The Second Most Elaborate Beggar in China

It’s no camel, but a monkey in a shopping mall’s courtyard seems to work just as well as far as begging goes. The monkey even did tricks, so how could you not give this guy money for that? Just imagine how this would’ve gone down in America. On a scale of one to Ferguson, how quickly would this guy have been down surrounded by security? But not here, because as usual, just about anything goes in the middle kingdom.



He’d just strolled through casually, turning heads as he’d walked up to people and prompted his monkey to give them a high five or do a handstand. This seemed to be working well too, because most of the people were handing him money without much hesitation. Was the monkey just that cute? Had they never seen one before? Or had he threatened to let the monkey loose on them if they didn’t give up some pocket change? I honestly couldn’t be sure how it went down, since whenever I attempted to get close enough to listen in or get a good photo, he’d gotten pretty aggressive. His monkey was probably camera shy. Honestly though, who brings a monkey to a mall and doesn’t expect to get photographed?! That’s sillier than using a monkey to get money.


Making friends


Sometimes people bring their monkeys to the Hong Kong border as well

Snoozin’ China

A guy sleeping on the street? Surely he’s homeless… Card board boxes, piss stained clothes, and incoherent rambling, right? Not even close. Sprawling out to fall asleep in random public places is way more of a I’m tired and this is a surface I could sleep on sort of situation than it is home foreclosures and hard times over here. Both schools and offices have a time for napping built into their lunch breaks, which are usually around two hours long with at least one hour of it devoted to sleeping wherever and however you damn well please. Siestas are a common sight all through the day if you’re out and about in the city, because who needs to go back home to nap when they’re shamelessly okay with sleeping in a position that bends their spine in 3 different directions. Or if there’s an IKEA nearby with free AC.

These photos are the best of the best from my time in China, and to my knowledge, none of these people were drunk or homeless… Just too sleepy to give a single fuck whatsoever.


“Help yourself and throw the money behind the counter”


During the office’s designated nap time, anything goes


Once back on the clock though, more subtlety is required




Napping? Or practicing what to do in case of a crash?


“There’s room for more if you’ll pay the meter”


He came prepared with that pink pillow




Where there’s a will there’s a way


Just kidding, this is a Prozac ad


Who actually buys crocs anyways?



Bro tip: Don’t fall asleep in places that make it look like statues are fisting your butt



Pit stop








“Before I attach this door, lemme sleep on it first”


Weary commuters



Saved the best for last


Seriously. Not even a hint of fucks to give as he’s so clearly on the clock and also in charge of keeping an eye on the cars. The insides of his eyelids were the only thing this guy was watching


After all of this, I figure it’s only fair to post a photo of myself, since I often fall asleep on the subway. Guilty as charged, and thankfully not in the Bronx at the time

The Turtle Men

Sky scrapers, luxury cars, and expensive suits are the symbols of success, and naturally you’d expect to see plenty of each while walking through an area of the Central Business District. International businesses and the satellite offices of household names from back home fill the multiple fifty story buildings that tower here, as expensive cars and taxis navigate around pedestrians too distracted by their bluetooth conversations to use the crosswalks of the crowded streets below. It’s hard to imagine a man selling snapping turtles having any place at all here, but the small group of men in suits who had crowded around him and his reptilian merchandise one afternoon in front of a prominent bank had proven otherwise.


Up above


And down below


The business men were shouting over each other as they used the money in their hands to gesture and point, employing the same tactics they would use once they returned to their offices to trade stocks and engineer corporate take-overs. Un-phased by the yelling and pleased with their enthusiasm, the turtle man just sat there on the curb calmly, letting the men haggle as he showed off his different turtles.


