When in China, wear Hello Kitty and eat snakes

They eat pork chops and rice and can't understand why I don't do the same; they often ask me what makes food halal!

Syed Zain Raza March 20, 2013
China reeks of bureaucracy and pork. Women are obsessed with Hello Kitty jackets and men with skinny jeans.

They stare at you if don’t look like them, they stare at you if you don’t dress like them, they even stare at you if you think it’s still cold enough to wear a jacket - it’s March but, hey, mornings are cold!

I am in a love-hate relationship with China, and by China I mean Mainland China, not Taiwan. Taiwan is, well, just Taiwan.

They say that “Chinese queue up even to pee” – it's true!

There are long lines awaiting your presence everywhere you go!

You would think that given the population of China, people would be rude and hurried, but mist people here are very friendly. The bank staff in particular can be very responsive, I mean, it only took the lady three attempts to get my name right!
“Yes, madam, it is Zain, not Zeng, Zheng or Zhang!” (pronounced 'Cheeng', 'Cheng', 'Chang' respectively.)

She found it amusing that Shah sounded like Xie Xie, and had a good laugh over it. (pronounced 'Shie Shie'.)

We have become good friends now and I often try to bribe her into giving me more dollars (mind you - foreigners can only exchange up to $500 per day) than permitted. Yes, there are those private exchange companies, but the rate at which they exchange is brutal, and by brutal I mean brutal.

She politely refuses and points to the CCTV camera hovering above her head and says,
“Camera watching, sorry sorry!”

As far as getting a haircut is c0ncerned, you have to be patient. The not-so-good salon that I usually go to has three huge posters: A shirtless Channing Tatum, a famished Justin Bieber and some Chinese celebrity with poppy red hair.

In order to get a haircut, you have to point at the poster of your choice. I mean it’s really not that hard, just that I can barely see any hair on Channing Tatum’s head, just lots of muscle and flesh in that poster; Justin has a gelled, spiked up, retro sort of a hairstyle, which doesn’t match my professional look, and so that leaves me with the Chinese celebrity. Of course, I have to specify that I only need the cut and not the colour.

You have to wait in line to get into a metro and I'd suggest you leave your manners behind while you are at it.

Photo: Reuters 

Pushing, punching, kicking, shouting, angry faces, sweaty bodies, flying bags, crying babies - by the end, your'e bruised, battered, exhausted, but you are on the train. Getting off the train is equally frustrating - people rushing in don’t give you a chance to get out, another round of getting beaten up and you are out!

It’s better to take a taxi, but roads are usually choked and it takes an endless number of hours to reach home (plus the taxi meter keeps piling up.)

The Chinese love food. It is almost like eating is the national game of China. They literally eat everything - from a dog, to a cat, to a mouse and even a snake. I find it kind of gross!

Photo: Zain Raza

Eating lunch with my colleagues at work is quite interesting; they eat pork chops and rice cooked in pork broth while I devour my fish, squid, shrimp, and vegetables. Mind you, I have mastered the art of eating with chopsticks - even rice; it took a while but I am a pro now!

Photo: Zain Raza

They often ask why I don’t eat pork, but when I attempt to answer, they don’t really comprehend. It is difficult trying to explain why I can’t eat pork, they don’t have the kind of exposure to Islam that Europeans or Americans do. Some are even curious to know what makes food halal. However, I enjoy eating out with them. Our conversations are lively, sentences exchanged are limited and laughter shared is loud.

Chinese humour can be offensive, amusing and strange, but with the passage of time, one gets comfortable with it.

If you ask me whether I'd want to raise a family in China, I’d say no.

China is too crowded, polluted and populated.

How do I feel about China and its people?

Chinese people are warm, friendly, a little too loud but happy. It has been a pleasure to be exposed to China in such a way.

Read more by Zain here.
Syed Zain Raza A financial analyst by profession, who is passionate about his coffee and loves traveling and reading, Zain is a self proclaimed globe trotter who is posted by his company in China these days.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.