Thursday, May 31, 2012

Americans: Fixing Problems That Don't Exist

I was just reading a blog post from a woman who has lived in China for many, many years.  She has a lot of great culture insights, and I wanted to share part of her post here:

Sometimes Americans overseas are like 3 year olds who drive everyone in the room bonkers by asking a never-ending series of "why" questions.  In most cases, what we are really asking is "why is it like this?"  And what that really means is "It's not like this at home, so it shouldn't be like this here." I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't be asking 'why' questions; on the contrary, I’m a firm believer in them.  They demonstrate a desire and willingness to learn.  But I think it's important to make a distinction between two different motivations for incessantly asking “why”.

One motivation is the desire for understanding. Why is the traffic so chaotic (at least by my standards)?  Asking the “why is it like this question” may reveal the fact that until fifteen years ago, private cars were banned in China, and there were almost no taxis.  That means that many of the drivers of those ubiquitous taxis and Mercedes Benz’s are rookie drivers,  none of whom grew up riding in cars.  So the traffic patterns of cars are merely extensions of the traffic patterns of bicycling, which are much more fluid and situational.  I still may be terrified when careening through traffic on the third ring road, but it sort of makes sense.

The other motivation for asking the “why is it like this?” question is a desire to fix whatever it is that is being questioned.  The question gives definition to a problem.  And once a problem is defined, then it can be fixed.  This chaos is fixable, thinks the American. Put in one-way streets.  Put in left-turn lanes.  Institute strict fines for breaking the rules. Put up stop signs. The list goes on and on and on.

Check out her blog for the rest of this post (and to find out why this chaos isn't actually a problem).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Trip to the Farm

A few days ago Kevin came home from class saying the school would be taking the foreign students on an all day trip. Our semester schedule listed a “Spring Semester Practicum,” but we didn't really know what that meant. The teacher wasn't able to provide many more details, except the general time frame (8:30-3pm) and that we were going to 农村-“the countryside.” We should bring lunch and dress Juliana for indoors and outdoors. We figured it could be interesting, and class was canceled, so we decided to go.

Yesterday morning we waited at the classroom building as the 150+ students slowly started to gather. Juliana was already in a strange tired/shy/clingy mood. After about 45 minutes, we finally got everyone loaded into the buses and drove about 45 minutes into the countryside, ending up at some kind of agricultural area associated with our university. 农村can mean countryside or farm, so perhaps that's what they were trying to tell us. We joked that maybe they would hand us all shovels and assign us some “education through labor.” That would have been kind of funny and only halfway surprising.
We were wondering why the girl in the middle was carrying around a large, packaged teddy-bear.  We discovered it was to present to the man giving the speech.  Seems like a strange gift for a middle-aged man...but it's China.
We all stood around and listened (or not listened) to some guy give a speech, and then we walked around some fields while a guide said things like, “These are beans.” He said other stuff too, but even if we could have heard him, our agriculture language is just not up to par. So we walked through some fields. Then we walked down a road to look at some other fields. I guess if you had never been to the countryside in China, or if you had never been to a farm in general, or if you were really fascinated with corn it might have been interesting. Maybe. We figure the only real reason for bringing us there were the pictures and video cameras trained on us – obviously they were using our foreign faces to make some school production look good.
Walking around the fields
The non-western foreign students are enthralled by Juliana
Workers stare at the foreigners traipsing past their fields.
A worker in the field, shielded from the sun.
Fortunately all Juliana really needs to play is some open space for running or some exercise equipment to climb on. Of course, we could have found that right outside our apartment.
Juliana off for a run
Trying out some exercise equipment.  You'll rarely see a playground in China, but this exercise equipment is everywhere - usually with kids playing around on it.
Juliana and her little friend Jo-Jo running around together
After lunch we piled back in the buses for another hour ride. Everyone was hoping they would just take us back, even though it was early, but no such luck. Instead we drove to some kind of newly opened/not quite finished horticulture expo. We went inside a giant greenhouse building where a fake river wound its way through gardens. We were herded into little round rafts and sent on our way. Unfortunately there were only enough paddles for one per raft. You can probably imagine about how effective one paddle is in steering a round raft (in a fake river with no current).
Rafting on the fake river
This part was pretty interesting since it wasn't too hot and we laughed with the other foreigners as we all tried various methods of coercing the rafts forward. It would have been more interesting if we weren't just ready to be home. Several rafts behind, the teachers got into a water fight. Not even the 13 year old graduate-student/teachers that teach our class but the real, middle-aged teachers. Get teachers out of the classroom and you just never know what they're going to do.
Water fight
After the rafting, we walked through another giant greenhouse building filled with salad. That's what it felt like anyway. They showed us different types of lettuce and tomatoes and gourds they were growing. Finally they let us pile back on the hot buses for the 40 minute ride back to campus. It was already almost 3pm, but let's be honest – who really expected us to get back on time?
Visiting lettuce
It was now a couple of hours past Juliana's naptime, and she was hot and tired and wound up. She and her little friend took turns crying and wailing until her friend finally succumbed to sleep. Juliana continued to alternate between crying and playing gymnastics on my lap, repeatedly pulling on and off her socks, and calling out, “Car! Car! Car! (x15). She finally slumped over about ten minutes before we got back but woke up as soon as we tried to get her out. Terribly tired and unable to figure out why she wasn't in her bed, she cried the whole walk back to our apartment and until I finally got her to calm down enough to finish her nap.

