I’ve called many places home. Wilmington, Tucson, Philadelphia, Hawaii, and even Singapore, but one year ago my wife and I moved to China. That’s not long enough to know a country, but it’s enough to know a city, so please allow me to introduce you to life in Ningbo, the Venice of south east China.
Food and drink
So, the first thing you’ll notice in China is that you can’t drink the tap water. I’d like to blame fracking, but I don’t think they do that here. And it’s not that they made the pipes out of lead, either. It’s that they made the water out of lead. That or the local industry uses our reservoir to wash their lead, but whatever the reason, we buy bottled water all the time. Chinese bottled water. Which I swear tastes like water from a tap. Not that it’s a problem because for 50 cents you can get a Tsingtao Beer!
Which also tastes like water from the tap.
But the food’s pretty great, and I know you can’t tell from the tone, but I’m actually being serious here. Chinese cuisine is quite different on the mainland than it is back home in the states, and healthier as well. Though there are some definite adventurous aspects. Like buying eggs, they’re loose. They don’t put them in cartons. Take a look:
Awesome, right?! Those are actual dinosaur eggs! Or maybe dragon, I don’t know, but either way check out the size of them! Those are chicken eggs in the back for scale! Incredible, right? But that’s the supermarket, if you want a snack on the go you can always have a duck gizzard.
Mmmm, Duck Gizzards. It’s like chewing gum. Made from a duck’s gizzard. But if cooking at home’s not your thing you can always head to a restaurant, where you’ll encounter the greatest menu items in the world.
Demolition shrimp? Donkey blasting mutton? It’s like Michael Bay designed these menus. I ordered two of each.
Now, before you ask the answer is: Yes, there are some amazing opportunities to buy some really well made knockoffs. They’ve got everything out here. Guchee, Calvin Cline, Lulumellon… In fact, I purchased these for my wife last month:
See, thanks to the quality stitching I bet you didn’t notice but those aren’t official Disnee brand Mikey Mouse slippers! And they only cost half the price!
But it doesn’t end with clothing, the technology out here is so amazing it’s like living on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. I swung by the electronics store a few days ago, check out that selection:
Seriously, where else can you buy a Newton, a pager, and a car phone? Nowhere, that’s where. And of course I bought a new phone here. Granted it only calls 1987 and weighs twenty pounds, but that makes it retro. And impervious to theft.
Getting around Ningbo is awesomely easy. If you own a car. I don’t, so I walk and bike, and the first thing I noticed was, and I’m not joking here, there’s rubble everywhere. In vacant fields, next to schools, in the middle of the road… So much rubble.
I don’t know how many buildings were here before I arrived, but there’s only like half as many now and the rest have been destroyed to build more buildings, which I assume will be destroyed to make more rubble. That’s what the Chinese Lion King calls the circle of life.
But barring the rubble, the streets themselves are actually pretty easy to navigate. Ningbo has signs all over that can help a new expat like me. Take a look:
Just look at that thing, what does it mean? No trucks, no bikes, no mopeds, and yet there’s a truck coming in the opposite direction that I think the sign says is illegal! And that’s just a small sample. What’s so cool about getting around in China is while America and other Western nations had time to slowly adapt to cars (first the kind with cranks, then the ones we have today) China just jumped from bikes to Ferraris which makes crossing a road in China the highest stakes game of Frogger you will ever play. And the traffic laws, like the traffic lights are mere suggestions, kind of like the parking lines.
So what do you call a place with poison water, plentiful duck gizzards, antiquated phones, and Mad Max style road conditions? Well, you could call it crazy, but the fact is that every culture seems odd to the people who aren’t of it. Or you could call it adventure, because the smallest roads here have four lanes with no lines and each one goes in a different direction. And while both of those descriptions are pretty apt, they’re not to my taste, because despite how insane Ningbo is, how rubble filled, and how alien, I’m actually proud to call it home.