Send Europeans to Asia to learn how to work – FP News.

People here in China are hungry, but contrary to popular belief, they arent looking for their next meal. No, they are looking for their next “Pot of Gold”. They work long hours, cut corners where they need to and often have little regard for their fellow man. More and more of them are driving nice cars and own multiple properties. Life for many is about making money and working long hard hours. Did you know that education and health care isn’t free in China? I was shocked when I found out how little the State provided for its citizens. The result is that people cant depend on anyone but themselves.

In Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong, people work equally hard and long because they believe if they work hard they will be able to earn the privileges many of us take for granted.

Im thankful our society doesn’t resemble that of China’s or Japan’s or Korea’s but as the linked article explains, we seem to have forgotten the principles which have gotten us to our present level of development. Surely there are many lessons we could be observing and learning from our Asian neighbours.


Smoke and Mirrors: AvK White Guy for Rent

The following entry is the story of my 36 hours in Chengdu as a Rent-a-White-Guy. At several points throughout the trip I honestly wondered if I was in the middle of a dream. However as has been the case several times this past few years, you just cant script this stuff. It reads like a short story…because thats what it is. As with my last entry, I apologize for the length, but I think you’ll agree that the details make this story what it is. So wait until you have a few minutes to read this in its entirety. I hope you enjoy!

It all started when a coworker told me that a friend of hers was looking for a model, and if I was interested in some work (which I was).  The job was in Chengdu, Szechuan province, which is a two hour flight from GZ. I would have my travel and accommodation expenses paid for, and would be paid $400 for 2 hours of work. So far so good. I had the days off, and I welcomed any chance to see a different part of China.

I asked what exactly I had to do, and this is where it got a little confusing. They wanted me to bring my suit, but I wouldn’t actually be doing any modeling. There was some kind of presentation being done and they wanted me there for it though (Remember that people don’t speak english well here, so even basic questions seem complicated). So after ruling out a fashion show, photo shoot or any type of advertisement I figured that the event organizers wanted a token white guy, possibly to welcome guests.

Having been somewhat jaded by the industry, I asked for half the money to be paid in advance and that my tickets be given to me in advance as well. This was provided and on April 23, I was off to my first modeling (sort of) job in China.

I caught an airport shuttle bus that went directly to the airport with 3 minutes to spare (they only come every 30 minutes). As I was checking in, I was informed that the plane would be leaving two hours early, which meant that I had only 20 minutes to clear security. I managed to get through security, and grab a coffee (of course) and basically walked directly onto the plane. It couldn’t have been a smoother trip up to this point; and then we sat on the runway for 45 minutes, in 30 degree weather. I was where I needed to be though, and had a few back issues of The Economist and GQ to keep me busy.

Once I arrived in Chengdu, the plane was once again delayed for 30 or so minutes. Now at least I understood why we had left so early…because of the delays we would experience on the actual plane…such foresight…thank you Air China! While waiting to disembark, I received a text message from my translator and driver (who I was assured would take good care of me). “Pick-Up card to write your name in the station“, the message read. Well it wasnt the best english, but I think I know what he is talking about I thought. “Alexander“, I replied, being extra careful to state my full name so as to avoid any possible confusion.

Good hard you at the airport waiting for you!” he replied, followed by “Our exports in the second.”, and shortly thereafter, “we arrived in the country on the second export.” Oh I see, now I get it…

Alright, I’m off the plane, bag in hand, and looking for my “pick-up card”. Odd as this might sound, this was the first time I can remember being the only white guy around. So, you’d think I would be easy to spot, but there wasn’t anyone around with my name in hand. Strange given the clear instructions provided by my translator…

After 10 minutes an older man finally showed up with “Alexander” written on the back of a cigarette carton. “Great”, I thought, “At least I wont find myself stranded in another foreign airport.”

After driving for ten minutes it was clear that my translator/driver spoke absolutely no english. This was confirmed by the smiles he would give me whenever I tried to communicate with him. Kind of like a “I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re saying, but I’m just going to nod my head and smile…but honestly why are you talking to me…cant you tell I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re saying?!?” Then his phone rang, and he started screaming and yelling into it.