So, it could have been worse. Like last fall when they took the students to another town for an optional 3k which ended up being a mandatory 6k just to get back to the buses. Thank goodness we didn't go on that one. Apparently in the past the school has taken students on some good trips, but I think next time we'll be a little bit skeptical.
Juliana pokes a panda

Monday, May 21, 2012

Our China-fabulous Bathroom

I mentioned that last week our toilet stopped flushing, and when our landlord came by he said he would replace it right away. By “right away” he really meant 10 days later, but whatever – we were just surprised he was actually going to buy a new toilet! Last night a plumber showed up, extracted the old toilet in about 5 minutes, and hauled the new toilet upstairs. It was shiny-white and decorated with flower decals, including one inside the toilet bowl! Not only does it flush, it actually has water in it so the flush is effective! The seat isn't broken, there's no mold, and did I mention it is shiny-white?
Old, tired, worn out potty
New, flowery toilet. Doesn't it look so shiny?  Especially compared to all the other not-shiny around it...
In honor of our new toilet, I thought I would tell you a little about the rest of our China-fabulous bathroom. Actually, as China bathrooms go, it's really pretty good. Our friend once walked in and said, “Wow, this bathroom is so nice. It's so big!” I understood her admiration when I saw her bathroom - the size of your average toilet stall with barely enough room to stand behind the door to shower. The sink was around the corner next to the kitchen. Comparatively, our bathroom is definitely roomy. There is even space for the washing machine in the corner.
In springtime the workers are busy drowning the grass, so our water is often off for most of the day. We save dishwater and Juliana's bathwater for flushing. The washer comes in handy for storing these basins, because Juliana would love nothing more than to dump the water all over the floor. We also keep some clean water in a coke bottle under the sink for washing hands.
When I say drowning, I do mean drowning
Our bathroom also has character, compliments of the pipes running all around the walls. Another friend declared it the “pipe-iest bathroom” she'd seen in China. These pipes make very convenient towel racks and shelves for bath products, toilet paper, cleaning products, laundry supplies, toys, and anything else that winds up in the bathroom.
The washer and the storage pipe behind it.  Last fall I painted a sunset on the wall to cheer things up a bit.
There are no windows in the bathroom, which has its advantages. For example, my Yangzhou and Weinan apartments both had windows in the shower area. In Yangzhou, the window was so loose the shower curtain flapped in the cold breeze, even after I taped it and covered it with plastic wrap. I didn't shower much in the winter. In Weinan, our shower window looked directly into our neighbor's shower window about 10 feet away. Thank goodness for blinds (and people who actually use them).

The downside of no windows is that there is also no ventilation. Well, one pipe has some holes in it that are supposed to serve as ventilation. Unfortunately we had to cover it (with plastic wrap and a rubber band) because every day when our neighbor smoked in his bathroom, it smelled like he was smoking in ours. So no ventilation except the slats in the door where Juliana likes to kneel outside and peer in, visiting with whoever is in the bathroom, should they be so rude as to not let her in with them.

Like most Chinese bathrooms, we don't have an actual shower, just a hot water heater with a shower head in between the sink and the toilet. The floor is slightly tilted toward a drain in the middle, which also serves as a drain for the washer-hose. A shower and a self-cleaning bathroom all in one! The self-cleaning part is a little sketchy though, because the constant water on the floor plus no ventilation leads to mold and scummy-brown tiles.

