I was back in the United States last week. I had been away for 18 months. Here were some of my observations.
- I have the anti-jet-lag kung fu. Here's how I did it. Going there, my flight left at 6 PM or so. It also landed at 6 PM or so, which would be able 6 AM for me. I then had to drive several hours to my sister's house. I needed to be awake enough to drive, but tired enough to fall asleep when I got there, so I could get on an American schedule for the things I had to do. Within the first hour of our flight they served us dinner. I took some Z-Quil with dinner and slept for about five hours or so. I spent the rest of the flight reading. When I got to my sister's, I took some Z-Quil again and slept from midnight to about 5 AM. For the rest of my visit, I was generally awake by 5 AM and functioning all day. Then, coming back, my flight left at noon and landed at 3 PM the next day. I took some Z-Quil with dinner again, but this time I crashed insanely hard and only for about 90 minutes. So once I was home and ready for bed, I slept from 11 PM or so to 7:30. My second night back, I slept from 11 PM to 3 AM, which is my preferred waking time. NO JET LAG, BABY! Woo-hoo!
- Am I terrible racist for noticing that just about every person working at an American airport is some sort of ethnic minority? Anyway, the first dozen or so employees I encountered all surprised me with their lack of accents. I guess I have become used to speaking English with accented foreigners from Asia and Africa.
- American roads are a shambles. Potholes everywhere!
- Americans are on average obese, but not morbidly obese.
- Chinese girls don't start trying to be attractive to men until they are 18 or so. American girls start at nine.
- My first two business interactions immediately after landing were both exercises in chicanery detection. First, the rental car agency responded to my refusal of their "insurance" (they call it that, but the agreement specifically says, "This is not insurance") by trying to get me to sign a receipt for $120-worth of insurance. I told the guy, "I told you no," and he still told me to sign. I said, "So this is a requirement?" He said, "Well, no, it's not a requirement." Only then did he stop. Secondly, after buying an American SIM card and calling the provided number to activate it, I was enrolled in some cellphone plan that was NOT what I bought. I had to call a different number to ask why. The guy said it was my fault for activating it by phone instead of online. I activated the card by following the instructions provided for the plan I bought.
- After all that effort refusing the rental car "insurance," I was especially frustrated when the terrible road conditions contributed to a barrage of giant rocks hitting my windshield, creating a large crack. I called my credit card company and asked about their promised rental car insurance that was advertised as saying, "Never worry while driving a rental car!" The woman said, "It only covers collision, not glass damage." I said, "So I should go run into something now?" She hesitated for a long time. I laughed at her.
- Every piece of technology works how it's supposed to. You can check the Internet on your phone. You can send and receive e-mail on your phone. You can tweet on your phone. It's fantastic.
- Not once in the entire week did I encounter an advertised item that was unavailable. Not once. If it was for sale, it was available. This is completely unheard of in China.
- Everything for sale to eat is bad for you. All of it.
- I was aware that Playboy had removed nudity, but it was still shocking both times I saw Playboy for sale at the register (once in a bookstore and once in an airport convenience store). It's interesting that, in the past year, Playboy has become Maxim and Maxim has become GQ.
And what were my observations upon returning to China after a week away? Nobody in China knows how to queue for ANYTHING. Two possible explanations: a generation of only children cannot imagine that the entire world does not revolve around them, or they act oblivious so they can politely behave like sociopaths. I support the second theory. When I landed, our plane emptied onto a skyway that required us all to ride up an escalator. Escalators cause bottlenecks. Despite the fact that we ALL had to ride the SAME escalator, the Chinese nationals all bypassed the bottleneck and tried to jump on right at the escalator mouth. Then the line at immigration was so long that it spilled out of the crowd-control ropes. The line had a few more impromptu back-and-forths in it. Every Westerner sized up the line, found the end, and went to it. Every overseas Chinese went to the end of the crowd-control ropes and acted like he didn't notice that he was jumping to the middle of the queue. Finally, the subway line from the airport dead-ends. Everyone getting off the train has multiple suitcases, and the train is not going anywhere for at least five minutes while the conductor walks from the one end to the other. No matter: every person waiting to get on the train pushed aboard as soon as the doors were open, not allowing for anyone the leave. After just seven days away from it, I am very frustrated by returning to all this sociopathic behavior.
Oh, and the subway videos were showing a graphic series of executions and suicides from films set in World War II. But, hey, it's not really terrible when it's the Japanese or enemies of the Revolution who are being killed, right?