilling one of my goals in China by running the Chongqing Marathon 5K on March 22. I have no idea what to expect: There are very few Chinese who train to compete, or run for exercise. However, there are only a handful of road races in China, and they tend to attract most of the people in the country who do. Add in the big prize money and the international talent that chases it, and you have a big bowl of I-don’t-know-what-to-expect.
The registration limits the number of 5K runners to 20,000 and marathon and half-marathon runners to 10,000 each, so I’m expecting madness. When that’s the expectation, China has so far never let me down.
I’ve been training almost 100% on treadmills, to avoid the pollution and prevent slacking. My treadmill 5K practice last Saturday was 19:20, which I was pretty happy with, but it won’t get me to my goal. I’ve got to make these last two weeks count.
The sound of cheap electric cigarette lighters followed by clouds of shitty tobacco smoke is probably the memory that’s going to stay with me the longest from China. I hear it and then smell it at least a dozen times a day.
China loves smoking. Specifically, Chinese men love smoking. One of my high school students told me that I can’t talk bad about smoking because it’s a culture and lifestyle here; not a dirty habit. The same student sent me a picture of himself smoking, just to prove he partakes in that lifestyle. As it’s almost exclusively men who smoke in China, it’s a symbol of pure masculinity, and its deep in rite-of-passage territory.
As I read international news about China, I hear a stream of statistics that aren’t connected in the news stories, but are firmly connected in my mind. These are what I’m talking about:
First, consider that 1/3 of the world’s cigarettes are consumed in China. (Also, 1/3 of the world’s lung cancer deaths happen here, but let’s not get into that.)
China’s population of 1.35 billion people constitutes about 1/5 of the world’s population.
China is 51.27% male, 48.73% female, meaning there are about 692 million men and 658 million women here.
Now consider that 61% of Chinese men reportedly smoke, compared to just 4.2% of Chinese women.
That would indicate that 449,600,000 Chinese smokers (422 million men, 27.6 million women), or 6.4% of the world’s population, consumes 1/3 of its cigarettes.
In my experience, smoking bans, including this new one in public schools, are largely ignored and rarely if ever enforced. Buses and subways are the only enclosed areas I’ve seen in which Chinese men will not smoke. Despite no-smoking signs in many of these places, offices, schools, cars, hospitals, elevators, restaurants, shopping malls are all fair game.
It’s a problem with predictable mortality results that don’t seem to faze the average Chinese smoker. Until smoking becomes seen as the health hazard it is, rather than as a lifestyle or culture, the population problem might just be curing itself.
Today is the first day of the new term, and I’ve been in the bathroom all night yawning in technicolor as the result of a bad mocha. Yup, that’s right: The Chinese are so bad at coffee that they can turn a simple mocha into poison.
These are my Super Bowl brownies/airplane sleep aides.
I’ve taken several Chinese people to a Western restaurant in Chengdu called Peter’s Tex-Mex. They invariably order the spaghetti because it’s the only thing that resembles something they already know: noodles. You’d think that people who consider fine dining to be gnawing the face-meat off a rabbit head would have a more adventurous palate.
But what’s really interesting is the idea this ladders up to: A Chinese meal isn’t complete if it doesn’t have noodles, rice or soup. Literally every meal you can order in most Chinese restaurants includes at least one of the three. I made sandwiches and salad for a friend once, and she just stared at the plates and asked “where’s the rice?” Last week, my British friend’s girlfriend’s mom was visiting, and she couldn’t wrap her mind around pizza as a full meal, so she ordered a side of rice at Pizza Hut.
Chinese people have a reputation for not being easily surprised by strange foods, and even being eager to devour parts of an animal that Americans wouldn’t even put in hot dogs. So if you really want to shock a Chinese person at the dinner table, it’s less about what you serve, and more about what you don’t.
Meet my neighborhood UPS guy.
China Post, Fed Ex and UPS don’t have delivery drivers on regular routes like postal services do in Western countries. Instead, you have a random guy on an overloaded motorbike hauling ass around town.
And the “mail depots” are actually just storefronts where packages get thrown into piles depending on what part of the city they’re going to. The storefronts aren’t big enough to handle the mass of packages, so most of the action happens late at night on the sidewalk, with packages being left unattended for sometimes hours at a time.
So far, I’ve received 70% of the packages sent, so it works sometimes.
I saw it on the counter this morning and made to throw it away when I remembered that I live in southern China: the land where winter temperatures hover near zero, and there’s no such thing as indoor heating.
After being returned to its home, the milk is literally and temporarily the coldest thing in the refrigerator. Take that, First World.
I just want to spend a couple weeks in a country where the bathroom is the only room that smells like a bathroom. But I love you, China.
I love the instructional condom packaging here, and there’s so much of it to love. Condoms are everywhere. Every grocery store has a huge rubbers section. Every check-out aisle is packed with them. There are vending machines on every block. Even convenience stores have more condom choices than instant noodle options, and there are a lot of instant noodles to choose from.
Yet all the stories I’ve heard say that girls really don’t care if guys use them, so guys rarely use them. A lot of it has to do with the complete and utter lack of sexual education. Schools don’t teach sex ed at all, and I haven’t met even one Chinese person who wasn’t mortified at the idea of a parent talking with their son or (god forbid) daughter about sex.
Availability is only part of the solution, apparently.