Everyday is a New Experience
28.09.2012 20 °C
There are so many things in China that might seem completely backwards to the Western perspective. Upon my arrival I felt certain that culture shock would not affect me. After all, Ive already visited 15 other countries. Im a traveling vet! Right? Well this delusional confidence soon faded into the fog of Beijing. What I was about to experience would be a series of frustrating, eye-opening, and critical learning experiences.
The things I take for granted most proved to be the times when I nearly lost my mind. Being able to go to a shopping mall and get some food is one of the most primitive exchanges of the human species. I give you something (in this case money), you give me something in return (I wanted food). So I walked around this brand new mall that opened near me called "Indigio." There is a McDonalds in there and many major designers. It all seemed so familiar. I felt right at home. However, after finally deciding I wanted some spicy Szechuan food from the carousel of Food Republic, I simply pointed to my dish (which they neatly had on display) and went to pay. The only issue was when I went to hand her the money she point back at me to leave. I said to myself, "Huh? Why is this woman pointing to the exit? Just give me my damn food and take my money. This doesn't have to be complicated lady." She was telling me to leave! Did I offend her? Is this some lingering communism/ democracy shit? She must have some residual animosity towards westerners. I didn't do anything wrong. Is she messing with me? Am I on one of those crazy Chinese hidden Camera shows? Whats next a giant panda is going to appear from under the counter? That would be a great way to start off my trip. What the heck did this mean? And why was she ordering me to leave? She was turning down my cash. I was ready to take my food in run. But I just arrived! I would surely lose the over/under on how many days my friends bet it would take until I got kicked out.
So, I walked to the exit and left my food waiting for someone else. I felt defeated and my hunger only made things worse. What I needed more than anything was a drink at this point. After reflecting on what the heck just happened, I waited in the hall outside the food entrance. That's when it struck me. People were buying food cards before they even entered! Ahhh Ive seen this before! Ive done this before. Why on earth didn't I understand it? Well its because I don't speak Chinese. There was no English sign that said, "Pay First." I watched as people approached the counter bought a food card and then, like an assembly line, swiped their cards and ate their food. This was soooo simple. I should have thought of it, but I let my emotions get the best of me. I would have had no idea what to do if I didn't calm down and look at things a little more carefully.
I put money on my card, bought my food, and enjoyed it more than I would have had I paid cash. After I finished, I went to throw out my tray. An older woman in an orange apron attacked me with a dishtowel and ordered that I put it down. "WTF! What now? Do I have to swipe my tray too?" Turns out, you don't really need to clean up after yourself here. When you go out to eat at a fast food place or any place that has garbage's and a tray rack, you don't need to clean it yourself. I noticed that other people left their trays on the table and I thought to myself, "how rude of them. I'm gonna be a good foreigner and throw my food away." Well apparently I was doing another ladies job and she didn't take too kindly to that. Or she was trying to teach me how things worked because everyone in the place witnessed my epic collapse when ordering earlier.
Thankfully I met a nice guy named Oliver (they choose the oddest English names) and he spoke perfect English. Oliver was a manager at a western style restaurant downstairs and was just on his lunch break. He told me that when I am ready to leave, if I return my card, they'll give me the deposit back. "There is a deposit for a card?" I thought. Then it made sense. Instead of printing 8 million of these plastic cards a month, just charge people for it so they return it. Now that's an efficient business model. Its a win-win situation. And to top it off, you don't need to worry about the food handlers having dirty money hands, something my mother always warned me about. So I got 10 CNY back (my food only cost 25 CNY). I guess that made me feel a little better.
Oliver was a nice guy. Most people here are very nice here. They are more than willing to help you, but lack the English skills to do so. or is it that I lack the Chinese skills. You just have to be patient. Many Chinese are curious what I'm doing here and sometimes stare at me. I stare right back at them and think to myself the same.
This method of purchasing food in food courts would prove to be very common in Beijing. It was not the last time I would use it. You'll use this card system with the subway passes too. New York, which has metro cards lying all over the place, could learn a thing or two from their Chinese counterpart across the globe.