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VICTOR WISHNA » Blog Archive » Lesson #2: How to recognize that you are in China

Lesson #2: How to recognize that you are in China

Relying purely on first impressions, there are two ways to recognize immediately that you are in China:

1) China is full of Chinese people. Everyone in China is Chinese. In all seriousness, think about that for a moment: Everyone. For example, take Shanghai, where we first arrived, which is perhaps China’s most cosmopolitan, international city. Imagine New York City, double the number and density of people, and then, make them all Chinese-not just in Chinatown or in Flushing, but in the East Village and the Financial District and Harlem and Flatbush and Riverdale and Brownsville and the Upper West Side and Astoria and Staten Island. Every person you meet or interact with on a daily basis, from your Pakistani cab driver to everyone who works at the Greek diner to the Uzbeki guys at the barbershop (well, at my barbershop) to those Indian women at those eyebrow-threading places-everyone of them is Chinese. Yes, even the Korean grocer on your corner is Chinese.

Continue this exercise for Westchester and Long Island and all of New Jersey and even Connecticut, too.

Which raises another point: you will soon realize that one reason the city is so crowded is that thousands of the people you see are not from there. They are only visiting; they are tourists from all over the country, as far as way as, say, Kansas or Texas or Oregon or Arizona or Oklahoma or Alabama. And here’s the thing: They are all Chinese, too.

Now, to be fair, of course, not everyone in an international city like Shanghai is Chinese or for that matter Asian. A small number of them are white people, yet even these tend to be the kind of white people who come from Europe or Britain (which is, in some ways, part of Europe) or Australia or New Zealand-people who look like white Americans so long as you don’t look too closely at their clothing and accessories (especially their shoes and satchels), or listen closely enough to hear that they are not speaking English (it may be French or Spanish or whatever they speak in New Zealand), or pause to take note of the fact that the vast majority of them are not obese. There are also a few Canadians, who would be the hardest to distinguish from Americans were it not for the Third Geneva Convention,[1] which forbids any Canadian traveling abroad to appear in public without a maple leaf patch sewn to his backpack.

Also, I saw a black person.

2) Everything you see around you was built since 1990; if you are in Shanghai, any building you see was most likely built or renovated last week. This includes nearly all pagodas, temples, and other structures that appear as if they predate the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.), unless they are clearly marked with a sign declaring “National Tourist Attraction - AAAA.”

Everything else-which is most of what you will see-is currently under construction.


[1] Or it may have been the Diet of Worms.

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