The Day I Almost Became the First Wife

To the Chinese, they say, there are only two countries in the world: China, and America. This bothers the Norwegians to no end, but we have little pity for them.

This hypothesis was borne out the other day when Jared was getting a shoe fixed in a small shop near our apartment. While he was in there, watching the shop owner carefully stitch up his shoe with strong thread, another Chinese man came in and began talking.

“You so strong! You so handsome! You must be an American,” he said.

Jared replied, “Thank you! I am an American.”

“You’re so good-looking,” he intoned again.

“Uh, thanks.” Jared said. “You are a teacher (he asked in Chinese)?”

“Yes,” he replied in English, “I am professor.” But his English wasn’t quite good enough to specify what it was he professed. So he returned to his favorite subject–the attractiveness of my husband.

“You are so good-looking, you can take care of two wifes,” he matter-of-factly stated.

Jared was a little shocked, but managed to croak out, “Uh, thank you, but I’m happy with the one I have.”

“No,” the man insisted, “you can take care of a second lover, one with nice legs, because you’re so handsome.” (No, this was not a comment on the state of my legs–I wasn’t there, and as far as I know the man had no idea if Jared was even married or had a wife!)

Jared was nonplussed by that, and could think of nothing more to say than, “Um, have a nice day!” as he ran away with his newly-fixed shoes. Chinese may admire America more now, but apparently traditional China isn’t dead yet!

All of this seemed particularly reminiscent to us as we’re reading Pearl Buck’s famous book The Good Earth, which tells the story of a Chinese farmer, Wang Lung, in traditional China. He begins poor. But then he gets a wife who up till then had been a slave in a Great House, and who now works beside him in the fields, bears him lots of sons, and makes him rich through her diligence (and talents at acquiring jewels). He then does what every self-respecting wealthy traditional Chinese man would do, and buys himself a second wife, appropriately named Lotus, for she was the human form of the flower: dainty, sweet smelling, useless in the fields, but my, what a sight to behold. Anyway, in the story, once he gets his Lotus, as you can imagine, the First Wife (O-lan) wasn’t very pleased, and his household became a very unhappy place. Wang Lung then forgets about his First Wife and enjoys his flower. Only when O-lan begins to die does he notice her again, but by then it is too late.

So I’m thankful Jared had the moral fortitude to run away from his hypothetical second wife with beautiful legs. He told me he didn’t need another flower–he already had his Rose.


Stuff and Things. And Crazy Looking Bikes.

So my poor little blog here is feeling neglected. It just hasn’t had so much attention lately, I guess.

Or maybe it’s not the blog that’s feeling neglected, but me. Whatever it is, I just haven’t had anything to write. Writing’s supposed to be therapeutic, they say, calculated to let you pour out all your feelings and thoughts and expressions into one cathartic experience. But lately, I’ve just been complaining. And who wants to read that? (Plus, is it really that cathartic to complain? Generally it just leads to more.)

Maybe it’s because Beijing around the Chinese New Year is so empty it makes you wonder if the Rapture really did happen and carry everyone off, leaving you behind. I haven’t noticed any piles of neatly folded clothes laying around, though, so maybe we’ll discount that explanation. Beijing really is turning into a ghost town, though. Bike parking is opening up, restaurants and grocery stores are shutting down for the next week (meaning that we need to stock up on food before it’s too late and we go on an unintentional week-long fast), and the city is actually almost quiet. Sadly, it hasn’t led to much of a decrease in pollution levels.

One thing that hasn’t completely disappeared, though, is the smart car/e-bike cross. I’ve been seeing more and more of them around lately, and they’re simply hilarious looking.

Exhibit A:

Alien transport pod, possibly?

This groovy little yellow pod meets all standard fashion requirements. With three scales covering its exterior and a warm and cozy interior, you will be set to tootle around Beijing in the latest style. Order yours today!

Exhibit B:

Almost MORE classy, isn’t it?

In case snazzy yellow-ness isn’t your thing, you can go for this army-green model that looks as though it’s seen one road trip too many. But a large windshield/dashboard combination along with some stylish yellow nursery-floor padding will be sure to keep your eyes protected and your legs warm. Our most afforable option! (I’m guessing.)

Exhibit C:

Just lovely, innit?

Very similar in style to Exhibit B, this vehicle offers just a squinch more versatility. With a fully-enclosed driver compartment, you never have to worry about your legs getting too cold. Plus, large glass windows enclose the back, making it easier to see when you’re about to get run over by a bus the panoramic views the city affords.

Exhibit D:

Now THAT’S more like it!
I thought I had a better picture of this, but no such luck.

This last option comes in a couple different colors, and is by far the most upscale of all our options. With up-to-date options like front and rear doors, along with actual working lights and no duct-tape to be seen, this is an option that the most glaringly correct could feel proud to drive. Plus, it’s easy to park!

