If you travel to another country, the most common advice you’ll hear is “blend in with the natives.” When J.P. Lindquist visits China, that just isn’t an option. Lindquist, a 6’9″ blonde, is more like a giraffe in kindergarten – everybody notices.
Lindquist says, “Two meters – about 6’9” – to the Chinese seems to be the benchmark for a giant. I don’t walk anywhere without hearing at least a few gasps and, “’Wow, is he over two meters?'” He says even 1.9 meters – about 6′ 2″ – is impressive there.
And although the Chinese view this American boy as unusual, Lindquist finds China equally fascinating. He says,” I was surprised how exciting it is, especially because I come from rural South Dakota. All I need to do is walk outside and look around at the bright lights, huge buildings, crazy drivers, wet markets, and corner stores. I’m entertained for hours.”
Lindquist graduated from MHS in 2015, and first journeyed to China in 2017 by participating in a program arranged by Concordia College of Moorhead, Minnesota. He studied in China for over four months while immersing himself in the culture and honing his language skills. He lived in Zhuhai, a city situated on the southern coast on the border of Macao. The city was a small village until the 1980s when the Chinese government created five special economic zones. Today, Zuhai is home to over two million inhabitants and the new $20 billion Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macao Bridge. The bridge is the world’s longest cross-sea span and makes Zuhai the only mainland city to directly connect Hong Kong and Macao by roadway. Zuhai is also known for its golf resorts, theme parks, islands, and universities.
Many other things in China also come with a hefty price tag. Lindquist says, “Life is extremely refined and convenient in China, if you’re a citizen, that is. The whole system opens up to you if you have a bank card. Unfortunately, one needs a job to get one of those. On both trips, I’ve not been eligible. So, I’m stuck paying cash in a nearly cashless society, which excludes me from any online transactions, food delivery, and bike rentals. Luckily, my friends helped me out.”
Other items that were excluded from Lindquist’s life were deodorant and breakfast cereal. He says, “Turns out if you don’t grow up applying it (deodorant), your body doesn’t stink – at least not in the armpit region! A boring box of Cheerios will usually run more than 10 bucks. I guess I consider it a cereal cleanse when I go over there – something I could never do back home!”
So, how did he fill up that long, lanky body at breakfast? Lindquist says, “It’s pretty common for street carts to line the sidewalks in the morning. They sell an assortment of steamed pork buns (baozi), fried noodles, boiled eggs, and hot soy milk. No matter where I am in the world, I usually consume a fairly regular diet. In China, it was a few boiled eggs, tropical fruit like jackfruit, mangosteen, longan, lychee, and guava. And, I love to drink hot soy milk.”
“My lunch often consisted of prepared rice rolls from the neighborhood 7-Eleven. For dinner, I’d venture out and enjoy my proximity to neighboring countries by eating Korean bi-bim-bap, Japanese sushi, and curry or other Indian and Thai dishes. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Chinese meals, but I love the variety I have access to there.”
In comparing American-Chinese food to authentic Chinese food, Lindquist says, “I think it’s equally as oily. For me, that’s one of the toughest things to get over. Otherwise, American-Chinese food is sweetened more. But, in most cases, American-Chinese food is an adaptation, so the differences aren’t that big. I will add that in America we stick to primarily meat, but in China, they use nearly the whole animal, so bones are a lot more common. There’ll be more bones than there is meat. An average meal costs anywhere from $1.50 to $5. Cheap enough that there’s really no value in cooking for myself.”
When he had a yen for American fare, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and other popular chains were scattered about the city to satisfy his cravings. Although, he was not always gung-ho about the items served, and some were downright peculiar. Lindquist says, “Oh, man, the Western fast food restaurants have some wild menus. Starbucks is consistent, but I recommend you look up the menus for KFC, Pizza Hut, or McDonald’s. There are really some ridiculous combinations, and most often they’re on the pricier side.”
So, we did just that, and discovered some interesting chow. Want to try crayfish pizza? Peking duck pizza? How about durian pizza? (More on the durian later.) How about a specialty pizza for the holidays? One is covered in shrimp, steak, corn, asparagus, peppers, ham, pineapple, cheese, cranberry barbecue sauce, and additional balls of crust stuffed with cream cheese and cranberry sauce. (Thanksgiving?) McDonald’s offers a rose-flavored chicken burger sandwiched between a petal-pink bun, Starbucks’ menu features a red bean frappucino with green tea, and at Dunkin’ Donuts, people apparently line up for the dry pork and seaweed doughnut.
