Monday, December 13, 2010

You're Gonna Do What With Those Thngs???

Hey all,

Today we will continue with my on going, b-monthly (or so) series on the cultural differences between where I am now--Asia--and where I was born--the USA. I've got PLENTY of blog fodder I promise you so I'll probably be able to keep this up for as long as I'm here.

And in all honesty, sharing the pain (or pleasure) with you all is a big part of the fun.  It's like coming home and telling my kids, OMG, you are NOT going to believe what happened to me today!

So, sit back, grab a cuppa and enjoy what makes this country different from anything I've known before.

1. So, you all know Jonathon and I like to eat.  One of our greatest pleasures is trying new restaurants and tasting new and exotic foods.  (except baby pigeons--remember, NEVER going there)  And since we've been overseas so often, we're used to the slightly different ways you are served depending on the country you're in.  For example, when we were in the UK, we found the farther north we went, the smaller the glasses of coke got.  Is this a standard for that country?  Probably not, but it amused us none the less.  By the time we got to the far northern part of Scotland, we figured the waiter would be handing us a thimble filled with the drink.  LOL
And in Mexico, you learn very quickly NEVER to drink the water.  Montezuma's revenge and all that.  Bottled water or if you're lucky, at your hotel or casa, they will have a water purifier so you don't have to worry about nasty microbes that will give you the trots.

But I've learned too, the longer you stay in a place, the more acclimated your body becomes to the water.  Now I'm not talking about the really nasty bugs.  Haiti is an excellent example of water that is bad no matter how long you've been drinking it.  What I'm referring to is the natural stuff that is just there and as you are exposed, you just get used to it.

So, after several months of "acclimating", we don't worry so much about whether our ice cubes are made with tap water or even having that same tap water with our restaurant meals.  But what we do still scratch our heads over is when we are served warm water in a regular drinking glass.

That's right.  Instead of the nice glass of ice water we would get in the states, we are served warm, sometimes even hot water.  In the same drinking water glass.  At first we thought it was just really weak tea, but nope.  Water.  Then we wondered if they were going to bring us a tea bag or something to add to it.  Nope.  Just water.  We finally decided this restaurant was just weird, but then we found out a great many of them do it this way.  Whether it is a neighborhood cafe or the fancy-dancy restaurant at the top of the MGM casino, hot water with your meals is the way to go.

But why?  It took us almost four months before we came up with a reason.  Maybe those little microbes aren't as benign as we like to think and so they boil the heck out of the water to make it safe.  That would make sense, knowing how health conscious these people are.

Or maybe somewhere back in history some emperor or dignitary liked their water warm and so it became a trend.  Everyone jumped on the bandwagon and now no one can remember why they do it.  Sometimes the simplest explanation is the craziest one.

2.  So I was looking to replenish my supply of vitamin E pills at one of their local pharmacies.  But I discovered their pharmacies and ours are two very different things. If you go into a Walgreens or a CVS in the states you can get all kinds of things, plus whatever prescription you need, right?  Including vitamins and health needs.

Not so here.  While their pharmacies have some things, vitamins and suppliments are very difficult to find.  And when you do, they are outrageously expensive.  We actually have our kids ship them to us from Florida.  It's a quarter of the cost.  But that's all really beside the point.  When I asked for vitamins, (and believe me, that's a blog worthy experience all by itself) after the usual gesturing and language difficulty, I was sent to another place.  A Chinese pharmacy.  And those places are eye-opening.

In the window, they've got dead caterpillars on sticks.  (Why?)  Huge piles of fungi. (or is that fungus, I can never remember the proper term)  They've got deer antlers arranged neatly on a tray (poor Bambi) and some sort of fin shaped thing we never did find out what it was.  (obviously Willie never was freed here in Asia)

And once you get past those lovelies and are into the store proper, the vitamins you find are NOT Flintstones Multiples or One a Days.  Seriously, why would any one take tiger penis? For your manhood?  Is this the Chinese version of Viagra?  It didn't do anything for the poor tiger, now did it? 

I saw stuff I could only imagine in fantasy novels, including, and I kid you not, Extract of Kangaroo.  WTF?  How do they even bottle something like that?  What is in a kangaroo that I'd want in my body? The tail?  The hair?  How about their big feet?  Maybe it's like caffine and a natural way to make you bouncy?   LOL

3.  Since we moved to Macau, Jonathon and I have discovered we have a new skill.  I guess it's not a skill really, more like a super power.  One so special and amazing, I even wrote to Marvel Comics to see if they wanted to do a story about us.

We can turn invisible.

That's right.  When we are walking down the street, no one can see us.  It's fantastic, astounding and bloody annoying when they walk right over the top of you!

Seriously, they don't know we are there.  I mean, I'm taller than most Chinese and I dress pretty vividly in bright colors and clothes that can be a little flashy, and still, they'll mow me down without a second glance. 

At first we thought they were just being rude (and believe me, in all my travels, Chinese can be the rudest people I've ever met) but when we called them on it, the offender would apologize so sincerely we realized they weren't being rude this time.  They just didn't see us.

How can that be?  And why?  Is it because we're European?  White?   Foreigners?  They'll move out of each other's way, but when they are coming towards us it's like we aren't even on their radar.  We can literally stand still right in the middle of the sidewalk or hallway and they won't go around, they'll barrel right into us.  It's gotten so annoying we've taken on the attributes of a puffer fish.  When we see someone coming at us, both Jonathon and I swell up just to look intimidating.

But it's hard to intimidate when you're invisible.