If you’re interested in investing in any one of these lovely vehicles, come to China. They’ll all be ripe for the picking. And if you ask me nicely, I may just tell you about the time we rode in one of these lovely little bicycle vehicles and nearly fell out the floor.

Whaddaya think? Did I miss my future in writing advertising copy?

Only in China: Chinglish Edition

This is the one you’ve all been waiting for, right? Right?

Well, even if you haven’t, I’m always ready to oblige, so here it is anyway!

Number One:

You walk by grass every day, right? Well, have you ever stopped to think about it this way?

Come on, people–we know you value life!

What I really love about this sign is just how well-cared-for this grass is. I mean, it’s green, and tall, and flourishing, right? (Oh, wait, it’s winter.)

Number two:

Possibly you’ve never thought about the grass being the “life under your feet,” but this sign is here to tell you that you really should. In its own words:


Doesn’t that just cut you to the heart? To think of all the times you’ve walked past that green grass and never cherished it! Well, you can begin today, because this sign knows what it’s talking about.

Number three:

We move away from grass here into the mundane area of food:

I’m not sure what the elephants have to do with anything.

In case you were longing for some pizza to cherish, you could go to this pizza cafe. And while there, you could eat some Leisurefood (because of course it needs to be capitalized). And then you could enjoy some little yellow elephants. All at Crazy Pizza!

Number four:

Umm–yum, I think?

Lest you be turned aside by the picture into thinking this is something you might actually consider eating, the words are there to get you right back on track. It’s like an instant diet plan–Eggs burst Mango juice, anyone? No? Well, then, you can Taro and enjoy the party.

Number Five:

This one might be sorta cheating because it’s a continuation of the same sign above–but all the names were so awful!

Well, these do look SLIGHTLY more edible, I guess. . .

If you’d rather not Taro and enjoy the party, you can Pineapple instead. Isn’t that sweet of them? And I suppose Hami melon strawberry pie is an entirely unobjectionable flavor, so there’s that.

Number six:

Still more partying, people!

Why is the cantaloupe one green, exactly?

Except this one was nice enough to provide us with Cantaloupe music! I bet that makes great dance music (and if you’re Baptist, you don’t have to dance. Just party.). And Strawberry is off by its lonesome enjoying that party. We’ve got ourselves some great sort of fruit party here.

Number seven:


Oops, wrong sign. No English at all! Let’s try again.

Oh, I’m VERY happy to send!

If you’d rather not be partying with the Taro-Pineapple-Cantaloupe Music-Strawberry crowd, you can come over here and get your Freshshake Healidrink. I’m not sure if it will turn you on your heels or shake you up or what, but at least they’re happy to send, which counts for something, right?

In the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny (who never came to China, I don’t think)–“That’s all, folks!”

If you missed out on editions one and two, head on over!

You can head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum if you want more non-Chinglish posts.

Only in China, vol. 2

I know you all have been EAGERLY awaiting the next volume of this series, so I had to wait to collect some GOOD evidence.

First stop today: crazy little vehicles made on bicycles. This item (below) is a typical case in point. Note the large windshield and cozy interior to keep that driver nice and toasty as he drives around China.

Pretty nifty, ain’t it? Almost makes you wish you had one for your very own, I betcha.

Here, on the rear view, you can see what a model of economy and thrift it really is. Much smaller than a car, with fewer of those nasty emissions, and yet this vehicle still has storage space galore in the back. And the shiny aluminum exterior is the first thing nowadays in bicycle vehicles. Come to China today to get one for your very own!

You would just look so snazzy driving around in this!

Number two: bicycle parking lots.

Here in China, bicycles are everywhere. There’s maybe a million times more bicycles than in the US. So of course you have to have a place to park them. And one tiny rack isn’t going to cut it.


So obviously, the solution is to have a giant lot devoted to bikes. Some of them even have signs that say “Harmony creates order” (which I don’t have a picture of) to ensure that you line your bike up neatly.

From the other end.

This isn’t even one of the biggest parking lots around. Jared says that at his school they’re nearly three times bigger. One of these days I’ll have to go over there and get some more pictures.

One more (much smaller) parking lot.

Number 3: Burlap trees.

When the cold weather comes out around here, what happens to the trees? They get stitched into their clothes, of course! The tall skinny trees are wrapped around, and large bushy ones get put behind green frames. I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to do for the trees–it doesn’t seem to keep out the cold, and it doesn’t get extremely windy here–so perhaps it’s just some Chinese tradition.

A forest of protected trees.

What it looks like on the inside.

It looks like a windbreak…but it’s only gotten windy here maybe once!

And here’s the outside:


Our trees, all ready for winter.

Stay tuned for volume 3, in which I will discuss Chinglish signs, crazy food, and Beijing traffic. Sounds like fun, no?