At risk of pulling an Emily Ford, I’ll begin with a disclaimer (as with many of my posts):
I do not claim to “live like a local,” whatever that means.
That itself covers a wide range of people who have been living in Guangzhou much longer than I have. The intention behind this and many of my posts in this series is to attempt to extract the extraordinary out of otherwise ordinary interactions I have with locals. I think one of the secrets to living happily is the ability to find something interesting in everyday moments. I admit I sometimes wonder if such a way of thinking borders on delusion—but that’s a different story.
I’ve decided from this edition on that instead of trying to remember everything I wanted to record in one post, I’ll include at least one “throwback” moment, meaning it may not have happened within the past week or so but ended up being a memory I suddenly recalled. #life
1 — Taxi Tales
On the occasions I don’t take the bus or ride the metro, I call up a Didi or Uber—usually the former. These past months, I’ve collected quite a few pleasant chats with taxi drivers.
I think the best one so far was spending nearly an hour and a half with a driver who is also involved in the city’s nightlife businesses. I was on my way to a chamber concert way out at the British School in the Baiyun District. By the time I got out, not only had we exchanged WeChat contacts, but he also gave me his business card, inviting me to call him up personally whenever I needed to go somewhere or if I ever wanted to go to his bar.
More importantly, thanks to the ride-hailing system in China that I still can’t complete understand, the ridiculously long journey cost 35.8 yuan, or about $6 USD. I want to say that ride-hailing prices here are fixed, but then just earlier this week, a ride I thought would only cost around 15 yuan ended up being 40 yuan (and that’s WITH a 15-yuan coupon) thanks to heavy rush-hour traffic. It hurt—until I inevitably found comfort in converting that to under $7. And yeah, coupons are a common thing with Didi. Uber in China has given me discounts, but I haven’t used it in so long that I really can’t make any accurate statements.
2 — “Boneless for a Decade”
Apparently, eating meat with bones is something expats may not accept, which is somewhat puzzling, considering one would assume that moving to a country where the practice of spitting out bones onto the dinner table after chewing in your mouth is completely normal.
While I escaped to Paris for a week last month, the one other foreign expert who works with me in English news covered for me. Upon returning, I learned that he had eaten the same thing every single day—猪扒饭, or pork over rice.
Then last week we got a new intern who has taken charge of ordering our lunches. I guess she made a mistake.
One afternoon, my American colleague messaged us in our WeChat group, in Chinese: “Next time you order lunch, I want to eat pork over rice,” followed by, in English: “These bones are so hard to chew around,” followed by a picture of his apparently unfortunate meal with, gasp, bones!
OK, as an Americanized Chinese, I admit I personally have never been a fan of meat with bones, or frankly any food that requires much effort to eat, which includes crabs (#sorrynotsorry Maryland roots). But even I would never complain to every colleague in a WeChat group, shaming the new intern about her mistake. I mean, come on. Poor intern.
I’ve noticed that since then, she has asked me what I’ve wanted to eat before ordering, even though I never have any real preferences, except that I never order fish. Because delivery fish is always going to be some hard, crunchy, preserved fish full of bones.
Then the former colleague, whom I succeeded and who had worked in my position for about seven years, responded (didn’t know he was in the group considering he left): “Haha. That’s why I ordered boneless for a decade…”
[insert WeChat sweat emoji here—aka the best emoji]
3 — Time to Buy a Mask
I never thought the day would come when I would need to buy a mask. But last week was day after day of terrible pollution that I never thought would directly affect me, until I kept coughing and overall feeling bad.
Those days scared me.
Maybe if it weren’t for the fact that my job requires that my voice stay strong, I wouldn’t have cared as much. Besides, I lived in Shanghai for more than four months without ever feeling affected. But with such a smoggy week, I ended up downloading two apps to track PM2.5 and after some research bought a Vog mask on Amazon. (My make-up artist didn’t recommend that I buy the one she just received from Taobao. “Too small” and only acts as a cover over the legit 3M masks.)
So imagine the unbelievable relief to see that the air was better this morning than in San Francisco. You better believe I whipped open my balcony door, feeling happier than ever for my health’s sake and wanting so badly for these days to last.
And as for actually wearing said mask, well, we’ll see when it arrives.
4 — Directions
To be brief, I’ve been asked for directions by locals on more than one occasion this week alone, with me actually being able to respond with what I hope were helpful directions.