I swear after 6 months in this country I still have no idea when someone is screaming in order to be heard, or out of anger, or shock or maybe a hearing impairment. I’ve just concluded that this aspect of China is as nuanced as the language itself (same word with many tones and multiple meanings). Anyway this guy started going off into his phone, and then shoots me a look far different from the smiles I had become accustomed to. This one looked like he had seen a ghost and I really didn’t know what to think when he handed me the phone.

A woman on the other end asked me if my name was Alexander and whether I was German. I said yes my name was Alexander and that my father was German. Id like to ask you, the reader, what the probability would be of there being two Alexanders of German descent showing up at the same airport in Chengdu China at the same time? Whatever the odds, it happened, and I was in the wrong car. I was dropped off back at the airport and thankfully my real translator and driver were there within seconds. How did I know? Well, my name was spelt “Alexander Uonkaldenberg” and only getting one letter wrong is pretty good even by Western standards.

Now I was in the back of a nice Benz getting to know my new friends. My translator (whom I’ll refer to as Mr. Google from here on in) it turns out, didn’t speak a word of english but did know how to use Google translator on his phone. This explained the cryptic messages I had received, but meant there really wasnt going to much conversation, or accurate translation taking place.

We spent three hours in that car driving and I dosed in and out of sleep, not knowing exactly where we were going or how long it would take but finding the scenery a nice change from the sprawl of urban GZ.

We arrived at our hotel that evening and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a brand new room with a king sized bed. I was asked to stay put for a few minutes until it was time for dinner, and that I’d be escorted to dinner. For those of you who have never been lucky enough to experience a full on Chinese style dinner, let me explain, and for those of you who have, please forgive the explanation.

I’ve been to HK a few times, grew up in Richmond, dated a Chinese girl for 2 years and have lots of Chinese friends, but this was by far the most authentic experience I’ve ever had. We were led into a room and I waited to be seated. Once seated, plates of food were brought out one after another and placed in the middle. It was all very delicious and the dishes included, cat, dog, and bison balls etc…just kidding…they didn’t serve cat and dog = ). Anyway, I thought I was doing quite well navigating my way through the feast, when Mr. Google offered me a fork and knife. Slightly offended, I declined, but moments later they appeared anyway. I soon understood why though, because they had prepared a special steak for me without my knowing. This was a little embarrassing because now I felt like a stereotype but I appreciated the gesture.

I should also mention that there were two glasses in front of me. A large wine glass and a small glass about the size of a sherry glass. I thought it was obvious that the large glass would be used for red wine and the small one for some sort of liquor, but I was wrong. They filled the big one up with almond milk and the small one with 2-3 oz. of red wine. From here on in, someone would stand up and say something like “Mr. Aliccce nice to meet you!” and then shoot their wine and expect me to do the same. An attentive server standing on the perimeter would then refill my glass. This happened all night and I even got up and made a few “xie xie’s” and “hen hao’s” of my own. At one point it seemed like the entire room was in a state of constant up and downs from all the toasts being exchanged. When the staff was really on, they anticipated the toast and pulled your chair back from you and put it back when you were about to sit down again.

English was only used a little, as nobody seemed to speak it, but despite this I really enjoyed all the food, just being in the moment, and watching all these businessmen conduct themselves. I was brought into the conversation at one point though, when one of the gentlemen asked me how many wives I had. Apparently he had four wives dispersed throughout Asia and was a huge advocate of the lifestyle.

Post meal festivities were going to include KTV (karaoke) and I was asked if I wanted to come along. I told the table that I didn’t know any Chinese music, but was reassured that it wouldn’t be a problem because we could all sing “The Titanic Song” together. Having heard all about in Karaoke in China, I decided that it wouldn’t be the best idea to drink my face off at an all-you-can-drink karaoke bar, before I had even figured out what it was I was even doing here in the first place. Thankfully Mr. Google chimed in on my behalf and before long I was back in my room.

In my room, Mr. Google handed me a piece of paper with a whole lot of Ch-English written on it. Grammar and vocabulary issues aside, I was addressing the conference as the “U.S. Representative” of Mr. Google’s company. As I was reading this, there was an internal monologue going on that sounded something like this, “hahahahahahahahahaha”. I told Mr. Google that I’d tweak it a little, but that it wouldn’t be a problem. I cranked the A.C., made a quick good night call to Ellen and then passed out…

…Until 2:30AM when the power went out , and i awoke to the hotel’s alarm system. Now, usually in these situations you assume it’s a false alarm and wait it out, which I did, but after a 5 minutes my mind started to wander. Chengdu was devastated by an earthquake in 2008 that killed 68,000 people. What if this was an early warning system, or what if this was a carbon monoxide alarm, or what if, what if, what if…I was completely isolated here and would have no idea if this was a false alarm or not. Anyway within 15 minutes it was all over, but it was interesting to see how my frame of mind shifted.