And when they run into us, they are always so bloody surprised and shocked, I just wanna scream,  "I was standing right here!  Couldn't you see me?"  But since that would be losing my temper and losing face, which I talked about in my last blog, instead I just grin and do my puffer fish imitation and they flee my presence as fast as their little feet can carry them.  I may get run over on a regular basis, but I'm still mean enough to scare the hell out of them.

Just ask Jonathon.  *grin*

4.  Now this last one is something I've been wanting to share with you for a while now.  It's one of the hardest things I've had to get used to over here.  We ran into it in Singapore, flirted with it in China and here in Macau it is almost an everyday occurrence.

The Asian's are fanatics when it comes to keeping their public toilets clean.  In all my travels in this area I can only think of a couple places where the bathrooms where too icky to enter.  Most of the time, not only are they tidy, you can literally eat off the floor in them.

Most of this is due to the attendants.  That's right.  You heard me correctly.  A lot of bathrooms, especially in the bigger places, like hotels and casinos have people who do nothing but keep the bathrooms clean.  And while I appreciate that, how they do it is a little offsetting.

So here's how it goes.  You go in to use the toilet and instead of privacy, you'll find this Asian waiting for you.  In the ladies side, (Jon says it's much the same over in the men's bathroom, except they can watch you), you smile politely and scoot in to the stall to do your business.  And you hope desperately that someone else will come in so you don't have to be alone with the attendant when you finish.

Why?  Well, first of all, even though everyone KNOWS you do it, going to the bathroom is still a private thing, so knowing that someone is out there listening to you pee is intimidating, no matter how free and easy you may be.  I often wonder how the guys do it.  Pee into one of those urinals with the dude just standing there staring.  But the main reason I hate doing it is the guilt.  I swear these attendants all must be mothers because they have the whole guilt look thing down to a fine art.

Still don't understand?  Okay.  Let me explain.  I go in to go pee and I have to do my thing knowing this lady is out there listening.  That's bad enough.  But when you're done, you barely open the door to the stall and she's there.  Her black eyes gleaming with irritation and in her hand are these tong things and she snaps them at you, just like a bloody crab.

Oh, she's not after you.  The pinchers are for whatever mess you might have left behind in the stall.  A stray bit of toilet paper.  A gum wrapper.  Or heaven forbid, you dropped something more damaging onto the floor.  But she doesn't even wait until you quit the bathroom to clean up.  Seriously, I barely get out of the cubicle and she's pushing her way in to clean up.  Obviously, no germ is allowed to flourish and grow in her domain!

Which is all good and right except for the fact that the whole time she's in there cleaning, she muttering and snapping those pincers and by the time you shuffle out of the bathroom, you swear you'll never go potty again, you feel so damn guilty.  It's probably the reason so many people have bladder problems.  They're just afraid to go.

So there you have it.  The latest installment of cultural difference between the old and the new.  Please give me your thoughts and comments.  I love hearing what you all think of what I share.

Hugs and I'll see you on Wednesday,

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams


Unknown said...

I have to agree, the bathroom lady would be the most off-putting of the bunch. Wow!

I've heard about the drug stores in Asia before and I think having things sent to you is a great plan.

Thanks for the fun looks at other places!

CJ England said...

Hey Ray,

For some reason your comment posted on the wrong day, so I moved it here.


Ray said...

The warm water reminds me of the way coffee is served in many Spanish cafes and even the clubs on US naval bases. The coffee comes steaming hot in a water tumbler with a paper napkin wrapped around it so you won't burn your hand.

When I was at a Marine Corps base in Okinawa the stalls in the barracks had no doors. Once while in a stall one of the female construction workers sat down in the next stall. I thought that was just Okinawa.

In Japan, at least in the 1960s, restrooms were unisex. I thought nothing of it as most were single occupant units.

In Kamakura (the city with the 300 foot statue of Buddha) I was standing in the restroom of a large nightclub at the urinal. A young woman walked past me to the sink saying sumimasan (pardon me) in order to comb her hair looking in the mirror aimed directly where I was standing. Privacy is mostly in the mind. It doesn't require walls to stay out of another's space.

Trying to figure out the warm water thing reminds me of Andalusia, Spain where the city of Jerez is pronounced Hereth. The z,s,c, g, in certain instances have a th sound. This goes back to a Spanish king who spoke with a lisp. The courtiers not wanting to embarrass him started talking the way he did. Pretty soon it spread over the whole region.

I watched a football game from Valencia. One announcer pronounced the city as spelled. The other called it Valenthia.

I have seen your restroom attendants in Europe, but they don't seem to get close to you except when it is time to tip them.


December 14, 2010 1:22 AM

Tim Weems said...

Is it true about the water in Mexico?
Do most of the hotels have a water purifier?

Phylis said...

When I went to Germany they served coke warm. That blew me away. And the advertising was much...more open. lol Getting run over and having tongs come at me would tend to send me fleeing the other way. lol Thanks for sharing these differences. Makes me appreciate living here a lot!

CJ England said...

Hey Tim,

As far as I know it still is. The last time we were in Mexico was about five years ago I think. We did NOT drink the water because we were warned not to. Hotels and ships have bottled water in the rooms and better restaurants even make their ice cubes out of treated water.

Better safe than sorry, I always say. LOL

CJ England said...


In England, they served coke with ice. One ice cube. LOL We were never sure if it was the norm or the restaurant was just cheap.

And it was in March, so maybe they add cubes the warmer it gets? LOL

And pincher lady still scares me to death.