Since our sink doesn't have hot water, Kevin used some random pieces of metal to contrapt a device to hook the shower head over the sink. He used other random pieces of metal and a coat hanger to hang Juliana's baby tub up on the wall and some other random pieces of metal to form another towel rack and formed some “real” shelves by balancing random pieces of wood on the pipes. Yep, if there's one word for our bathroom it's classy. That, or resourceful.
Towel racks and bathtub hanger
Our bathroom has some negative points, though. 1. Mold. 2. Roaches. I don't know which one I like less. Yes, I do – roaches. I don't care if they are “clean” bugs and the mold is more likely to kill us – they are gross. Apparently the roaches were busy multiplying during winter holiday because when we came back, they made their appearance in full force. Every time I went into the bathroom two or three roaches would run across the floor or the walls or the toothbrush. The toothbrush!! I never realized how many cracks there were in our bathroom walls until I saw the roaches running into and out of them. We stopped them up best we could with toilet paper. Kevin said the walls must be filled with roaches, a lovely image that has haunted me ever since. Fortunately, now that the weather is warmer, the roaches seem to be venturing back outside and leaving our bathroom more or less alone. Some days I don't even see any roaches!

Oh yes, and there is the horrible smell that comes up from all the drains. That's kind of unpleasant.

But now our bathroom has a shiny white toilet (with flower decals). Not only that, our kindly landlord gave us a new toilet brush – clear plastic filled with water and fake flowers. It really gives our bathroom just the finishing touch I was looking for.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Juliana Antedotes

Today we got to stop by and see Juliana's old ayi at her new workplace.  Juliana was not immediately excited to see her.  It took at least 15 seconds before she let ayi hold her and 45 seconds until she was giggling and squealing.  I guess she still remembers her dear old friend.  Ayi, her small nephew, and Juliana ran in and out of the small shop laughing and squealing.  In between runs, Juliana scarfed down two and a half little sweet-breads from ayi, seemingly forgetting we just finished dinner.  Ayi noted with satisfaction that Juliana had grown taller and fatter in the past two months.  We only stayed about 30 minutes, but by the time we left Juliana was crazy wound up.  I think the new ayi has a good temperment for Juliana.  It's good for her to visit her old ayi and have crazy fun together, but for day to day interaction, I think Juliana benefits from a more calming personality.

Several funny stories from lately...
*Yesterday when we talked to my family on Skype their phone ring.  They just let the answering machine get it, but Juliana gets very disturbed when someone doesn't answer a phone.  She kept pointing at the computer saying, "Phone?  Phone? Phone?!" until my mom picked up her cell phone and pretended to answer it.  Then the conversation shifted to "Phone!  Phone!  Phone!" for another few minutes.  It may have been the longest ever conversation about phones including only one word.

*This morning when I was using my computer Juliana sat on my desk spilling pens and pencils all over the place.  As she spread them around, she sang, "Messy house!  Messy house!" over and over again.  I would like to point out to her that she's the one making all the mess!

*On our way home from visiting ayi tonight, Juliana started saying, "Mama hao, mama hao" over and over.  This could either mean "mama good" or be a form of greeting, but I prefer the former.  I'd never heard her say that before, but she chanted it all the way home, in the bath, and as we got ready for bed.  A few minutes after I left her room, I still heard her singing, "Mama hao!  Mama hao!"

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Peek Inside

A week ago I mentioned we took a walk through a nearby hutong type area of homes.  While there, we saw a sign about a home for rent.  We are currently looking for apartments for some students coming in the fall, and while I didn't really think this would be the place they were looking for, I still thought it could be pretty interesting to see inside one of these old, courtyard-style homes.

Yesterday Kevin and I, plus our two tutors, went over to look at the house for rent.  It was about like I expected.  Okay, maybe a bit worse. We got some (rather dark) pictures, so if you are interested in what an older style Chinese house looks like...
Here is the front of the house, situated partway down a little alleyway, the house had two tiny garden enclosures in the front.  It looks old but quaint.
The front door opens to an open entryway with two empty rooms on either side.  The owner said one used to be his son's room.  Poor son - the rooms were unheated, and it gets cold here in the winter.  At the end of the entry hallway was the small courtyard, if it could be called such.  It was about the size of  a small hallway, but it did let in some sunlight.
The living room was furnished with this lovely couch and a small table.  The window to the courtyard let in a little light, but it was still pretty dark.
The bedroom boasted this board of a bed, not much different from your average China bed except a good deal older.  Note that it is still covered in plastic, however!  The bedroom did have a small window, but it didn't let in much light.  Fortunately the main part of the house had radiators.  Imagine how cold it would get otherwise, with all the concrete and brick and no sunlight!
The toilet was in this small, dark closet.  It was a rather primitive squatty, basically a hole in the ground, with a bucket for flushing.  You should probably be glad the picture is so dark, because it wasn't very pretty to look at.  There was no shower, which the owner didn't seem to think was a big deal.  Who needs a shower?  I'm sure there's a bathhouse around somewhere.

