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Amber: Hey everybody, welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese buffet.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: And I am Amber. Today we have a very special dish for you, a well loved dish for everyone called the sweet and the sour and basically this is a love-hate rap session about the things we love about China versus the things we hate but all the flipside of the same coin.
Victor: Right. So China I guess for a lot of westerners, you know maybe perceived as a country with a repetition for strictness.
Amber: Yes and I think that it’s true like rules definitely abound.
Victor: Right.
Amber: However what a lot of people don’t know is there is a softer side to the rules.
Victor: Right. It’s somewhat more malleable than the rules we might have encountered.
Amber: Right. So the sweet of this is you can get away with a lot.
Victor: Right.
Amber: When you are in China surprisingly within certain boundaries.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: But the sour of it is that sometimes that lacks enforcement of rules and makes for a little bit of chaos.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Right. So today we are going to talk about the sweet and the sour of rules in China.
Victor: The really interesting thing about rules in China is that of course, it’s a very traditional society and culturally speaking, the cultural structure has much more for weight, society in general I would say.
Amber: Like sometimes the rules aren’t really what makes people act a certain way. It’s more the culture that’s stronger than the rule.
Victor: Exactly. Sometimes people fear more about being labeled with certain things culturally than otherwise….You know sometimes….
Amber: Than breaking up rule.
Victor: Right exactly.
Amber: Now here is the thing. A lot of people think of China as the police state I think, but you know what, since upon returning to New York City, I feel like America is the police state.
Victor: I think the sense of rules and regulations are very different than in different countries right?
Amber: True, and also the policemen here are so intense. I practically got like in a car chase because I rode my bicycle in the wrong place and the $50 ticket on my debt... and then policeman was like, I thought he was going to arrest me. China was different. The policemen are much more sort of you can negotiate.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Things are a little bit more easy.
Victor: Oh just different – just personal experiences, personal stories right?
Amber: Let’s go by a few different areas. Let’s start with a really big one which there is sweet and sour to the traffic.
Victor: Traffic okay.
Amber: So the sour I mean the traffic in China is crazy.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: You have to be careful when you cross the street. No one will stop for you definitely.
Victor: That’s right. I think that’s one thing that’s really different about China is that here, you know cars yelp to pedestrians.
Amber: That’s a huge difference.
Victor: But in China, they are not really obligated to.
Amber: This is a public service announcement because we don’t want anyone to get killed.
Victor: So as pedestrians in China, you are kind of responsible to watch the traffic and go where it’s safe to go because the cars aren’t going to stop and yelp to you.
Amber: And the crazy traffic also results in a lot of things like many – most of us foreigners over there won’t drive. Usually we take taxis because we just like the traffic is too crazy but I’ve known a lot of people that have been in traffic accidents in Taxis because the taxi drivers do drive quite crazy.
Victor: Right. Amber, you lived in Shanghai for a little bit. Do you think bigger cities are maybe slightly better?
Amber: Yeah I think it’s definitely more sane in the cities although I would still call insane.
Victor: More regulated.
Amber: However once you get into the country….
Victor: Maybe compare it to Canada, right. Maybe compare it to Canada where everyone is very orderly and yeah.
Amber: But when you get outside the cities or into the smaller cities, it’s kind of like….
Victor: Right, sometimes it’s….
Amber: Traffic delays don’t matter. Sort of just do as you do…
Victor: Oh another thing about China though you may not see in other places that they have the traffic police. In certain intersections, you see policemen or women kind of sending their directs in traffic.
Amber: That’s very true. There is a lot of traffic directors, even pedestrian directors.
Victor: So yeah I guess people do try to make an effort however to regulate but I guess sometimes it might be a little difficult to regulate that many drivers right?
Amber: That’s a thing we said. It’s a little bit softer in the regulation department or enforcement. So what is the sweet side to the traffic in China? Well you can get yourself out of tickets I think, Victor.
Victor: So speaking from your personal experience…
Amber: Okay I am talking – I never drove a car but bicycle tickets – I mean I never got myself out of the ticket actually. Actually in fact, I tried to bribe my way out of the ticket and I offered the policeman 20 kuài to like just call it off, let’s just forget it and he was very honest policeman. He is like no, and then I felt really stupid. So I sat there and he filled out the whole ticket and then it turns out that ticket was only for 10 kuài.
Victor: Oh so that’s not too bad right?
Amber: But the thing is you can, like, kind of whine your way out of things and like sometimes they will let you go. So I think that’s kind of a sweet thing about it.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Something that you can’t really do in America. Now another sweet thing I think is that as far as road rage is concerned, there just seems to be more forgiveness if you do something dumb.
Victor: Right.