The caviar of the nouveau riche

While this was definitely the nicest area that I’ve witnessed a turtle sale on the street in, it definitely wasn’t the first. In fact, since early March I’ve been seeing turtle men about once a week in various middle-to-upper-class areas of Shenzhen, strolling around with several snappers at a time sticking out like a sore thumb (often more so due to their fashion than their business). Some have carried their turtles in burlap bags, others have sat with them leashed up in way that reminded me of pitbulls outside of a Brooklyn bodega, while some have even walked through heavy traffic making offers into the rolled down windows of BMW SUVs before the traffic lights had turned green. Day or night, I’ve seen them in every area of the city, selling the oddest commodity I’ve yet to witness here.


Not sure which is more shocking, that outfit or his turtle stick



Strut your stuff, guy


Perplexed, I’d decided to ask around. My coworkers shrugged and said turtles taste good and are healthy, while one onlooker in an upper class neighborhood had mockingly pretended to pray while saying bàifó 拜佛, which means to worship Buddha. I’m still not really sure if he was trying to make fun of me for needing to ask, or the people who’d stopped to inquire about these fine terrapins. As usual, it was my Chinese teacher who’d offered the most helpful explanation. She explained to me the correlation between eating turtles and increasing your longevity, due to how long they can live for. And to my total lack of surprise, she added that there’s a belief that turtles can increase virility and help with making male children. But these turtles won’t work, look at them, they’re obviously captive bred. They’re too well fed and their shells aren’t beat up. You need wild caught turtle to actually get the effect. This guy is a scam artist. And here I’d thought selling a snapping turtle for almost 1000RMB on the street had been the only rip-off happening on that street corner. Silly me.


Traditional Chinese Life Insurance


About as friendly as his merchandise. And as slow with the stick too.

The idea of transference through eating animals isn’t exactly a new theme in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There’s a reason chicken cartilage and organs are popular items on just about any restaurant’s menu; falling under the same line of thought as living longer by eating matured turtles, eating an animal part to enhance your own is a common belief over here. This even extends into male enhancement, because who wouldn’t believe that eating tiger weiners, ingesting a powder made from big’ole rhino horns, and drinking snake wine could have positive effects on your lower member. Maybe Yao Ming had been on a steady diet of giraffe steaks when he was a teen. I guess at face value this could all make sense, if it weren’t for that pesky thing called nutritional science. My dubiousness aside, if it works for you man… The placebo effect’s a hell of a drug.


A turtle a week keeps the reaper away


Recommended for anybody seeking more favorable interest rates

Roasted Ducklings, Hidden Bones

It’s like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but much more likely to break your teeth than Chow Yun-Fat. Chinese cuisine has some of the most delicious and diverse dishes in the world, but it also includes the unfortunately common chainsaw chicken. Imagine your typical stir fry, except among the vegetables and hidden underneath the sauce lie chunks of chicken with the bones and tendons still in them. Who knows which part of the chicken is in your dish, but you can bet it wasn’t the most edible or valued portion of the bird. Sometimes shards of the bones have even broken off into your vegetables, creating a potentially dangerous dish of low expectations and soy sauce.


Lets play spot the bones

Chefs in China are known for using every part of an animal, and filleting birds just isn’t seen as necessary here in the Middle Kingdom. Eating these meals is like navigating marrow-laden land mines, although chopsticks do make it easier to pick them out, and I’ve experienced this at both high-end restaurants and dingy kitchens. Heck, a dish in Guangzhou even claimed one of my back molars when a particularly negligent chef had decided to deep fry chainsaw chicken. Drunk and hungry, I’d dug in expecting something to similar to sesame chicken, and left shortly after needing to see a dentist. Good times, bon appetit.



