For the first book I read Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman’s Hilarious Adventure into a Country and a Culture Not Her Own by Polly Evans. Many of Evans’s adventures relate to the future travel post “Bubbles” but I think her trip a Chinese massage parlor is one of my favorites. Briefly, Evans’s is sick and the Chinese medicine (jasmine tea) is not working so she tries out gua sha (a Chinese massage treatment in which your back is rubbed with a piece of cow horn). Lucky for Evans’s her it was her masseuses first time doing gua sha and he “scrubbed and scored, ground and gnawed at [her] back” (14). During the massage, Evans began to laugh as a way to fight off the pain, her masseuse laughed too. When she showed her back to friends everyone was alarmed but by the next morning her cold was gone.
I liked this passage because Evans stepped outside of her bubble and did something she had no prior knowledge about (funny enough neither did her masseuse). When she was faced with an uncomfortable situation, quite literally, she stuck it through and just laughed it off and it paid off in the end, her back did not hurt (only visually looked bad) and her cold was gone. This approach can be distilled and applied to anyone’s travels. Go outside of your comfort zone, just have fun, and go with the flow. And even if things seem to be going poorly, they can turn out well. Additionally, Evans’s experience sheds light onto the things that can be communicated despite a language barrier. I wrote about and read from other’s posts how they are having to interpret body languages etc. for language due to language barriers. The same thing was present here when both Evans and her masseuse shared in laugher as both were nervous, uncomfortable and this laugher conveyed that to each other.
Although these topics are mentioned throughout the book, I found Evans’s trip to Pingyao a great representation of the Chinese culture’s fascination with foreigners, dependency on cigarettes, and utilization of railway systems. Evans’s Chinese is limited but she does know the word, “waiguoren” (foreigner). It is here that people stare in a “slack-jawed silence” as she spoke in a “strange tongue” (57). It is also here, where a boy about the age of 10, sat across from her smoking a cigarette even though it is against official regulations to smoke on the railway. While Evans’s journey was only 90 minutes long she mentions that some people take the railway for upwards of 50 hours.
The obsession with foreigners is related to the vast size of China and its population. Most Chinese people do not travel outside of China as when they do travel it is internally. Evans mentions countless times curious taxi drivers, bellhops, etc. inquired about America and how it compared to China. Most were curious about America but also took the conversation as a way to convey nationalistic Chinese pride. (As seen in Nationals Week/Day, also known as the Golden Week) This nationalistic and sometimes superior view nationals have of China can be traced back thousands of years to the idea of All-under-Heaven (in which China is the center of the world/universe and the further one is from China the more barbaric they are).
Similar to how being patriotic is important to understanding China so is smoking. Smoking is a social past time like baseball in America. Mainly men participate, and it is done EVERYWHERE. Cigarettes are extremely inexpensive here (2-4 USD a pack). I have looked into the significance of smoking and while it is embedded into the culture, one reason there is not a push to stop it is that taxes from cigarettes are a huge contributor to China’s economy.
Additionally, Evans’s travels much of China by railway and I think this is an important thing to point out. China’s railway network is the largest nationalized railroad network in the world and it is how many travel. Through this expansive railway network areas that were not visited are now accessible and has provided many of China’s 55 minorities autonomy to venture. Compared to the Amtrak, China’s railway network is extremely inexpensive and vary in terms of local, high speed, sleeper tickets, and standing tickets. It is important to acknowledge and utilize the most common way of travel in a certain country and here in China is it the railway system.
I feel like I have so much more to say on Evans’s book and definitely recommend it! Any of this class’s posts can be related to Evans’s journey and she really captures multiple layers of China’s culture within daily life. I think she really did what most of us want to do but are too scared to – she really experienced a culture from the local perspective and took challenges and faced fears and made the best of her adventure.