Counting Change in China

1999 > China

I made it across the Chinese border, right into culture shock

The Temple of Heaven
Pretty, eh?

More people than you can imagine
Yes, its China!

More kids than you can shake a stick at
You can’t imagine the crowds

Yes, I’m in China now, and in complete culture shock!

I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe something like an oriental
version of Russia, but I like the experience so far. First, the border
crossing was one of the most civil and efficient processes I’ve ever had.

Reminding me of EU customs, the border guards handed us coherent
English forms which we were able to figure out without the aid of a UN
delegation, and stamped our passports without the usual ‘Why are you
traveling?’ questions the Russian border guards like to ask.
Actually, it was so pleasant, I refused to believe that was the whole
process until the train started rolling on towards Beijing.

Now that I am in Beijing, I still can’t believe that I am here. Like
the first time I went to Red Square in Moscow, when I laid down on the
granite stones and cried, I keep pinching myself to make sure I am not
dreaming of walking freely in the capital of yet another Communist state.

Looking around, it is hard to imagine China being Communist. Unlike
Russia, where the words business, mafia, and government are
interchangeable, Beijing looks like a modern Asian capital, complete with
an unimaginably large fleet of red taxis, all using digital meters.

These taxis shock me in that the drivers actually use the meters, the
meters work, and you can even get a receipt for the trip. Unfortunately,
like taxi drivers the world over, they are keen to take scenic routes and
I spent five minutes last night explaining that I should get 65, not 55
RMB back when paying a 35 RMB fare with a 100 note. (Chinese currency is

Oh, don’t get your hopes up that I was able to explain the math in
English (or even Russian). I was using the international traveler’s
favorite tools, pen and paper, to get the message across. Like Russia, the
locals expect you to know their tongue, cuz with one billion Chinese, by
volume alone it is considered a major language. A language that I’ve
already started to pick up.

My first day here, I quickly learned the word ‘mayo,’ which
loosely translates into English as ‘your screwed.’ Just like
Russia, there is a great Soviet mindset in a few of the less enthusiastic
locals that I, as the customer, should be eternally grateful that she, the
random gatekeeper of whatever required service, even unlocked the door in
the morning.

I’m sure that as I spend more time here, and I hope to settle down for
a bit in this very exotic land, I’ll pick up more useful words, though not
at the same rate I learned Russian. I didn’t arrive with a year of study
or the great acclimation program run by the Peace Corps, so its gonna be a

And you, my kind audience, are welcome to join me for the fun!