Bones or no bones, Cantonese duck is still one of the most savory and delicious meals that I’ve ever eaten


When you see something like this in a restaurant, it really all comes down to expectation management


For the customers who order extra bone

Clapping in Kiev

As my plane touched down in Kiev, all of the Ukrainians began to clap. And it wasn’t just several people who had managed to get those around them to clap too either, like dickheads during a superhero movie; the whole plane simultaneously started to clap without any prompt, clearly as a tradition of some kind in these parts. As far as landings go, it could’ve been a lot worse, but I wouldn’t say it was exactly clap-able. Had the pilot successfully dodged every ice patch on the runaway and I was just too sheltered to be thankful for this? Are there statistics out there about Ukrainian pilots that would’ve made me terrified to board my flight if I’d known beforehand, and they all appreciated just how lucky we were to have touched ground smoothly? Had it been because our rickshaw airplane’s landing gear had functioned properly in the most crashable moment of the flight? All jokes aside, I’d sat there grinning, sheepishly looking left and right as the Ukrainians around me clapped with no expression. It had taken me completely off guard. Just another reminder of why I travel.

You'd have a deadpan expression too if you'd flown like this for 8 hours

You’d have a deadpan expression too if you’d flown like this for 8 hours

Mantrums in China

Sometimes I really don’t get this place. I’ve seen a foreigner’s snide remark result in him getting hospitalized by a group of Chinese guys, and the nastiest fights I’ve witnessed here have been over the most trivial shit, like who would get a taxi, a fender bender that didn’t even result in a scuff, or an extra item on a restaurant bill that couldn’t possibly have been more than 40RMB (about 5 dollars). Taking these into account, you’d think wiping a counter clean in a bank and Shouting in Mandarin would’ve left me unable to write this.

Let me preface this by saying I’m not usually a dick, I’d just had a really rough week. I guess I should also add that the majority of my mantrums have taken place in banks while trying to change money, so maybe I need to reevaluate the way I do my finances. After waiting over 30 minutes to change money for an early morning flight back to America the next day, sitting in that lobby past 5 o’clock when financial institutions close and any chance of going somewhere else had expired, I was informed that foreigners couldn’t change RMB to a foreign currency anymore. I tried to reason with them, explaining the urgency, telling them how I’d done it before at this exact bank, and offering my passport to show them my residency permit in order to prove that I was legally employed. I’d even told the customer service girl what I’d wanted to do when I’d arrived in order to register into the correct que, but apparently that had been completely ignored. None of it mattered; foreigners could no longer change RMB to a foreign currency at this bank. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I lost my shit.

“Does anybody else here a white guy yelling?” Photo Credit:

To lose your cool or show anger, as well as throw a full-on mantrum, is one of most shameful ways you can conduct yourself in Chinese culture due to Confucian values, and well, I lost some face that evening. The people around me froze to watch, and the several security guards, each equipped with batons and mace, meandered my way hesitantly. Maybe I got lucky with the “foreigner card,” or maybe I was just angry enough and big enough to deter serious action, but instead of getting clubbed and pepper sprayed or having the police called on me, the middle aged bank manager calmly came up to me in the midst of verbally throwing down with the women behind the glass barrier, put his hand on my back, and said “calm down, Dad is going to help you.” Translated directly, that’s not actually as creepy as it sounds; Chinese people often refer to each other by age, calling each other big brother or little sister depending on who’s helping who, with children and young adults referring to their elders as uncle or auntie. I guess in this situation, I was the kid; I’d definitely been acting like one.

Same facial expression, and pants

Same facial expression, and pants

I sheepishly watched as Dad called over one of the secretaries and told her to change my money for me using her own ID, and within several minutes, I had the stack of US dollars that I’d come for. I of course had been apologizing the whole time, but my excuses and sorry’s weren’t necessary, the manager just waved them off and said it’s nothing, apologizing to me as well for the inconvenience. Modesty and deference, those are virtues here for the same reason flipping your shit in a bank is shameful, and this guy had just helped me despite how big of an asshole I’d been, even going so far as to break the rules of his job and the laws of his country. When I left, several of the onlookers and employees even smiled at me and waved goodbye, wishing me a good a day. Anywhere else… 3.5 years later and China still baffles me. I should’ve gotten my ass kicked.

