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China: A day in the life

Sunday 13th December, 10:25pm

A few random unrelated tid-bits to talk about:

MSG ( 味精)

It’s added to food in almost all Chinese places you will eat at. I was vaguely aware of this during my year abroad in Beijing, but had conveniently forgotten until recently. I asked one of the local halaal places I eat at often whether or not they put MSG in their food, and they said yes, so now I will be asking them not to everytime I order. I don’t know much about it or the health effects, but I’m aware that too much of it is harmful, just the same as too much of anything I suppose. However, since the lack of cooking facilities in my dormitory means that I’m never eating food I’ve cooked myself, I definitely do not want to be consuming too much of it.

 

Fake Markets

The name says it all: these markets sell fake designer everything, from watches, bags, purses and shoes, to suits, belts, sunglasses and clothing. Obviously it’s all illegal, but somehow they continue to exist, despite authorities’ knowledge – naturally. It’s a tourist trap, and if you don’t know how to haggle with the often rude and vicious sellers, you will undoubtedly get scammed big-time. On a recent visit, I was surprised when one of the sellers I was bargaining with actually openly admitted the illegality to me, using the line “it’s very dangerous” as a comeback to my attempts to lower the price. Even though everyone knows it, I didn’t expect him to be so candid with me, and I tried to prod him some more about it, but no luck. I understand it was also just a bargaining tactic, but I was still taken aback somewhat.

One of the most annoying things about these markets though is all the name-calling. You will be called ‘bag’, ‘jeans’, ‘shoes’, ‘watch’, ‘tea’, and many more during a visit. This is because none of the store-owners know how to pause when they try and entice you to go and take a look. “Hello watch!”, “Hello how are you bag?”, and “Hello lady tea” are just a few examples. I also don’t think they realise how rude their tone is; it’s very abrupt and not friendly in the slightest. Even if I was looking to buy whatever they’re selling, I am extremely put off from going in. There’s no shortage of choice though; every clothing store sells the same goods, the shoes in every shoe store are the same, the belts, ties and bags among different stores are all exactly the same too. So if you’re looking for jeans and you’re not satisfied with the service or price, just walk out and go next door.

 

Pollution

Everyone knows the pollution in Beijing is horrible. Yes, they recently announced a red alert, and yes, ‘each hour of exposure reduces life expectancy by 20minutes’, and yes, ‘Beijing air is the same as smoking 40 cigarettes per day’. But with all the focus on Beijing, it seems we forget that it’s no picnic here in Shanghai either. To put it in perspective, the upper limit for healthy levels of pollution in much of Europe are around 10-20 AQI. On a regular day in Shanghai, we’re experiencing anywhere between 60 to 100. And on a bad day, it could be over 300.

A very good day (for visibility, but the pollution is ever-present)

A very good day (for visibility, but the pollution is ever-present)

WeChat

I first started using WeChat in 2012, after arriving in Beijing for my year abroad. I was relatively new to the smartphone world in general, but even then, I quickly came to know that I preferred WhatsApp by faaaar. In comparison, WeChat seemed slower and the interface seemed chunky – nothing at all like the sleeker and smoother WhatsApp. The most popular social media messaging platform back then was QQ, as WeChat was still relatively new. When meeting new people, QQ numbers would be exchanged, as everyone had QQ, but not everyone was on WeChat yet.

Almost five years later, WeChat’s evolution is evidently clear – it has come an incredibly long way, and is no longer just a basic messaging app. Aside from the ‘Discover’ page, where friends can post pictures or updates on something similar to a microblog, WeChat now has so many other features, including ‘stickers’ (so much fun, not even joking), voice and video calling, and WeChat Wallet. WeChat Wallet allows you to receive money from contacts, with which you can make transfers, top up your mobile phone credit, pay utility bills and order taxis. You can also link your bank card to your WeChat, allowing you access to a greater pool of funds. It is almost imperative to have a WeChat account in order to integrate fully into daily life in China. Now, you’ll rarely – if ever, hear people asking for QQ numbers, but everyone has WeChat, and I’ve grown to love what it has matured into.

 

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