I woke up the next day and spent the better part of the day in the restaurant reading the news and editing my speech. There was a distinct buzz about the hotel and staff were coming and going preparing for the conference. As I was walking through the hotel lobby I swear I literally did a double take when I noticed that my face was blown up and plastered on 6 foot posters throughout the lobby and corridors. I played it down, but at this point my inner monologue sounded something like “holy shit this is unreal”. I couldn’t discreetly make out exactly who I was or what my credentials were, and the only english words listed said “MIT, Harvard, and UCLA.” Maybe that explained why the staff of the hotel had been treating me so unbelievably well!

At 2:30 I was lead to a table in the banquet hall where my dinner friends from the previous night were already seated. This was the VIP table, but as I was now aware that I had graduated from Harvard, MIT, and UCLA, I half wondered why I wasnt at my own table…Mr. Google leaned across the table and showed me his phone. “You do the 1 hour talk ok?” I picked up the phone and typed, “The page you gave me will take 5 minutes.“, he smiled and said “ok, ok“.

We watched a video that flashed images of celebrities (President Bush, Lucy Loo, Hu Jintao, Ashley Judd), medical diagrams and research labs, and then speeches were made. I gather I was something of a “closer” and following some dramatic sounding music (deep bass) with heavy beats (think Star Wars) I was introduced.

Though I was in my High School plays and have had as much experience public speaking as the next guy, I have to say that I was a little nervous. Not extremely nervous, but just enough to get my pits a little damp, but not nervous enough to stop me from wondering if I’d be able to give my Uncle George Bush a shout out and if anyone would even notice. You can see the intro to my speech here: Rent A White Guy.

Following my speech I was whisked away to the airport. Behind me i noticed a few promotional materials sliding around. They included the same 4 pictures of the VIP experts, only in these I looked decidedly…older…and wearing a noticeably photoshopped pair of glasses

Note how the glasses on my Doppelganger are photoshopped.

In the airport I found myself at coffee shop call “UBC” (which are the initials of my university). I ordered a Kronenbourg but was promptly brought a TsingTao. I tried to point out that this was not what I had ordered. I pointed to the picture, and tried to communicate, but was met with a blank stare. Apparently, just another example of how in China, nothing is as it seems, and a fitting end to what was an unreal 36 hours.

If you want to read another account of a similar situation, The Atlantic did a story on the Rent-A-White-Guy phenomenon that you can read here.

Escape From Greece

Lycavittos Hill, Athens

This is an entry from my journal a few months ago. I didn’t post it sooner because I was disputing a charge with my credit card company. Now that it has been resolved I’d like to share this story with everyone. It’s a little long, but I think you’ll find it entertaining nonetheless!

Night on the street (2005?).

February 25, 2012 Athens, Greece

What is it about Athens that has me always leaving on less than ideal terms?! I was here seven years ago with my friends, Jackie, Jason and Blair, and because we were in the middle of our European backpacking adventure, we were very cheap. Because we were so cheap and ill-prepared, we ended up spending our final night in the port suburb of Patras, where we would be catching a ferry to Italy the next day. To be clear, we spent that night in a park, next to the ferry, with homeless men and one of my friends woke up to discover he had been sleeping on an ant hill. The morning of our departure we showered using bottles of water and boarded the ferry to Italy. None of us have ever forgotten the night we spent with homeless men and Greek ants.

Water bottle shower

Fast forward seven years, and I’m back in Athens. That’s seven years wiser, more prepared but probably comparably cheap. Unfortunately, I now find myself in similar circumstances on my final night in Athens, because I’m at the Airport a full 17 hours before my flight. What follows is the three-part story of how I made my way from Athens to China. It plays out like some weird reality show hybrid that might be called “The Real Lives of Aspiring Models: Project Athens”, and combines Project Runway/The Real World/Prison Break. In the next few posts, I’ll explain how I was screwed by X-Ray Models in Greece, my experience with ex-KGB members, and what I thought of Russian hospitality.

