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Donnie's Intern Donny's First Impressions of China

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Note: This blog is long. I was asked to give my impression on China and well, there’s a lot to factor into that. I recommend reading this while you take a shit.

By now you’ve probably heard that Donnie has a new intern. Well, that’s me, Chef Donny.  I’ll be here in Shanghai for the next month or so working for The Wonton Don. I’m a junior at UW-Madison, where I run a small catering business called The College Cook. I took the spring semester online to backpack around Asia to learn some new cuisine while playing the worlds easiest game of “Where’s Waldo.” No @Tg22, I’m not a trust fund baby. In fact, as I was boarding my plane to leave the states I lost nearly fifty percent of my travel budget in a cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme. It instantly changed the tone of the trip, and I’ve been scheming and plotting my way across Asia ever since. I almost sold myself into what was quite possibly a male prostitution ring in Thailand. But if you’d like to get a recap of some of my travel stories you can check out my travel blog. I was fortunate enough to meet Donnie in South Korea during the Winter Olympics. He offered me the job when we were hammered. I followed up, and well, here I am.

To get into Mainland China, I first had to make a pit stop in Hong Kong to snag a visa. From what I saw, I thought real China was gonna be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong. Hong Kong is like that hot girl at the bar who strings you along all night. You think you’ve got things in the bag, but you end up going home sad and alone at three in the morning and rubbing one out. That city was a total tease. It was a fantasy land, and it sure as hell wasn’t China. When I got to Shanghai, I learned the hard way that things weren’t going to be a walk in the park. You see, in every country I’ve been to so far, I’ve been able to around fine with speaking broken English. Thailand? Huge tourist country, they had plenty of English. South Korea? I was at the Olympics; they spoke English. India? It was a British colony until 1947; everyone spoke English. Nepal? It’s basically India, so yeah there was English.

That’s not the case in Shanghai. It may be considered China’s most Westernized city, but the language barrier is killing me. I have no shame with using the “point and make noises that sound like Chinese until they understand” method. It’s especially useful in restaurants. When I walk into a joint, my move is to scan the meals of everyone eating until I see a dish that looks appetizing. I’ll then proceed to do a little song and dance where I point to my mouth and stomach and then back to the food while saying “Doi, Doi, Doi” (I’m pretty sure that means yes in Chinese. I’m not positive though, Donnie refuses to teach me any Mandarin. He says the only way to learn is to “go out there and do it!” I’m not sure what that really means, but I only get three questions a day, and I’m not blowing one on that.) until they understand that that is what I want to eat. It’s got about a 95% success rate. The other 5% of the time I’m left looking like a dancing idiot and walking away hungry. Most restaurants I stumble into have pictures on their menus. This is a game changer. Being a cook I used to look down at restaurants that included pictures of their food, it comes off as tacky, and usually means you’re eating at a Denny’s. But now I take back all that pompousness and embrace every pictured menu I can find. IMG_0397

The language barrier hasn’t been a total negative. It’s allowed me to get away with a lot of bullshit. One of my firsts nights here I went out to a networking event and convinced a bunch of people I was a dolphin trainer at the new aquarium. It was pretty absurd. I think there’s still an Indian patiently waiting for me to take them swimming with the dolphins. You can read the full story here.

Before I got to China, Donnie warned me that the culture change might be difficult to get used to at first. That may be true if you’re coming directly from the US. But, I had just come from India where cows roamed the streets freely, goats and chickens rode the bus, piles of garbage burned on the street corner, and people wiped their ass and ate food with their bare hands. Everything in India was MacGyvered to work long past its expiration date. Trucks with exposed engines drove alongside mules pulling buggies with wooden wheels piled high with barley. It was like a weird mash-up between Borat and Mad Max.

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In Nepal, I lived in a remote village deep in the Himalayan mountains. Running water wasn’t a thing, if you wanted any, the river a mile down the rocky hill was your only option. We’d eat dinner in the same room that the family’s goats slept in. The chickens we ate would be walking around alive and well five minutes before the feast. Fuck farm to table, this was yard to table, and that’s as fresh as it gets. They told me in order to gain the respect of the elders I would have to kill a chicken by myself at least once. I didn’t have a problem doing that. If you’re going to eat as much chicken as we do in the states, you should know what it’s like to kill one. I only wish the knife they gave me had been sharpened, it took a few more hacks to finish the job than I would have liked. Anyway, after spending a month in India and Nepal living in those conditions being back in a first world country like China feels fantastic.

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This country is notorious for producing fakes; I knew that coming in. What I didn’t realize was that they also make fake taxis. I’ll give it to this guy, he put in the effort to replicate every detail of cab perfectly, and it paid off. I showed him Donnie’s address, and he told me he could take me there no problem. He told me not to worry; he had a meter. Turns out that “meter” was total bullshit. It had multiple rows of numbers changing rapidly, none of which I could make out to be the fare price.

Idk dude, you’re in China it’s probably just some crazy algorithm. They’re light years ahead of us remember. I’m pretty sure they invented the taxi like a million years ago, you’ll be fine.

Nah, that crazy algorithm was just this scumbag taking me for all the cash in my wallet. What should have been a fifteen dollar ride turned out to cost me about sixty-five. Still not bad considering a seventy-minute ride would run me upwards of a hundred bucks in New York. Losing all that money was tough, but it didn’t matter much though, because cash has gone extinct in China.

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I’m living in a cash free, card free country. I have no use for a wallet what so ever. Everything is paid for through my phone. I can rent a bike, buy street food, order a real taxi, and even buy eggs from the tiny mom and pop stand in a back alley all by scanning QR codes. Hell, I bet they’d even let you adopt a kid with one.