The kitchen was also very dark and very old.  It included a sink, a coal stove (on the right), and a small shelf.  No fridge, not that there was room for one.
Off to the side of the courtyard was a "summer kitchen," which also had a small sink and coal stove.  No doubt the inside kitchen gets very hot in the summer.

So, probably the new students aren't going to be interested in this apartment!  I wouldn't want to live there, but it was interesting to find out what it was like!  And I do still like the outdoor ambiance of these small alleyways.
p.s. In case you were wondering, 5 days later we still haven't heard from the landlord about that toilet replacement.  No matter-right now our apartment is feeling like the height of luxury!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

About Toilets and Such

Our pipe to the washer has been leaking for months. We generally turn off the water to the pipe when we aren't using the washer and put a bucket underneath when the washer is in use. Our TV picture has been streaked with lines for months, but just this past week it turned the colors turned red and green. So we switched the picture to black and white. But the other day our toilet stopped flushing. Kevin took off the top and fashioned a bent coat hanger for manual flushing, but we decided to it was probably time to call the landlord.

Today our landlord arrived. Naturally, after a week of being messed up, the TV colors were normal again. He said if it gives us problems again we can get the cable company to come and fix it. The only problem is we haven't signed up for cable. Not really a problem, he says, just sign up for a few months worth (probably about $10-15) then have them come fix it. If it still doesn't work, he'll buy a new TV, since this one is 7+ years old.

Though the bathroom floor was still covered with water from today's washing machine usage, the landlord said the leaking pipe wasn't really a problem. So he really surprised us by looking at the toilet, and not even suggesting calling a plumber, said, “No problem; I'll replace it!” What?? Buy a new toilet when you could fix the slightly broken (albeit pretty crappy) one? Inconceivable.

In China, something isn't considered broken until it can no longer be used in any capacity whatsoever. If your A/C still puts out slightly cool air or the pipe isn't leaking too much or the TV still has any kind of picture, it's not broken. Once it is considered broken, much to their credit, everything is fixed and fixed and fixed until it reaches the point of no return; only then is it replaced. You can get almost anything fixed in China, and usually for a very low price. So our landlord's response was quite shocking.

To be honest, my first thought was not excitement. I don't know what is involved in replacing a toilet, but it sounds pretty 麻烦 ma fan (troublesome/inconvenient). And nothing ever goes as smoothly as it should. I picture a lot of mess and noise and chaos, not to mention no toilet! But afterward, perhaps we will end up with a toilet that actually works, even works well, and that would be nice.

On an unrelated note, I should mention that today in class we learned that 好容易 hao rong yi (roughly “very easy”) means with great difficulty, ie. NOT easy. The only thing more confusing is that 好不容易 hao bu rong yi (“very not easy”) means the same thing!!  That revelation brought forth a small around of heads banging on desks.  

Here's to hoping this toilet replacement will not be 好容易 OR 好不容易!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


A few weeks ago I saw this saying on Pinterest (rolls eyes at self):

It keeps coming back to mind because it is something that bothers me about a lot of current parenting philosophies. Philosophies based keeping babies and children from “getting in the way” of your life as much as possible. I could go a little rant about that, but I won't at the moment.

But I am most often reminded of this saying when I am feeling so inconvenienced by Juliana. Despite my lofty ideals, it's easy to see her as an inconvenience. When she is having a really clingy day and I have so many things to get done. When she collapses into a fit on the floor because I won't let her draw in books with markers. When she pulls out every single one of her toys and scatters them all over the house. When she is dead-set on walking the opposite direction of wherever we need to go. When I just want to check my email without her crawling up and trying to push all the buttons. When is quietly playing by herself but the moment I sit down to study she suddenly feels a pressing need to sit in my lap, on top of my book.

I want her to learn boundaries and that she can't do everything she wants. I don't want to give in to her tantrums. I want to listen to her and acknowledge her feelings. I want to teach her to be helpful without expecting her to be a little adult. I want to give her the attention that she needs while gently reminding her the world doesn't completely revolve around her.

