Universal Truths

I’ve traveled halfway across the world, to China, only to discover that there are certain things (not always good things) that seem to be true no matter where I go.

1. Evil Vending Machines

Why is it that vending machines always claim that they will accept your Dollar bills (or in this case, Yuan), only to spew them back out at you no matter how crisp the bill may be and no matter how many times you’ve smoothed it out and tried again? There’s nothing worse than being denied your favorite treat when it’s only inches away, mocking you from the other side of the glass. Whether you live in China or America, it’s not uncommon to see someone kicking the vending machine and cursing under their breath. We all share the same struggles.

2. Homework…what homework?

America has this flattering stereotype that Chinese students are all die-hard academics, and I must admit, I bought into it a little bit. So you can imagine my surprise when I tried to collect homework during my first week of teaching in China, and I was met with shock and confusion. “Homework?…Shen ma?” they all said, as if this was the first time they’d heard the word. I generously reminded them of the assignment I gave them during our previous class, and recognition dawned on everyone’s face. “Oh! That homework…now I remember!” So, I took a deep breath and tried walking down the aisles a second time, my hands outstretched to collect that homework, and I was shocked yet again at their responses. Many of them shrugged their shoulders and said, “Meiyou” (in English, “Don’t have”), all the while giving me angelic, innocent little smiles. Kids these days!….Apparently have the same work ethic all across the globe.

3. The Ever-Broken McDonald’s Ice Cream Machine

the unattainable glory

One of my favorite (cheapest) ways to satisfy a late-night sweet tooth craving is to head for the McDonald’s drive-thru and order a hot fudge sundae off of the Dollar menu or grab a McFlurry. However, more often than not, their machine is broken and I’m forced to go someplace more expensive like Sonic or DQ. In fact, one night my husband and I relentlessly drove to multiple McDonald’s locations all around town, and the ice cream machine was broken at every single one, causing us to wonder if there is some sort of broken ice cream machine conspiracy…lure them in with ice cream, make them leave with french fries. Since moving to China, we’ve discovered that the conspiracy appears to be global, as I often go to McDonald’s in search of a frozen treat that doesn’t contain something strange like green tea or red beans, only to have the cashiers shake their heads and say, “Huai Le!” (“Broken”). Why are they all conspiring against me?!

4. Vampire Love

If any of you thought you could escape the Jacob/Edward obsession by traveling overseas, think again. I think somehow vampire love is even more prevalent here, even among the male population. It’s not often in America that I hear a guy openly admit, “I love the Twilight series! Go Team Edward!” or “Vampire Diaries is my favorite show!” however, I hear it in China all too often. When I contributed a Chinese-translated copy of Breaking Dawn as my gift during the Christmas gift exchange I held with my students, a fist-fight almost broke out between two guys who were dying to have a copy. Whoa! Settle down, guys! There are enough vampires to go around for everyone! I also once attended a dinner with some other teachers on staff at my school, and when one woman confessed to being crazy about the show Vampire Diaries, the others were quick to honor her sentiments with a toast. “To vampires!” they drunkenly shouted, lifting their glasses into the air. “Uhh….to vampires,” I echoed, clinking my glass with my neighbor and sipping my drink with bemusement.

5. Scary Cafeteria Food

Every American school-age student has pondered with dread the age-old question, “What’s on the menu today?” They trudge toward the cafeteria and to get their lunch card punched and dutifully receive a giant steaming plate of mystery meat from a scowling lunch lady wearing an apron and hair net. Unfortunately, things are not much better at my school cafeteria here in China, except that the mystery meat is that much more mysterious. One day, we were served a gelatinous pile of tofu disguised as meat beneath a mountain of thick, brown gravy on a bed of white rice. I tried not to think about how much it resembled a can of Alpo. And that was our lunch on Thanksgiving. Better yet, one time my husband got all set to take a bite out of a nice, big chicken leg, when he noticed that the leg had bristly hair…and a hoof. I’m guessing that’s not chicken.

Hmm....They're serving "Thousand-Year Eggs" for lunch? Maybe that mystery meat isn't so bad after all...

6. Road-Ragers

There’s nothing like sitting in a car on a four-lane highway for hours that brings out the humanity rage in all of us. However, even with the amount of road rage that I’ve seen in America, I think China definitely has us beat in this area. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 PM on a Sunday or 5 PM on a Monday, as soon as a sweet, gentle Chinese person sits down inside of their vehicle and turns the ignition, they immediately transform into Mr. Hyde. Since I’ve been in China, I’ve ridden in the back of taxis whose drivers attempt lane changes and high speed turns that only Bruce Willis ought to be permitted to try. I once saw a police officer stand idly by, sipping his hot tea, while an old lady crossing the street was nearly hit by a car running a red light (and blaring its horn at the poor lady, all the while). Another time I was riding a bus that actually collided with someone riding a motor scooter. I got off of the bus thinking that it would take hours for the police to arrive, an ambulance for the bike rider, insurance and accident reports to be completed, etc. About five minutes later, as I was walking down the sidewalk to the next stop to await another bus, my bus passed me, along with the man on the scooter who had a pocket full of cash and seemed no worse for the wear. Accidents like this are apparently that commonplace. Need I go on? China wins the gold medal for road rage!

"Why drive on the road when I can just pull up onto the sidewalk instead?" the bus driver mused.

7. Environmental Awareness

I like how everyone is doing their part to help the environment all across the globe. I think in recent years we’ve all become increasingly aware that our natural resources will run out eventually. I see little signs like this posted all over China, and I think they’re really cute. However, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the smog, you know what I mean? And allowing children (and grown men) to do their business out in the grass can only fertilize it so much before it starts killing it. Oh well….as long as we’re aware that we need to help the environment, I suppose that’s a start.

It’s kind of comforting to know that even amongst all of our cultural differences, there are still many similarities that we universally share, no matter how bizarre those particular similarities may be. I could go on and on with my list, but I’ll stop here. What kind of universal truths do you think we all hold to?

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8 thoughts on “Universal Truths

      • Hmm, vending machines yes, homework… yes, broken macca’s icecream machine? hmm, I don’t know, I like green tea and red beans 😛 Vampire love I don’t think has really made it here; school food is actually pretty good (though you have to like fish and rice); road rage is tricky – Japanese people behind the wheel are terrifying, but they don’t really rage so much as drive on the other side of the road… and environmental awareness seems to depend where you are in Japan. The cities are beautifully clean, and it’s the most forested country in the world, but cigarrette butts get left on the ground a lot, and the beaches are often covered in plastic ><

    • My students get so disappointed when I tell them that I don’t watch Vampire Diaries (“But it’s an American show!!” they protest). I feel like I’m going to have to watch a couple of episodes just so I can relate to them!

    • The vampire love is borderline insanity….which is why it’s a shame they never released the Twilight movies in the theater here! The theater would have been sold out! Instead, everyone is forced to rely on piracy for their Twilight fix…

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