Well, I’ve returned to my chilly Suzhou apartment after a three week refresher in the “real world” and am slowly getting back into the routine of expat life in China.
Though I still plan to post my wife Maggie’s impressions of Canada, that involves sorting photos and recollecting exactly what we did while away – time consuming endeavors. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the things I was somewhat surprised to find out people just don’t know about China.
- By and large people in China wear the same clothes as the rest of the world: This one comes from a comment made to Maggie at her Welcome to Canada party. An attendee (notice the lack of naming names) point blank asked Maggie if she had bought the clothes she was wearing in Canada or in China. After a hesitant “In China, why?” from my wife, it was revealed that the asker simply assumed that Chinese wore distinctly different clothes. I’m curious to know if they had images of Shaolins, Manchus, or Maoists in mind.
- Chinese food in North America is generally Cantonese or domestically fabricated: This one came up quite a lot as Maggie’s complaints of missing food from home grew louder and louder. I had to explain to friends and family that 90% of Chinese food found outside Chinatown is likely to be what is generally classified as “Cantonese”, as in from Guangdong and/or Hong Kong – both of which, though quite populous, are only a small part of the whole country. The reason for this prevalence of Cantonese food in Western nation is that traditionally the majority of Chinese immigrants came from this area.
- China speaks Mandarin not Cantonese: Closely related to #2, this is another common misconception among Neverbeens, and for all the same reasons. While China has an endless number of local dialects, of which Cantonese is one, Mandarin is the de facto Chinese language, and incidentally the No. 1 spoken language in the world – though the guy giving you chop suey, chicken balls and fortune cookies is not likely speaking it.
- Chinese don’t use ovens: This one came as the biggest surprise to me. I’m not sure why I assumed every Neverbeen knew that 99% of all Chinese homes are missing the most beautiful of baking boxes, but time after time I found myself listing to gasped “But, but how do they make bread, bake cookies, roast turkey!?!” Well folks, 1) they steam it. 2) they buy them in a box or at a Taiwanese bakery, and 3) Turkey? Strictly for export.
- Communism is a farce: Most definitely the most overly-confused issue for Neverbeens as relating to China is the conflicting reports of capitalism running amok in what is the world’s largest communist state. Now to set the record straight, China is – in no way, shape or form – communist. State-run monopolies are at a minimum, there are no mass socialistic programs (Canada’s health care and welfare systems are more inclusive), and free enterprise is (somewhat annoyingly) rampant. It’s 100% capitalistic, but under a one-party, authoritarian system. The blame for this confusion should not be put on Neverbeens though, but rather on the shoulders of China’s government and their misnomer of a name – perhaps its time to update the name to better reflect the times in which we live – might I suggest the Cool Party of China, and you’ll not even have to change all your CPC embroidered ping pong polo shirts.
Well, there you have it – my list of things I noticed were the most common unknown or misunderstood bits of China for the Canucks I ran into. Got any to add?