Cultural Notes from China

Three things I noticed in China that said something to me about the culture there:

Lovely plant in my hotel room.
Lovely plant in my hotel room.

Every room has a live plant in it somewhere. Once I noticed the plants, I started deliberately looking, and sure enough, there is usually a plant to be found. I’m particularly impressed that my hotel rooms had plants; it was a pleasant addition and I’m sure it adds work for the hotel staff.

Another plant in my hotel room
Plant in my hotel room

I’m not sure what philosophy drives the choice to put plants in the room. Perhaps it’s fung shui (which was mentioned when we toured a tea plantation). I asked an American expatriate living in China if she knew, and she said she has observed that everything in China has a rationale, but it is not necessarily consistent from person to person. In any case, having something living in the room seems common. There were even live plants throughout the terminal at PVG.

Boulevard with bike lanes, vehicle lanes, and lots of China pride.
Boulevard with bike lanes, vehicle lanes, and lots of China pride.

Traffic represents a blend of serene patience and desperate scrambling.  The street traffic in the cities is dense. In addition to multi-lane two lane roads, most streets also have a protected bike lane and a narrow sidewalk. Lots of people use mopeds or bicycles (I know you need an expensive special license plate to drive in Shanghai city, which causes some of the reliance on bikes).

Photo of a moped about to run me over on a sidewalk. I am bad at dodging and taking pics at the same time.
Photo of a moped about to run me over on a sidewalk. I am bad at dodging and taking pics at the same time.

Crossing the street feels like playing a game of Frogger. Not only is every lane packed with vehicles or pedestrians, but people don’t necessarily follow the rules. I was nearly hit by a moped on the sidewalk at one point, and bikers frequently head down the one-way bike lane going the wrong direction.  Cars seem to do a bit better at behaving predictably, but there are still a ton of them and traffic is often at a standstill.

Not only did the riders here rarely wear helmets, sometimes they opted out of other traditional biking garments.
Not only did the riders here rarely wear helmets, sometimes they opted out of other traditional biking garments.

What was interesting to me was that amid this chaos, there were almost no car horns. We Americans were joking that if we were behind the wheel, it would be all beeps and middle fingers. But the Chinese seem to deal very patiently with the messy traffic. Yet, the behavior of the people on the bikes, especially the speeding the wrong way down a crowded bike lane or on a sidewalk, speaks to a different type of impatience.

Many of the women wear gorgeous shoes. OK, this one is not particularly deep or meaningful, but I did notice women’s shoes a lot. Much of the fashion in China strikes my American eye as odd, but the shoes are enviable. I saw probably fifteen different pairs of shoes I’d like to have owned, of course in a much larger size to fit my huge feet.

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Me giving my presentation at the conference. Note what decorates the room . . . it’s plants.