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14
Apr
2011
A Family-Friendly Guide E-mail
City Life - Blogs & Columns
Written by Mary Higgins
Living in China can be liberating. Many of the social norms that we grow up with in the west don’t always apply. I litter, I jaywalk, I don’t buckle my seatbelt, I smoke anywhere I want, and I tell people off knowing full well it won’t come to fisticuffs. Oh, you might call me on my 入乡随俗 ruse or declare I was prime Jerry Springer guest material long before I arrived, but I say I simply live in China. I survive, I enjoy. I am a foreigner with Chinese characteristics. I live between two worlds. I am my own Ladyhawke.

I lived in China for over 10 years before I got my first family visit. Everyone else had had their mamas and papas visit, but not me. During school holidays, Ms. CIEE would have her sister join her in Anhui for a stroll up the yellow bump, but not me. I sat in my dorm room and watched the Phoenix channel. It’s not that I didn’t want family to visit, it’s that I’d gotten used to the fact that no one ever would.

That all changed with my brother’s visit. I was living in Shanghai at the time, the massive city of 10-20 million people, depending on who gives you the numbers. Growing up in Podunk, America, China can be a bit of a surprise. It’s like Disneyland with no rules. Fun car rides that can lead to death. Shows with everyone yapping on their mobiles. 50 storey castles that will crumble with a 1.0 Richter jostle. People wandering the streets in pajamas and hospital gown costumes.

My brother arrived at Pudong late at night. The ride into Xujiahui was pleasant, if uneventful. He brought me a cold, hardened yet delightfully delicious Whopper from the States. We settled him in in my apartment and caught up on the flight and current events of people I had known when I was 14.

Then came Day 2. We set out to Yuyan. People everywhere, dirt, pollution, crappy Shanghai weather. My brother was enthralled, nay, gob smacked with Alice’s Wonderland. Excited to see this and that, we went to and fro. I noticed he was struggling though. Navigating crowds was difficult. He would let people by, let people pass, let people squeeze. He was polite. They didn’t care. They plowed, they maneuvered, they did not say thank you.

This would just not do. I couldn’t stand the injustice. Nobody told him “the rules” yet! How could they do this to my own flesh and blood?! Although he is my 哥哥, I took it upon myself to play the sempai to his kohai. He must learn to be firm. He must learn to survive. He must learn to dominate.

We sat for coffee, said “whew, that was crowded” and kicked up our legs. It was then that I delivered my Walking in China 101 course to him.

Lesson One:

Walk in a straight line, no matter what. Do not move, do not waver.

Lesson Two:

An elbow move for the elderly, a shoulder for the young ones.

Lesson Three:

Do not make eye contact. Never give them a chance to scoop a dollop of Catholic guilt in your bowl.

Lesson Four:

If someone actually does something nice for you, do not say “thank you”. Do not even acknowledge it. In fact, shoot a nasty look at them (keeping Lesson Three in mind).

Lesson Five:

When crossing the street, ensure you’re walking next to someone who will be your cushion in case an oncoming car doesn’t stop.

Lesson Six:

Do not pay attention to pedestrian-crossing whistle-blowing old men and women. They only have one job and that is to be annoying.

Lesson Seven:

When getting in the subway, put your two feet in and stand right next to the door - don’t move for anyone.

Lesson Eight:

Cars are inconsequential. Buses too. They’ll move. Or stop. Or both. Or they won’t - go back to Lesson Five.

Lesson Nine:

Do not side-step bicycles or motorcycles on the side walk. They will move. Trust me. If in any doubt, go back to Lesson One.

We finished our coffee and set out again. This time my brother knew what to do. He acted like an old hand at this, like he’d been doing it for years. A lady crossed in front of him – he kept walking, plowed her over…and then kept walking!

I could not have been a prouder brother that day.

Our valuable Editor Mary Higgins has been with us since Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

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