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The 5 Most Dangerous Habits I Picked Up Living in China

by Sam Bleakly Mar 12, 2015

1. Really not caring about food safety at all — ever

When in Rome, do as the romans. When in China, eat the 番茄炒蛋 (fan qie chao dan) with cigarette ashes and saliva in it. I ate everything, from anywhere, and had absolutely no concern about food safety.

My first experience in China was living at a college campus about an hour outside of Shanghai, the campus noodle shop would reuse the broth every night for the 麻辣烫 (ma la tang), leaving it uncovered for about eight hours (spicy numbing soup that is offered a la carte.) I guess they just felt that the next time they re-heated it, the boiling would take care of anything that had managed to crawl into it over night. ‘Secret ingredients,’ I guess.

2. Running into traffic

China has over 1.3 billion people and not enough traffic cops. This results in some very loose traffic practices.
If you’ve never walked out into the middle of a road to stop traffic with only your bare hands. I suggest you try it once in your life. There’s no sensation greater. In China, the only traffic law I paid attention to was the law of force x acceleration. I would jaywalk, hold up traffic, and flag cabs during greenlights, and just generally NGAF.

3. Allowing strangers to pick me up in their cars

In Shanghai, the economic underclass often makes a quick buck by providing transportation to those in need. If the subway has closed for the night and you live about an hour from city center, your only choice is to find someone who was actively soliciting you to hop in their unmarked car and have them take you with them for an unagreed price. These black cabs/ and sometimes scooters / tricycles are everywhere. Often the scooter is actually a converted motorcycle with a wooden box-seat screwed onto the back of it. I got with the program and was soon unfazed about taking rides on the backs of off-brand motorcycles with guys who smelled pretty strongly of 白酒 — bai jiu — the chinese equivalent of grain alcohol.

4. Not giving a F&%k about cops

In China, almost all police officers do not have guns. Public security officers are treated with the same respect you would treat someone in a Burger King uniform should they decide to wander up to you and present you with a $100 ticket. I have seen Shanghainese people verbally abuse cops and also physically abuse them, pushing them down and pointing a finger in their face. And while driving, a police siren does literally nothing to change traffic patterns aside from get people to cut the cop off out of spite. This rubbed off on me. Not in the sense of being aggressively abusive towards police officers, but more so in the sense about not caring if they’re around. I would regularly violate standards of common civil decency by adding to trash piles, spitting on the sidewalk, ignoring ticket barriers, etc.

5. Blowing shit up

The Chinese love fireworks. So do Americans. We can find common ground here. During Spring Festival — commonly referred to as Chinese New Year — it is completely acceptable for very young children to get very powerful explosives and set them off…for about 72 hours straight…with little to no supervision.

Come to think of it, the Chinese also do this during funerals, weddings, and grand openings for nail salons. Basically, any excuse they can find, the Chinese want to blow some shit up. This was my favorite part about China. Because it was culturally universal, no one could ever get too mad at you for making an explosion. It would be like Americans getting mad at you for eating too much turkey on Thanksgiving — they just couldn’t bring themselves to face the hypocrisy. They’ve blown up too much shit in their lives to act like they care.

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