A hodge-podge of cultures comprised Pizza Hut’s potato gratin with cheese and durian. (So, here’s that explanation about durian as promised: durian is a fruit so pungent or putrid it is banned from hotels in parts of southeast Asia. The odor creeps into the fabrics and furniture and stays longer than the guests. People say it smells of onions and rotten eggs or dirty feet.) Scalloped potatoes with cheese and notes of rotten eggs and dirty feet. It is doubtful any Midwestern could be bamboozled into trying that!
Lindquist says, as in the U.S., eating out is a revered social experience and form of entertainment. “It’s pretty common to go out for a big family-style meal or to a hotpot. At a hotpot restaurant, waiters bring out a boiling pot of spicy soup, raw meat, and vegetables. Everyone drops in food and waits for it to cook.” He says the natives and tourists also frequent malls and most shopping venues have a movie theatre. “I went to several movies and they all have English subtitles, or Chinese subtitles for Hollywood movies. I loved to go out to eat on weekends, sing karaoke, and explore parks and neighborhoods.”
Lindquist says he was able to communicate with locals because he had studied Mandarin Chinese at Concordia. He says “I speak well enough to enjoy myself and feel comfortable. I’d put myself at a conversational level, but in order to get to that point, I’m sure I’ve spent several hundred hours writing characters over and over. As of late, I’ve found the series Diary of a Wimpy Kid translated into Chinese and enjoyed reading them and becoming familiar with colloquial language and everyday-slang terms.”
“I was pretty secluded when I lived on campus, so I tended to interact mostly with college students. This time around though (his second trip), I became acquainted with the neighborhood shop owners and cashiers, so that was really enjoyable.”
“My second trip was to the capital city of the Guangdong Province, Guangzhou – the third largest city in the nation. I was living in the heart of the business district and working with the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Consulate General.” Lindquist says he was surprised and pleased to be selected “as there were nearly 200 applicants, many of whom came from highly-respected universities on the coasts.”
He went on to explain, anyone who adopts a child from China is required to go to this specific consulate to complete all the paperwork as it is the only one in China that processes immigrant visas. “My main task was to prepare visa applicants for their interview. I had a chance to use and improve my language skills, and interact with hundreds of people per day. Additionally, I worked with the public affairs section to host events, and gave several cultural presentations, including one about the Midwest and college in the U.S. Finally, I did research into a group of Chinese travelers and gave a training presentation to diplomats whose job it is to adjudicate visas. The whole experience was wonderful, and I felt a sense of pride every day walking into the consulate, knowing I was contributing to the U.S. international diplomatic mission.”
Getting to his job, however, was wasn’t always as enjoyable. He says, “During peak transit hours, using the subway guaranteed a solid 20 to 30 minute wait just to get on. Roads were equally as clogged and, of course, malls, plazas, and tourists destinations are notoriously overcrowded. All this to say that yes, massive lines and crowds are common, and you have to be patient, because, most often, there’s no alternative.”
The high speed train system (over 200 mph) is highly developed and makes transportation affordable and convenient, but it can be extremely noisy and very crowded. In part, he says, because everyone in China has a smart phone. “It’s wild. In my city, everyone was connected. Unfortunately, China has internet censorship laws that block many Western social media sites. So, staying in touch with my friends and family back home was a bit tricky.”
He took advantage of the railway system to expand his horizons even more. “I visited a few other large cities: Chengdu – to see the giant pandas, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, as well as several lesser-known, but still massive cities such as Shenzhen, Chongqing, and Hangzhou.”
What did he most want to do when he returned to American soil? Lindquist says, “Eat, of course! Most vegetables served in China are either boiled or fried. It’s uncommon to have fresh vegies, so I went to find a big of salad as soon as I got out of the airport, then washed it down with my favorite cookies and ice cream.”
Lindquist graduates from Concordia next May. So, after spring rolls around and he has his diploma in hand, he might have the time and inclination to go back to Asia. China certainly seems to be his cup of tea. Or as the Chinese say, 一个萝卜一个坑儿 – every kettle has its lid.