Saturday, January 23, 2010

13 Things You Don't Know About China

1. In the night market in Beijing, there are snakes, mice, centipedes, and scorpions on sticks, ready for barbecuing, some still moving.

2. When the president of China enters the Great Hall of the People, the martial music that accompanies him is eerily reminiscent of the tune that greeted Groucho Marx as president of Freedonia in "Duck Soup." (I didn't dare laugh.)

3. There are lots of gay bars in Beijing, and at least one reggae bar that I saw, complete with marijuana leaf flag.

4. The Great Wall is the Stairmaster from hell.

5. People really do believe that stuff about lucky numbers and auspicious years. The editor in chief of Reader's Digest China delayed her son's birth by seven days--hanging on in her hospital bed--so that he would be born in the year of the lucky pig. Her staff is in awe.

6. Journalists there will interview you in a group, and then let you check the story before it is released.

7. Beijing traffic is even worse than Tehran's. I saw no blue sky until I got to Singapore.

8. All the stuff I'd read about Chinese women dressing conservatively and in neutral colors was baloney. At both business lunches I attended with ad clients, at least two women showed up in jeans, heels, and funky tops. And one (female) journalist who interviewed me in Beijing wore motorcycle boots--and a tie.

9. American tourists at the Great Wall are often asked to pose in pictures with Chinese families. And if you're black, expect crowds.

10. Chinese under 35 often say, "We can now look at Chairman Mao with a balanced view."

11. To work for the state news agency, you go to college and study "how to persuade people and promote harmony."

12. There are 10,000 magazines in China. A medium-sized title has 3 million circulation. Fashion magazines rule, but local weekly news summaries and business magazines are very popular.

13. Turning 60 is cause for a big celebration (lucky number). The People's Republic of China turned 60 this year. They are investing in their country's infrastructure big time. It would be a good idea to learn Chinese--or at least make sure our kids do.

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