Amber: One time on my bicycle I ran right into this kid and I don’t know why I was delirious or something and then I was like I am sorry 对不起 (duìbùqǐ) and the kid just looked up at me with the smile on his face and he was like 美国人 (měiguó rén) which means American.
Victor: So he was probably more just amazed that the foreigner was right next to him right?
Amber: But even if you like bang into someone with your bike or when people have accidents, it seemed to be lot less rage than there is in the west.
Victor: You seem to have a lot of accidents with the bikes, Amber.
Amber: Well that is true. I was very aggressive bike rider.
Victor: In China and in New York City and I am not quite sure why that is. I guess it’s kind of interesting. I think you are right and sometimes people don’t really, you know, want to get into road rages with you. Maybe it’s because they hesitate to point out your faults in a way.
Amber: So that’s kind of a cultural thing, isn’t it?
Victor: Because I think it’s very cultural.
Amber: Not wanting to lose face.
Victor: Not just in traffic but in other situations too. You know, people are less likely to point out the things you are doing wrong.
Amber: Confrontation.
Victor: Right exactly or maybe they’ve just given up.
Amber: Sometimes I think that’s true. You get numb.
Victor: Yeah you get numb because….
Amber: I think you are numb after a while.
Victor: Because everyone does it and you just do whatever you have to do and you just don’t bother with it anymore.
Amber: I think it could be both but the nice word is you see a lot less like you know – you receive a lot less anger if you do something wrong than you do in the west.
Victor: Right. My observation is, it may not mean that they don’t mind. It’s just they are less likely to point it out in some cases. So I guess I don’t know but you are right. I mean a few years ago, I’ve seen crazy traffic. I think it’s getting slightly better but generally speaking, I think it's right. The traffic is pretty different over there.
Amber: Yeah which kind of leads to another sweet thing is that you can kind of drive a bike wherever there is room. It’s like creative bike riding and creative driving.
Victor: Right.
Amber: You know you can go up around things on sidewalks and things and nobody is really going to even bat an eye.
Victor: You just have to do whatever you have to do without you know bothering other people.
Amber: Do not try this at home, I’ve learned.
Victor: Do not do it in New York City.
Amber: Exactly. Okay on to something else.
Victor: The next sweet and sour, we are going to let Amber talk about her experience being a foreigner in China.
Amber: That’s right. The sweet and sour of being a foreigner in China.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: The sour. Okay everyone is going to stare at you, point at you, call you 外国人 (wàiguó rén) and 老外 (hǎo ài), and kids stare to the point that they even grab their moms.
Victor: Right or taking pictures, right?
Amber: Some babies cry, babies cry sometimes. They are like why does that face look like that or take pictures sometimes too, that’s true which relates to the sweet. So that might be sour or maybe you like it. This could go either way but the sweet is, you are kind of like a rock star.
Victor: Right yeah.
Amber: In fact, you probably could be a rock star if you wanted to be or a model even if you are ugly, it doesn’t matter. That’s the sweet of being a foreigner in China.
Victor: No but I think Chinese are generally very friendly towards visitors from other countries, right?
Amber: That’s true.
Victor: And it’s funny that you said that about the staring. I think in China, generally speaking, the personal boundary is less defined.
Amber: Definitely.
Victor: So people don’t feel as sensitive as in the west about staring or things like that. So they think it’s normal. You know, people go into restaurant and they see somebody else sitting next to them and having a good dish, they will just point and ask.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: You know and here you kind of whisper to the waiter, what is the guy having but in China, you just say what is that!
Amber: Exactly. So don’t feel a nerd. People are – in fact like it could be 5 minutes someone is staring at you, you can just smile back.
Victor: And I think it’s getting a lot better. I had a relative and one of my cousins married American guy and they went to China about 20 years ago and American guy told me, they went to a smaller city and this is when China just opened up and he was standing in the market and people circled around him.
Amber: Oh yeah that is scary.
Victor: And pointed at him. And think about that, but right now of course you know, in Beijing and Shanghai, I don’t think it’s as nearly as bad as that.
Amber: Yeah unless you like started break dancing on the street or something.
Victor: Sometimes you know like I had a friend recently. He said he sat in a coffee house and a small kid just run to him, took a picture and just ran away.
Amber: Like, is that a rock star!
Victor: Right.
Amber: You may even have a paparazzi.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Okay. Now moving along, here is another big thing speaking of sweet and sour is food.
Victor: Food, always good.
Amber: So the sour and the sweet. Well, I am not always good. There is a sour side Victor which one of them is okay obviously we all know there is a lot of body parts. Sometimes you can’t understand the menu. This is given. However the sour is also food poisoning because related to the rules, there is not really a lot of enforcement of food safety.