Part One: ATHENS

Situation Greece

By all accounts, the situation in Greece seems to be on the up and up, rewind 6 weeks however and its future was quite a bit bleaker. The demonstrations, violence, and burning buildings you saw on t.v. were only the tip of the iceberg though. Clearly, despite its reputation for developing international models, this was not the best time to be strutting my stuff in Athens. It was against this backdrop, and the knowledge that there wasn’t much work available, that Ellen and I decided it was time to move on.

It was a Friday when I spoke with X-Ray Models (my Greek agency) and was given consent to leave, and to book my flight. Saturday morning however, I awoke to a casting call. The job wasn’t going to take place for two weeks, and would be for a “Look Book” being shot in Paris. I figured the professional thing to do would be to show up, even though I had no intention of working the job should I get it (I know better now). Keep in mind that I had now been modelling for 6 months with limited success. In my mind the odds that I would get this job seemed fairly small. Not to mention that this was the first time in 6 months that I had shown up hung over for a casting, looking very casual, and far from well-rested. So, my history didn’t offer much hope and neither did my present state.

I left the casting with the same impression I usually got. They seemed as interested as they always did, nothing special. I relayed this information to X-Ray Models and they told me that it was ok for me to book my ticket out of Athens which I proceeded to do.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. On Sunday morning I received a call informing me that I had booked the job. What are the chances that my first big job in six months since leaving Vancouver in September would be the one job I couldn’t work (and in Paris of all places!). I had already made travel arrangements however, and I was expected in HK and Guangzhou.

X-Ray Models was none to pleased that I was unwilling to change my plans. I tried explaining that it wasn’t a matter of being unwilling, rather, that I was unable to do so. The job in Paris wasn’t going to pay much and if I were to stay another two weeks, I’d lose the money I spent on the tickets and have to support myself another few weeks with no income. After a few exchanges I thought they were resigned to the facts. It was final. I was leaving with their blessing. Another lesson learned: Hell hath no fury like a Greek fashionista shunned.

That evening I went to the concierge to inform them I would be checking-out in the morning.They however informed that there was now a problem. You see, the agreement between X-Ray Models, elite models and myself, was that I would pay my airfare, and they would cover my accommodation. Suddenly X-Ray Models had a change of heart and wasn’t going to cover my one month stay unless I stayed and worked the job.

This put me in a tough spot, but ultimately I wasn’t going to pay for something they had agreed to pay for. All I could do was leave. So Ellen and I packed our bags in a hurry and prepared to sneak out. This is where it gets a little funny though. We were staying at a hotel which is commonly used to house models, most of which we had since befriended. After catching them up on what was happening we came up with a plan to get us out of the hotel (which is small!) It actually almost backfired on our first attempt. With 6 pieces of luggage making its way down the halls and elevators, the manager came into check on us. the 7 of us had to scramble back up to our room and one piece was left downstairs in the entrance so I had to go downstairs and pretend that I was doing laundry hahaha. Our second attempt 20 minutes later was successful and we made it outside and into a Taxi. With any luck nobody would be the wiser until the next day when we would be long gone.

So once again, 7 years later, my departure from Athens wasn’t pretty, but it sure was going to be memorable. At the time with 17 hours until my departure and sitting in the airport, I figured we were home free. Little did I know that we were only 1/3 of the way there.

Please make a note: NEVER WORK WITH X-RAY MODELS!

Part 2: MOSCOW

Oh my gawd. This evening marks the culmination of what has been the most stressful and frustrating trip of my life. My previous entry left off when I was in the airport in Athens having just snuck out of the hotel. Lets pick up there.

Having settled into our seats and trying to pass the 17 hours we had ahead of us until our flight we juggled Facebook, reading and watching movies. It was via Facebook at around 4am that our friends from the hotel told us that the hotel had discovered that we had left the hotel without paying and had informed the police, who were now going to stop us from leaving the country because they had our passport information.

Our friends told us stories from their experience where models had done what we had done and had gotten caught. In short, they really thought we should pay our bill before trying to pass through customs. In fact X-Ray Models was not just ripping us off, they were also “renegotiating” other contracts as well, and making models pay for things which they had not agreed to, but couldn’t avoid…like say, your hotel bill.

We faced a dilemma. Do we call BS and try to board the plane as usual, or play it safe and pay. After some debate and consulting with family via Skype, we decided to pay. The prospect of not being able to board the flight, and having to book ANOTHER flight in addition to the hotel bill was just too much. So I called the hotel and settled, explicitly saying that there better not be any issues from here on in.