But at many of these inconvenient times, I'm not thinking about those goals – I'm just thinking about how much I could accomplish if a small person wasn't singlehandedly working to destroy my efforts. I want her to be one of those kids people talk about who spend an hour playing in their room. I wish I had taught her to not need me so much. I wish I ruled with an iron fist. Because it would really make things easier, right this moment.

Then I step back and remember, I am raising a human being. Juliana is a small person, but she has big (very big) feelings that she hasn't yet figured out what to do with. Sometimes when I take away her precious marker, she truly feels that the world has turned against her. How can I respond to show that her feelings matter (even if she's still not getting the marker)? She watches everything I do and wants to be like me. That's why she wants to play with my computer and why she sits in the kitchen making a big mess while I'm cooking. Before I know it she'll be a teenager and want to be anything I'm not – and I'll really wish she still wanted to be with me all the time! Sometimes she seems so clingy, but she's still so very young. She's hardly gotten finished with being a baby. I wish she would go play on her own more, but I can't just expect her to turn into an introvert (something she is definitely not!).

It's easy to feel like I'm not accomplishing much in parenting since “play ring-around-the-rosy 10 times” or “pick up 35 crayons off the floor” doesn't usually make my to-do list, but in the end it will be more important than those things on the list. Right now, I have the opportunity to show Juliana that her feelings are legitimate, that her needs matter, that she is valuable.

It may not seem like much, but Juliana is learning patience and perseverance by dropping clothespins through a small hole, over and over again. She is learning responsibility and helpfulness by handing clothes to mama to put on the line or picking up three books to put on the shelf. When she's outside, she's observing the world and learning how to interact with others and how to speak Chinese. She's learning to love music and making a mess with 'art' and 'science.' She's learning that sometimes when you're really mad you still don't get your way, but sometimes when you're having a really bad day it's okay to bend the rules a bit.

And I am learning that it's okay to let go of some of my expectations, that “accomplishment” isn't what makes us important, successful, or fulfilled. I am learning that if the house stays too clean it probably means we aren't having much fun. I am learning patience by picking up the same crayons and blocks every day and by letting Juliana “help mama” even when it takes twice as long. I am learning that sometimes even when it would be so much easier, you can't let your child get what they are screaming for. I am learning that sometimes when you're having a really bad day it's okay to put on a cartoon so everyone can take a break.

If parenthood and China have taught me anything, it's that the best lessons are usually very inconvenient.  If I embrace the inconvenience rather than resisting it, I'll probably discover the "inconvenient" is what's important after all.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An Unexpected Visitor

Sometimes I forget I live in China. A lot of things that seemed so different and China when I first arrived I don't even notice anymore. But sometimes things happen to remind me I'm still in a foreign country. Sometimes it's difficult/confusing things, like losing an a-yi or getting blindsided by yet another unexpected change. Tonight was more of an interesting, mostly good, and somewhat inconvenient China night.

Tonight our friends took a turn babysitting so we could have a date night. After dropping Juliana off, Kevin and I ate a yummy dinner at a dongbei (north-eastern style) restaurant down the street from our home. We filled up on 锅包肉 (guo bao rou - sweet-fried pork) and 地三鮮di san xian - eggplant/potato) then decided to take a walk. We wandered through some of the new high-rise apartment complexes, only finished a few months ago but already streaked with rust.

Just behind the row of shiny (rusty) new apartments is an old hutong type area with brick, courtyard-style houses. The buildings are one or two stories, surrounded by brick walls, and separated by tiny alleyways just large enough for two bikes to pass. Outside each home is a low-roofed shed and sometimes a tiny garden. Some of the second-story apartments have cute little roof-top decks lined with vines or covered by overhanging trees. The walls, the windows, and the doors all show their age, but they are in good repair, obviously still lived-in. Even though I can imagine the insides are less than attractive, on the outside this little neighborhood had a quaint, endearing look.

Kevin went to pick up Juliana while I returned home. As I exited the bike shed a woman approached with a smile, calling out “夏静谊!Xia Jing Yi!” (my Chinese name). She looked vaguely familiar, but it took me a moment to place her: she was the woman Kevin had randomly met last month while riding his bike.

Kevin and Juliana were returning from a long bike ride on an unusually cool day, and Juliana was under-dressed. In China, this is a sure sign of incompetent parents and possible child abuse. This woman, 路姐(Lu Jie), rode along side Kevin on her motorbike, engaging him in conversation and expressing her concern over Juliana's impending illness and possible death from cold hands. Kevin managed to dissuade her from stopping to buy Juliana a full winter ensemble.