This shit is crazy. Apple pay is growing in the states, but we’re nowhere close to where China is. I was out the other night and had an encounter with an old man on the street who was looking pretty grim. Matted hair, tattered clothes, no shoes, smelled like the corner of a petting zoo and had a thousand-yard stare in his eyes. I went ahead and assumed he was either still recovering from a weekend at Coachella, or was homeless. Given the fact that he was missing his front row of teeth, and begging for money I went with the latter. But hey, I’ve seen Coachella put people in a similar condition.  Either way, I pulled out my wallet to show him it was empty and gave him a shrug as if to say sorry hombre, not tonight. He then proceeded to pull out his phone and show me the fucking QR code for his mobile wallet! Are you fucking kidding me?! Even the goddamn homeless guys here have gone cashless. He’s got no home and no teeth but has a smartphone with a fucking digital wallet on it. This is the future folks. It’s hard to say sorry bro no spare change when he knows damn well that you have some RMB floating around in the cloud somewhere. People always joke that “the Chinese are taking over the world,” but after seeing this place first hand, I feel comfortable asserting that they are indeed doing exactly that.

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For a country that gets a bad rep for being so polluted, Shanghai is surprisingly green. Most people get around by bicycle or electric scooter.  For less than 15 cents USD an hour, I can rent a bike and cruise around the city. Let me say that again, I’m spending less 15 cents an hour. I guess that’s communism at its finest. I can bike from sun up to sunset only spend $1.80.  That’s far less than the $13 base fare to check out any kind of city bike back home. The best part is once I’m finished riding I don’t need to find any kind of bike stations to leave it at. I just go ah fuck it this piece of sidewalk looks as good as any other, ditch the bike there and walk away. Donnie gives a more detailed description of this on a blog post here. The Chinese aren’t just efficient in transportation, they’re also extremely sanitary.

A lot of boys go through a “They’re not dolls they’re action figures!” phase as a kid. My choice of male dolls where “The Rescue Heroes,” a group civil servant superheroes with no real powers other than being hard working blue collar folk. They were led by the fearless firefighter Billy Blazes. (With a name like I’d be shocked if he hasn’t been rebranded as “Billy Blazes the Medical Marijuana Super Doctor.”) Well, China has their own real-life version of these Rescue Heroes. On any given street in Shanghai, you’ll find government workers dressed to the nines in blue jumpsuits and reflective vests vigorously sweeping the sidewalks. In the states, we give the unpaid job of cleaning the street to well-behaved prisoners and high school kids with drinking tickets. Here in China, they don’t fuck around. There’s no slacking off when the community service director or parole officer is looking the other way. No no, these guys are on top of their fucking game. If a cigarette butt gets dropped, I’d put all my money on the under that it gets picked up within a minute. 

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I feel so intellectually inferior in this country that I bought myself a Rubix Cube. I buried my head in YouTube videos and loaded up on Adderall until I could figure out how to solve one with the hopes that it would give me some kind of common ground with these guys. To be honest, I don’t think being able to solve a standard cube impresses anyone here anymore. They’ve had that mastered since it came out thirty years ago. I saw a video of a kid in Shanghai who can solve three cubes at once while juggling them. How the fuck am I supposed to compete with that?! They’re always ten steps ahead of us; we’re doomed.

It’s tough walking down the street knowing every single person you pass is better at math than you. This isn’t just me playing into stereotypes. Nope. Every time I’ve gone to a coffee shop, there’s been some kid half my age tearing through calculus problems. I dropped out of calc my freshman year of college and haven’t looked back since. On the metro, I sat next to a girl using a stylus to complete some kind of elaborate science equations on her tablet. Could have been biology, could have been chemistry, I’m not really sure. All I know is that it looked hard, and was way out the realm of my mental ability. The point is she was actually using a stylus to do something useful. All I’ve ever used a stylus for is to draw dicks on my friends iPad if he falls asleep during a lecture.

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So far, I’m digging what China has to offer, the beer is cheap, and the food is phenomenal. However, there are some things that are just a little off here. The first being the internet. Spoiler: It’s heavily censored. I can’t use Google, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram or PornHub without a VPN, which makes the already slow connection dramatically slower. That’s tough.  

Next, they take their child rearing to extremes. Yesterday when I was making a hoon run for Donnie, I saw a father disciplining his son in front of the cig shop. He was really laying into him. The kid was probably around ten years old. (It’s nearly impossible to guess the age of an Asian adult within thirty years, but I could definitely tell this one was a child.) At first, I thought the Dad was being a little hard, but then I remembered that’s the only kid he’s allowed to have. When you have a restriction like that you gotta do everything you can to make sure you don’t end up with a bad apple.

Finally, public shaming is apparently one of the worst punishments. They take jaywalking very seriously here. The government installed cameras at every crosswalk. If you cross the street when you’re not supposed to they throw your mug up on a huge LED display board for everyone to see. There’s no monetary penalty; it’s just used to embarrass you and your family in front of the whole city. I’ve been trying to get my face out there in Asia since I started this trip in Thailand. You’re telling me all I need to do is jaywalk, and they’ll plaster my face all over the city like a movie star? Yeah… I’m in. I’ll be jaywalking through every intersection like Bruce Willis walking away from an explosion. I want my face on every public shaming board in the city. Any publicity is good publicity.

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I’m excited to see more of China. Donnies a big J journo and I’m a small i intern. I have a lot to learn and only get three questions a day to do it. This should be fun.

Stay Houndin’

Chef Donny