When I first heard about the Coronavirus, I said a hearty “meh”. Every year it seems like there’s some new horrible virus to be terrified of, and every year the new horrible virus fails to effect my life in any way whatsoever. It’s like the story about the boy who cried wolf.
You know, he says “oh hey, there’s a wolf” so many times that when a wolf finally comes nobody believes him and all the sheeps and children get eaten. People have been crying wolf for years about various deadly diseases. Fear sells newspapers (or generates clicks), and there isn’t much scarier than a deadly pandemic.
But, now, here I am in the middle of an epidemic, quarantined in a small one-bedroom apartment for the next two weeks.
Thick stalks of bamboo tower overhead. The tops sway back and forth in the breeze. Birds are chirping. The air is brisk and refreshing.
An old tractor, possibly built before the revolution, putters down the mountain pulling a trailer of freshly cut bamboo stalks. Stalks of vegetables lay on the stone walls alongside the road, drying in the sun. The yellow autumn rice fields look like gold as the sun lazily drifts behind the green mountains.
The thing about Beijing that struck me the most was how
gritty it all was. Gritty to the point that you could taste it when you walked
outside. There’s a constant layer of dust that settles in to your mouth with each
I don’t say this to disparage Beijing in any way. It’s a fine city, with lots of interesting sights and interesting things.
Standing on top of the hill in Jinghshan park, behind the mighty
Palace Museum, we could see the Forbidden City stretched out before us in all
its ancient magnificence. The sparkling new skyscrapers of modern Beijing were
all but lost in a grey haze. The buildings where we were, at least, were lower
than expected. The city seemed to stretch out for miles, perhaps into infinity,
before disappearing into the haze.
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What has been the most difficult thing about moving to China?
Culture shock is a real thing, of course. Every culture has its own quirks that take some getting used to. In China, people spit on the street. Sometimes kids will poop on the street. They have squat toilets. People shove in the subway. They eat frogs.
Sure, these are all different, unusual, maybe even weird to someone coming from the West. Fundamentally, though, they are all superficial. I have been pleasantly surprised with how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to all those things.
You ignore the spitting. You laugh at the kid pooping. You build up your thigh muscles for squatting, and you learn to either shove along with everyone else. Or else find the toughest old lady you can and follow her. Oh, and frog meat is actually pretty tasty.
None of those things, or any of the other superficial cultural differences, are really that difficult to adjust to if you’re able to keep an open mind.
The biggest difficulty is by far the language barrier. I swear I’m learning Chinese, but damn it, it’s hard!
Many years ago I used to work in the meat department of a grocery store. I’d stand behind a counter for eight hours a day serving free-range beef and organic skinless boneless chicken breasts to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s more well off customers. I’m not particularly into meat or serving customers, but it was a job and it was a fine job for the time I did it.
Linhai is a small city that seems to be off the radar of most Westerners. It’s a mere three hours on the fast train outside of Shanghai, between Ningbo and Taizhou. The summer rainy season left the surrounding mountains full of bright vibrant emerald green that stood out against the grey sky. So much green, that parts of the hike around Linhai’s wall felt like some sort of fairy tale wonderland.
The wall in Linhai
The wall is probably your best reason for visiting Linhai. It’s not exactly The Great Wall of China, but it is a great wall in China. A pretty good wall, anyway. It was built around the same time as the actual Great Wall and supposedly shared an engineer. If you’re the dishonest type, you could probably just post pictures of Linhai’s wall on Instagram and your family and friends back home likely wouldn’t know the difference.
Humanity piled on top of humanity. Stacks of human beings in concrete towers, some of which look like they’re on the verge of collapse.
There is a bright and shiny Hong Kong. This is the Hong Kong that most people think of. Glitzy glass towers where billions of dollars are traded back and forth in English and Mandarin. There are so many guys in suits there. Expensive suits with expensive women tugging the sleeves.
Ah, Suzhou, the Venice of the East. Or maybe that’s a bit Eurocentric? For all we know, Venice is the Suzhou of the West. Either way, Suzhou is only a half an hour away from Shanghai and makes a pleasant weekend getaway.