Victor: Yeah sometimes it is a little bit difficult to reinforce some of those smaller factories in different places. Once again, I think that it’s due to a huge population. Sometimes the law reinforcement may not be able to cover all that areas.
Amber: Yeah and in fact, they have a lot of rules in place but it’s just trying to enforce or regulate things is not easy yeah.
Victor: Correct. And recently there have been a lot of incidents where food poisoning has been pretty serious in China and the central government has been you know putting an effort to crack down on those things. So I guess slowly, gradually….
Amber: Hope for the best sort of a thing.
Victor: Hope for the best, right.
Amber: Reopen our packaging ships.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And the other thing is, you know there is a lot of food stalls on the side of the street right and so this is basically anyone can just open a food stall anywhere at any time. So you know that’s hard to regulate as well in cities that are full of 20 million people. So that’s kind of the sour side that there is you know, it’s a bit of a gamble if you are a gambling person, you can gamble with the food stalls, we all do.
Victor: Generally speaking though I think…
Amber: Usually you are okay.
Victor: Usually you are okay yeah, for the most part. I don’t think I’ve had any bad incidents when we did the right thing.
Amber: Uh I have.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Okay but the sweet side, back to the sweet side is, the beauty of all of these stalls et cetera is that there is cheap yummy food anywhere at any time.
Victor: Yes, food is very cheap, it’s very good.
Amber: I remember many a day coming home at 4 in the morning, walking down my street and for some reason, there was this woman making fried rice at 4 in the morning and a lot of people lined up too as well. Also these food stalls, it makes for a lot of food creativity.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: People will get their own little specialties and often the best food in the neighborhood is one of these stalls.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Someone has come up with their own secret recipe and they become famous and it’s usually a couple of kuai, it’s very cheap.
Victor: Yeah definitely and the thing is with China, in different regions, there are different regional cuisines and the tastes are totally different. So every time you go to a different place, you get a variety of things to enjoy. So that’s a great thing.
Amber: check out the stalls.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Sweet or sour, you will be the judge.
Victor: Very sweet. I think it’s very sweet always, yes.
Amber: Okay next thing is related to regulations. It is pirating. Okay sweet and sour here though. Sour, yes it’s bad, intellectual property rights blah, blah, blah. We know it’s bad.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: We do not promote it. However no one can deny the sweet of the pirated DVDs on the street. The #1 way to be home away from home is to be able to go home and watch, I don’t know Prison Break for a dollar.
Victor: It’s very easy, you are right.
Amber: The whole series.
Victor: I think it’s definitely very easy to get those DVDs and you know, TV shows on the street but I think recently two – I guess a few years ago, I remember it was much easier to get those things and just recently, I think for – during the customs in China, you could travel out with those DVDs and get caught. There is a heavy fine recently levied on that but still you know you can get those things in China and another thing that I found is really funny and for many westerners who’ve been to China, you probably noticed this too is that a lot of Chinese companies when they design their logos, they tend to copy the western logos with the Chinese twist. So then…
Amber: It’s true.
Victor: But they are not completely stealing but they will just copy the general looks of it.
Amber: No of course you can get the complete copies but there is also the ones that the police won’t confiscate because they are just slightly altered.
Victor: Right.
Amber: It’s like a coach bag that’s a G instead of C, it’s like goach and not coach.
Victor: Yeah. You have lot of those things right. I think the problem is a lot of these smaller companies, they are just kind of started by a couple of people here and there and they are not really you know big national companies. So they kind of just do whatever they thought on the spot, yeah but it is very funny when you see like the Timberland logo with a leather changed through something else and it’s kind of like oh you know, my first….
Amber: It’s not a knockoff, what are you talking about?
Victor: Right but it looks….
Amber: It’s Fimberland, not Timberland.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Good. Okay well here is something else that is more of an etiquette thing but that’s usage of cell phones. A brief sweet and sour on this is that the sour is I’ve been to a play, and someone starts yammering around the cell phone…
Victor: Right.
Amber: Like anytime, anywhere, people do not give a thought about cell phone etiquette.
Victor: Right.
Amber: In fact, when I came back to the lesson, I didn’t realize there was such a thing and I was like oops! But the sweet of it is if you ever have an emergency and you just need to take that call, in China you can.
Victor: Oh yeah right.
Amber: It doesn’t matter. No one will glare at you.
Victor: That’s true. I remember being on an airplane once. The plane was about to take off and the flight attendants were doing safety checks and there is a woman behind me still talking on her phone and the flight attendant just walked by and I had to point out to him and said you know, excuse me, that woman is still talking and he went over to tell her to shut off the phone but I was just so surprised that in the US it would never happen like that, right.
