Things that are often dangerous or unpleasant in China:
1. Breathing air. After two weeks, I’ve resigned myself to having a sore throat at all times. My aunt jokes that her lungs are made of iron and no amount of pollution can affect her.
2. Drinking tap water. Even in my hotel here in Xi’an, the water comes out with a brown tinge.
3. Crossing the street. Pedestrian lights basically don’t exist. I’m agnostic but often find myself praying as taxis, motorcycles, and buses almost hit me.
4. Using the bathroom. I’ve learned to carry tissue paper with me at all times (free toilet paper is not something one can take for granted here), and I’ve figured out that the only sit-down toilets (if there are any) are in the handicapped stalls, which have become my favorites.
Things that are indisputably better in China than America, at least for a Chinese-American:
1. The snack foods. Xi’an is one of the snack capitals of China, and I willingly eat mystery meat here because it tastes amazing.
2. The shopping. Bargaining is widely accepted, and since I get a thrill from negotiating and discounts (it must be in my genes), I’ve been buying everything from cow foot combs to bird whistles.
3. The free outdoor activities. Middle-aged Chinese women love to dance in public. They gather after dinner to learn choreography, though I’m not sure if they have any performances scheduled.
4. Family life, interactions between young and old. Though customs are changing, or so I hear, most elderly people in China seem to be busy, content, and full of energy. I met a 79-year-old grandmother yesterday who insisted on making me try her electronic acupuncture machine to cure my back pain…it worked like electroshock therapy and really hurt, but I sat through a twenty-minute session. I’m not sure if I would have had the patience to do so in the US.