After another few hours of waiting and a bit of cursing, it was finally time to board. In the past 6 months, we have flown nearly 6 times and know what to expect at check-in. Ellen doesn’t pack light, so we know that we’ll have an extra piece of luggage to pay for. Even with that piece checked though, there is still lots of stuff, but we usually get away with it. This time as luck would have it, we weren’t so lucky and had to check another piece of luggage. The 17 hour wait in the airport, having to pay for the hotel and two extra bags were all reminders that I never seem to leave Athens gracefully.

OK, so we are now on the plane. Well there is a reason these are the cheapest tickets I could find, and that’s because Aeroflot really is a no frills airline. No individual entertainment, old school leather seats, and very, very, very bland food. At this point however, no complaints because you get what you pay for. Things go sideways during our stop-over in Moscow though.

For some reason, our flight scheduled for 7:30pm (1.5 hour layover) isn’t scheduled to leave until 5am! I’m not sure how many staff we spoke to from this point onwards, but we spent the next 5 hours navigating a huge airport (absolutely FULL of duty-free stores…literally 95% of the stores) arguing with airport personnel and Aeroflot staff. Absolutely nobody cared about us (passengers) and the way everyone worked was so painfully inefficient. They wrote everything down by hand, using handwritten lists that were constantly being rewritten. Our entire flight, as well as all the other flights were being managed by 1 lady who was using this system in an office with a tiny window.

We were promised a hotel and meal, but by the time we got everything sorted, it was midnight and we only had two hours to sleep! When one of our fellow passengers had the audacity to ask when our flight would depart, the Aeroflot employee simply said, “I don’t care” and walked off…NO JOKE! That epitomizes our experience in that airport.

The time we spent in the hotel was something I imagine jury duty/prison being like, only with a Soviet/KGB feel to it. Heavy cigarette smoke, snow, a 1980’s design for everything, and older burly Soviet men in suits who escorted us to and from our rooms.

At 3:30AM we were escorted back to the airport where our flight was set to depart at 5:00AM. Things got better from here. I slept for 8 of the 9 hours we were airborne and once we landed, I was able to book a $60 hotel in Wanchai while on a bus, that dropped us literally directly in front of the hotel I had just booked 10 minutes prior (god bless wi-fi). We were in our beds and sleeping within an hour of leaving the airport.

Please make a note: NEVER FLY AEROFLOT!


Alright, now its Wednesday morning and we are up at 7am for another big day. First things first so we grab a quick breakfast and coffee (on this visit to HK I was able to fully enjoy my HK style breakfast of instant noodles, egg, hot dog and milk tea because I was relaxing the strict diet). From there we went to the photo shop for visa pictures and then straight to the travel company that would process our same day visas. We were told to come back at 6pm.

We then booked our train from HK to GZ and our train was set to depart at 7:20pm. This was the last train of the day, and since our visas wouldn’t be ready until 6pm, it was going to be tight because our baggage was checked into the hotel and it would be rush hour. We decided the best way to go about all of this was to take our luggage to the train station via taxi and avoid the MTR during rush hour. I would then come back and grab the visas, and then go back to the train station.

A few minutes into our journey, having heard our predicament, the taxi driver offered to help us out by assisting Ellen with all the luggage. This meant I could hop out and go straight to the visa office. I arrived right at 6, but had to wait. It was then that I realized that I had given Ellen the money for our visas (I tend to not trust myself with large amounts of cash and/or important documents). So I had to run to the nearest ATM and hope that I hadn’t already withdrawn my daily limit (which was a real possibility given the 48 hours I’d just had). My heart was beating mighty quickly at the prospect of not being able to pay for our visas…and having to spend yet another night on the road…but it worked.

At 6:20PM in HK you can’t do much running because it’s wall to wall people. Since I had literally spent all day using the subway I had my route memorized and I was able to quickly get myself to the train station within 30 minutes. I got there at 6:55pm and Ellen had never even realized that she had ALL our money on her, or just how close we had come to missing both our train and our interviews (scheduled for Thursday AM).