Amber: Okay here is another etiquette related one Victor, classic. Lineups.
Victor: Lineups.
Amber: Queues.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Okay, the sour I think anyone who has been in China knows is the budding in line.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay, I have been the line regulator. I felt my mission in life was to regulate in line when I was in China, I felt like I was going to like change – that might be my way of being asset of the line, finally changing the rule but I gave up after all. So the sour is people will butt in line a lot.
Victor: Right.
Amber: If they are in a rush, they just – they won’t make eye contact, they just go to the front and if we don’t say anything, then no one will say anything.
Victor: Right, totally. I think the concept of line is not very strong in China at all. I remember once I looked in the States for a couple of years already and then went back home for a little while and I was standing in the bank in the line and they were just standing there and there were always people in front of me. So I didn’t really pay attention. I was just standing there waiting and I thought I was the next in line. And I sit there for a long time and then I realized, I was the only one standing in there. No one was standing in line. There were people in front of me but they are just like different groups of people passing me through and I was just standing there.
Amber: Yes the line it’s like very organic in China.
Victor: Right.
Amber: It flows, it ebbs, things come in. You got to push your way up.
Victor: Sometimes it is just all about whatever you can do just you know, do whatever you have to do to get there.
Amber: But I think the sweet of it is there is a sweet side of course to this sour and that is, if you are in a rush and you really need to get out of a line, no one will stop you.
Victor: It strengthens your survival skills.
Amber: You can actually butt. Just don’t make eye contact and quickly make the thing and run. Hey when in Rome, man! Okay.
Victor: So definitely a lot of little quirks here and there in China that you have to get used to.
Amber: Okay so those are some sweet and sours of the rules or pseudo rules in China and now just there is a last little sum up. I am going to tell everyone at home some life freedoms that you get in China that you do not have at home.
Victor: Take it away Amber.
Amber: Now that I lived on both sides of the fence, it’s all become very clear to me. Okay here is the sweet things about being a foreigner living in China. Sweet, you can walk around with the beer in your hand, did you know that you get a ticket for that in New York. I was shocked when I came home one day and someone told me that, they are like, don’t bring that outside. What the heck!
Victor: So you have to be ride in train in the west.
Amber: I did.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Okay and now, not that I do this but here is another thing about living in China is that, you can buy weed from the Xinjian Barbeque man, everywhere.
Victor: Is this even legal now?
Amber: I don’t know if it’s legal or not but I am just telling you, it’s everywhere on the street in China.
Victor: Oh wow!
Amber: Okay, litter, you can throw your litter on the street, not that I want to however when you ask someone in China where is the garbage can, they point to the street.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: But the reason is, this is a sweet part, is there are people who are employed to come and sweep up the litter all the time. So it’s job creation. That’s what so many Chinese friends told me, that I could basically litter.
Victor: I think there is a general push though. Sometimes you see a lot of like public service announcements asking people not to do that. So I mean generally speaking, it has been a phenomenon that I have to say…
Amber: Oh it’s changing.
Victor: From my perspective right like people there is a big push to educate people to not do that, yeah.
Amber: Oh okay.
Victor: But it’s true. A lot of people still do that and that’s why there has been a push for people too and sometimes, you can get fined in big cities. In Beijing, they always see these you know like retired men and women wearing these red arm bands…
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And they go around to regulate you know.
Amber: Yeah, yeah I think they’ve yelled at me or something.
Victor: No they are pretty cute. You know they do good work.
Amber: They do. I think they are volunteers. Okay here is another thing. You can make a lot of noise any time you want because the whole place is so noisy, no one is ever going to get mad at you.
Victor: Right. That is part of like energy flow in China on the streets and stuff and people honk all the time.
Amber: Yeah honking and like fire crackers going up when store is open. You don’t have to be like worried about being really quiet.
Victor: I guess you know sweet and sour, that has both sides of effects.
Amber: Yes that’s true and one more thing is that, you can push your way on to the bus or the subway and no one will get mad at you.
Victor: Just….
Amber: If you really need to get on or you really need to get off, you can totally push and no one will ever get mad.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Not that you really want to but sometimes you need to.
Victor: Not that it’s a good thing but sometimes it happens unfortunately.
Amber: Yeah, yeah.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So those are the sweets and the sours of the rules in China.
Victor: So if you have more experiences, let us know.
Amber: We are sure everyone has their own sweet and sours of the rules.
Victor: Right.
Amber: You can come to the website at chineseclass101.com and share your experiences with us. So that’s it for the Chinese buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure to come visit us at chineseclass101.com and lots of lessons there that can give you lot of insights about China and also teach you how to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).