Lu Jie called that evening to make sure they had gotten home okay, and a few days later she came over to to meet me and reassure herself that Juliana was not at death's door. She brought us about two dozen bananas and gave Juliana several books. She was very concerned to hear Juliana cough and shared with us the wonders of Chinese medicine. (Juliana developed a cough a few months ago she can't get rid of. After a couple of doctor trips and several medicines, we have concluded it's probably allergy related.)

That was several weeks ago, and I honestly hadn't thought of her since, until I saw her tonight smiling eagerly outside the bike shed. It was obvious she was here to visit us, since she lives in another part of the city, about 45 minutes away. The first thing she asked was if Juliana still had a cough. I really wanted to lie and say it was all better, but undoubtedly Juliana would go into a coughing fit as soon as she saw her. (She coughs at the most inconvenient times, like anytime we are near an old Chinese granny and never when we are at the doctors'.) Lu Jie wanted to go buy some yogurt for Juliana, so she told me to go ahead home and she would come soon.

As I headed up the stairs to our apartment, I thought about how in China it is very common for friends (or stranger/friends) to show up at your door unexpectedly. There also seems to be some unwritten rule about showing up at the most inconvenient times. It was already 8pm; on a usual night Juliana would already be in bed. But obviously it would be incredibly rude to send her away, so there's really nothing I could do.  Fortunately she is a really sweet lady, if a little

Lu Jie returned about the same time as Kevin and Juliana, bearing a large box of yogurt packets, a mortal and pestal, a bag of sugar crystals, and another bag of mysterious black substance. Juliana was all wound up from playing with her friends and not at all thrown off by seeing a relative stranger in the house after bedtime. Yogurt is a sure way into Juliana's heart. The sugar crystals Lu Jie started feeding her didn't hurt either.

We all sat on the floor playing with Juliana while Lu Jie explained the medicine she had brought. Kevin looked it up and discovered it wasn't actually medicine; it was ground black sesame seeds. Lu Jie explained its use, then brought out the mortal and pestal. She poured in some sesame seeds, added at least as many crystals of sugar, and started pounding away. Juliana looked on with interest while Lu Jie continued to slip her sugar crystals. So it's an hour after bedtime and Juliana has now reached her weekly sugar intake. Awesome.

We mix the powder with hot water in Juliana's sippy cup. I'm glad it's not actually medicine; I don't figure a few sesame seeds are going to do her any harm. It doesn't really matter anyway, since she only tried a few sips of the strange tasting stuff. As Juliana started rubbing her eyes, I made some not-quite-so-indirect comments about how tired she was and that she'd probably better go to bed. Fortunately in China, children are a great excuse for pretty much anything; children are not to be denied! And in this case, as 9:30pm crept closer, it was a perfectly legitimate excuse.

Lu Jie hopped up and headed for the door, promising to return. I carried a hyper Juliana off to bed, where despite the sugar, she promptly fell asleep, only 1.5 hours late. Here's to hoping she sleeps past six in the morning! Now I'm off to hide some sugar crystals.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Your Typical Chinese Intersection

In light of all the recent discussion of Chinese driving, I thought I would point you to this hilarious visual representation of making your way through an average Chinese intersection.  The funniest thing about it is that it's really true. 

I will say that Yinchuan traffic is remarkably calm and orderly, probably because the roads are big and open with a relatively small number of cars/buses/taxis/motorbikes/bicyclists/pedestrians/small children on toy cars.  Beijing is pretty orderly, but the sheer volume of traffic (1000 new cars added to the road every day!) makes things ridiculous.  Weinan was small enough that concepts like right-of-way, yielding, and driving on the right side of the road were foggy at best.

Click here to check out the full post, I'll just introduce enough to hook you in... :)

To introduce you to the intricacies of Beijing driving, I will start with a relatively simple concept: the left turn.


We see here a typical intersection. The light has just turned green for the east-west streets, and car [A], an enormous black Lexus with pitch black windows, wants to make a left turn into the southbound lanes. Pedestrians wait on each corner. (For purposes of this demonstration, we'll assume no one is running the north-south red light, and no one is jaywalking - a rather large assumption.)


To make a left turn, it is VITAL that [A] cut off all eastbound traffic as soon as possible. The first few brave or foolish legitimate pedestrians step off the curb; this is of no concern. [A] makes his move.

(Click here to continue the next 10 - yes, 10 - steps)