Thursday, April 07, 2005


I too hate that Mart guy.
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
If you can see the picture to the right, you'll understand that even though the Chinese have mastered the abacus and the foot massage, they are still a long way from mastering customer service.

This past Tuesday was a gorgeous 65 degrees F in Harbin, or as the rest of the world would say: a gorgeous 22 degrees C. I really need to learn Celsius. Dumb US for keeping to the F system. It doesnt make any sense and I cant spell it either.

Putting on my shorts and a short-sleeved polo (collar down), I headed out to check the new arrivals at my local DVD stores, hopefully find some sunglasses, and generally explore some more of Harbin.

It wasn't long after I left my apartment that I started getting a few stares. More than usual. I mean, there are only 400 or so Westerners in this city of 10 million, so you get stares every now and then. Maybe 1 out of 10 people. But on this day the ration seemed to sky rocket to 9 out of 10.

Soon enough some of the stares became points, laughs, and even inquiries that I couldn't fully understand. Eventually I pieced the whole big joke that was me together:

1. People in China not only dress according to the weather, but as to the season. That means that if it is Winter but the temperature were to go up to 70 degrees, they'd still wear their long johns and parkas. Shorts are not acceptable prior to June. For that matter, long underwear is worn through the end of May.

2. People in China are, for the most part, hairless. Now, I know I am closer to "hairy" than I am to "hairless" (I'm not talking about the head here), but I would not consider my forearms or legs to be anything grotesque or extraordinary. Well, here, they are a public interest. I've had waiters and shopkeeps stroke my arm and twirl the hair there, and one old man who at first thought I was crazy for wearing shorts corrected himself when he took a look at my legs. One of my students, a 5 year old, likes to call me "Monkey Teacher."

3. Large feet are the apex of Chinese humor. I wear a size 11 1/2 or 12, and a rather wide one at that. In China that makes me about a size 46 or 47. Most stores don't carry shoes larger than 44, and when I've wanted to go bowling, I've had to call ahead to ensure they'll have my size. But when the Chinese get a good look at my feet, they all burst out in uncontrollable laughter. I spent 10 minutes in each of my college classes this week just talking about my feet and shoe sizes.

Hooray for China!


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