The terminal was full of people at this point and we were winding our way through the customs and security. It really felt like we were leaving the West behind again. We had departed Athens, been held hostage in Moscow and spent literally one entire day hustling our way through HK…but when Ellen very vocally threatened a 70-year-old Chinese woman and her 20-year-old grandson who were being extremely rude and pushy, I knew we were back in that very special place called China, a place we would soon be calling home.

Now sitting here on the train drinking my Johnny Walker straight from the bottle, I can only hope that the surprises are over and that our path through customs will be a smooth one. What a 72 hours it has been, and how odd it is to be so excited about my return to GZ.

It’s a Dog eat Dog World

Let’s have a frank conversation. Why don’t you eat dog? Is it because you have a pet dog or because they are just sooo cute? Maybe the thought just makes your stomach turn, or maybe you just haven’t had an opportunity to do so, and therefor haven’t given it much thought.

I’d put myself in the last category because I’ve always tried to keep my mind open, and until yesterday the question “Would you ever eat dog?” was purely hypothetical. yesterday I stumbled upon a scene that made my stomach turn and raised a few questions amongst friends.

I had just arrived at a casting and was making my way up a driveway, where up ahead a man was squatting while wielding a meat cleaver. He was busy chopping up some kind of animal and I casually commented to Gary and David (fellow models) “Looks like Bush meat”. As we made our way past the man, we realized that he was in fact chopping up dog. It’s limbs we’re stiff and the face reminded me of a Pitbull. The skin was pulled back tightly, and it’s jaw was clenched tightly bearing its teeth. There were two buckets, being used to sort the meat and a giant wok was being heated in preparation for the meat.

David and Gary were repulsed. David referred to the man as a savage and Gary took a number of pictures which he planned on sharing with friends and family at home in South Africa. I for one, felt a little “off”, not quite sick, but not quite right either.

Once I got home, I had a good talk with Ellen about what I seen and a few questions came up:

1) How is dog meat any different from other meats? In parts of India, the cow is sacred And revered. Hindus couldn’t imagine eating beef.
2) Does it make sense to create a hierarchy, where certain living things are more “eatable” than others?
3) If dogs were farmed for their meat, much like chicken or pigs, would that make eating them more/less acceptable?
4) After watching Food Inc. I really began to question the relationship we have with our food. most of us couldn’t imagine killing anything in order to eat, and yet in order to eat meat, an animal needs to be killed. There is a huge disconnect between us and our dinner plate that is damaging the balance we should be trying to find.

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure where I stand on dog meat. What I have tried to do this past year, is to be more aware of what I eat, where it comes from, and my buying power. I love meat, and seafood, and dairy, and vegetables. I’m not sure I’ll ever sacrifice any of those foods, nor do I think I should have to. I tend to view all life as equal, and the animals I eat are on the same level. They die for me to live. I know it doesn’t have to be this way, but that is my choice, just like the Chinese make the choice to “eat everything with four legs except the table” (expression told to me by a Chinese friend).

The question we should be asking isn’t whether it’s ethical to eat dog meat, but rather, how sustainable and how humane our food choices are overall. That to me is the most important and least judgmental way to ensure that we respect our world, as well as meet our needs as a society.

After all, if the dog had been raised on a farm in a sustainable and humane way before being killed, who are we to say that the Chinese man wielding the clever was any more savage or amoral than than those of us who eat chicken or beef that comes from hormone injected animals living in overcrowded cages before dying painful deaths.

Now, be forewarned, I’ve included some of Gary’s pictures. They are very graphic and if you’d rather not see, don’t read further. You were warned!


Get Fired up for work…Chinese style!

This is a scene that I first witnessed upon leaving a casting at around 6pm. I then saw another version of this on a morning run at around 10am. I cant say exactly what they are doing, but I imagine this dance is some sort of pre-shift, team building, energy boosting exercise. According to some friends that have been here for a while, similar dances can be seen in front of most hair salons throughout the day. From what you can make out in the video, not everyone seems to be feeling too energized.

Squatting: Reflections from a Chinese Squat Toilet

Alright, I’ve been here for about two weeks and I’ve been able to avoid Chinese plumbing with the exception of my own throne. My luck had to run out though, and yesterday, that’s exactly what happened at the grocery store.

Thankfully I was well prepared. In grade 12, while traveling through the Philippines, I learned never to assume the following: the availability of a toilet when you need one, that T.P. will be provided, or that there will be soap and something to use, to wash and dry your hands.

