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    Posted November 15, 2012 by
    Beijing, China
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Life in China

    Life in Beijing: To Laugh or To Cry, That Is The Question

    When I think about my life in Beijing, I don't know if I should laugh or cry. Laugh at the joys of incessant Chinglish signs and superfluously crowded subways where I can feel and smell more than I bargained for of the five Chinese bodies smashed into every crevice of my anatomy. Cry at the hideously blackened skyline while I peel open my burning eyes to grievously check the US Embassy's Beijing Air Quality on their Twitter feed: “PM 2.5 level at 458 - Hazardous.”

    Most days I choose to laugh, simultaneously silencing the raging misunderstandings running through my brain as I dodge spit balls on the sidewalk and watch mothers unabashedly allow their children to excrete on busy street corners, elevators or even in subway corridors. I choose to laugh because I'm beginning to understand. Because, as Marie Cure said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” And fear the oddities and unexplainable phenomena of China I do.

    Let's start with how I see vacuum-packed chicken feet at the checkout stand instead of chewing gum. In a land where three, even two generations, past didn't know where their next meal would come from, I can understand the need to savor every last bite. Or claw.

    How about my frozen limbs as I lie in bed wondering when the government will turn on my heat for the winter, dumbfounded as I stare at the Chinese characters on my air conditioning remote which supposedly has a heat setting. I guess I can understand, given that allowing 20 million people free reign to choose their preferred thermal setting in a heating system fueled almost entirely by coal would practically leave my lungs for dead.

    And then there's censorship. There's flipping that magic, little VPN switch on each morning just so I can check my “dissident” Gmail. There's wondering why my NY Times app won't reload, only to find out the entire publication has been blocked in a perpetual effort to harmonize the 1.3 billion strong populous. I begin to understand when I ask friends and colleagues, “Can you believe this?!” only to be received with a lifeless shrug seething with indifferent acceptance. “We don't really need Facebook, we have our own version. Besides, everyone we want to talk to is in China anyway.”

    Despite the fact that my exasperating, champion-like efforts to understand have severely overloaded my xeno-cache, I do love the feeling of childlike curiosity that China leaves me with. It's that feeling I get every time I board an elevator without passage to a 4th, 13th or 14th floor. It's finding out that my SIM card costs less because my “unlucky” phone number sounds like “I want to die” in Mandarin. It's the hilarious explanations for why I have more body hair than them, which turns out to be because, well, they're “more highly evolved.” It's the peculiarity and let's face it, jealousy, that I feel when meeting people with self-given English names such as Rhino, Switch, Internet Explorer and even Christ (which, as was explained to me, is apparently a nickname for Christopher, right?).

    So, day after day in my ex-pat life over here in the Middle Country, I choose to reeducate my feelings of misunderstanding. I choose to laugh and smile alongside China and all her surprising trimmings and trappings. Crocodile soups and all.
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