On this basis, many men and women that Ellen and I observe entering the washroom, seem ill prepared for the business they are about to conduct, but I don’t think following this train of thought is going to lead anywhere pleasant. So, lets just conclude that it’s better to be safe than sorry, and I’ll tell you that I bring a pack of tissues, and wet-wipes with me on all of my day trips.

Once “perched”, I concluded, “Yup, this is pretty gross. And that bucket over there for used T.P. is a nice touch…”. I’m not writing to cast judgement though, quite the opposite in fact.

I found myself wondering, if this is gross to me, maybe the idea of sitting on a toilet seat is disgusting to them (by “them” I mean those who have been raised using squatters). Maybe this isn’t a new idea to anyone else, but to me it was a bit of a revelation, and made me wonder how many other aspects of life I’m only seeing one way.

Dont get me wrong, I still prefer to use a toilet, but I did find some benefits to the use of squatting online (and which i’ll be reciting to myself next time Im caught with my pants down). In the interest of keeping an open mind I’ll end this post with some of them.

Take care everyone, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to love life!



Some benefits of using squat toilets are:
  • It is less expensive and easier to clean and maintain.[2]
  • It does not involve any contact between the buttocks and thighs with a potentially unsanitary surface.[3]
  • Squatting might help to build the required exhaust pressure more comfortably and quickly.[4]
  • Squatting makes elimination faster, easier and more complete.[5]
  • Elimination in squatting posture protects the nerves that control the prostate, bladder and uterus from becoming stretched and damaged.[6]
  • Squatting relaxes the puborectalis muscle which normally chokes the rectum in order to maintain continence.[7]
  • Squatting securely seals the ileocecal valve, between the colon and the small intestine. In the conventional sitting position, this valve is unsupported and often leaks during evacuation.[8]
  • For pregnant women, squatting avoids pressure on the uterus when using the toilet. Daily squatting helps prepare the mother-to-be for a more natural delivery.[9]
  • Squatting may reduce the occurrence or severity of hemorrhoids[1][10] and possibly other colorectal disorders such asdiverticulosis[11] and appendicitis.[12]

Just Point…and Shoot

Today I decided to be adventurous, nothing crazy, but I did branch out a bit.

In the part of Guanzhao where I live, called Tianhe, it seems that the restaurants are either Western, trying to be Western, or are through and through Chinese (where no english is spoken, no pictures are listed, and no staff speak a word of english). This has limited my food choices to two or so restaurants where I know what Ill be eating before it winds up in front of me. I know, I know…how demanding.

As I mentioned though, today I was feeling adventurous, and had a little time to kill while Ellen was getting ready. So, I marched into one of the small restaurants I’d been avoiding, trained my sights on the menu, and pointed boldly at my selection. This was followed by a solid 30 seconds of negotiations. What I was negotiating wasn’t at first apparent, so I covered the usual ground trying to figure it out: where I wanted to sit, how spicy I wanted it, how much rice etc. Turns out the lady simply wanted to know if the meal was “for here or to go”.

My food arrived minutes later and I found a clean bench outside to eat on. My hunger was building as was the anticipation. You can imagine my surprise when I realized what I had ordered. Of all the exotic, foreign, exciting and possibly food poison inducing meals that could have been ordered, I had chosen…Sweet & Sour Chicken and two cups of white rice. The one dish I could have ordered in any food court in North America. Not to mention that deep-fried chicken and white rice aren’t exactly part of my diet these days.

On the bright side, the meal cost 9RMB which is only around $1.50, and since Ellen had explicitly told me not to eat without her, I didn’t touch the rice and still had lots of room for lunch!

Much is made about uncertainty and the unknown, and most of us tend to avoid it; but sometimes its worth asking yourself why? Whats the worst that can happen? In some cases it’s the unknown, and uncertainty that ends up teaching us something about ourselves. Recently, several family members and friends, who have moved away from home and loved ones, had babies, or left jobs in search of better opportunities. They’ve all told me the same thing; that most of their fears never materialized, and though things aren’t necessarily easy, they are glad they finally took that big step and acted.

Now back to the rice…I won’t claim that my experience with Sweet and Sour Chicken was  as profound as the examples I’ve given, but I was reminded that when it comes to meal choices while living abroad, with the prospect of eating at the same 2 restaurants for three months, sometimes the best advice is to simply point and shoot…you’ll likely surprise yourself.