IV Errthing

Hangnails and dirty streets don’t mix, and I’d just happened to be working in one of Shenzhen’s oldest and poorest village areas, colloquially referred to as a Cunzi or cun. Looking back on it, it should’ve been a no-brainer that biting my cuticles and petting Cun dogs would eventually catch up with me.


A typical Cun, where the ground is always wet regardless of the weather..


Don’t even risk picking your nose in these parts of town

Small clinics are scattered all over Shenzhen with at least a couple in every neighborhood, and conveniently enough there had been one just down the block from my primary school. I had figured this would be pretty simple to get taken care of… Just a couple pills and some gunk drained out, then I’d be back to playing with lockjaw in no time.


“I aint done shit”


Who would’ve believed the amount of hassle I was going to go through just to be able to point at people when I yell

The only issue with that theory was that it turned out to be 100% wrong. Pretty much the opposite of quick and simple, the doctor there informed me that I’d need to be put on a regiment of IV treatments for at least 3 days, and in addition to coming to get hooked up twice each day, I’d also need to drink mashed up roots mixed only in hot water several times throughout each day. The IV treatments made it sound much more serious than I’d expected, and I started to get a little nervous about coming out of this with all of my digits as I’d watched the doctor prepare the IV bag. Only after being led into a large seating room as varied as an inner-city ER waiting room, sans stabbings, did I realize that the severity of my treatment was due more so to cultural differences than it was MRSA. After getting seated in front of multiple TVs all playing soap operas, they hooked in my IV and told me that the bag would take roughly 45 minutes to drain fully. The nurse then gave me a clip board of take-out menus and walked away, leaving me with plenty of time for people watching.


Although MRSA is never outside the realm of possibilities in a place like this


In the time that I’d been sitting there, I’d watched quite a few people finish or start IVs, and I couldn’t help but notice how many were there for simple colds. I guess I’d known this already just from working alongside Chinese teachers for years and witnessing them leave during a free period to get an IV rather than call out sick, but damn… there must’ve been ten people with the sniffles there at any one time, coughing openly as they got fluids pumped into them. Anchored by my IV nearby one woman who was hacking away in my direction, I remember hoping to leave the clinic healthier than when I’d arrived.


My photo had died at the perfect time to play candy crush, and I was unable to get a picture of the waiting room. The clinic I’d been at hadn’t been this busy, but this photo is exactly what you should be imagining. Photo credit: QQ news

Besides the people with common colds, there was a woman had to have been a prostitute, which are prevalent in the cun’s and gnarlier than their dogs, and I’m not above guessing fingers aren’t the only infected area an IV can treat. What had really floored me though was when a younger guy was brought in by his friend, who’d fireman-carried him to a seat as a he groaned and clutched his face. Had he been hit by a car? Did he have a ravaging fever? Nope. He’d gotten drunk last night, and merely had a bad hangover. I mean, I’m not gonna say it doesn’t make sense to knock off a hangover with some saline and glucose, but whatever happened to just closing the curtains and sipping Gatorade all afternoon?

It wasn’t long before my IV had finished, along with the curry chicken I’d had delivered in, and it was my time to go. The other appointments went about the same, and by the second day my finger was more or less back to normal. All in all, the culture shock had been worse than the infection.


The little things add up, and the big things, well, after awhile they stop being so big, and in the long run that’s so much worrisome than the pressures of any day to day issue. Expat life can be disconnecting, and while you’ve hopefully made a fulfilling life for yourself wherever you’re at, it’s all too easy for home to drift farther and farther away, year after year.

You’ll miss out on birthdays and traditions, you won’t be around when relationships change to either celebrate, or help forget, and holidays that are foreign to where you are will become more and more mirage-like as the years pass. Exorbitant flight costs and days worth of cross continental travel, on top of the work schedule that had brought you abroad in the first place, make it unfeasible to go back for anything but the biggest and most important events. It’s all too easy to become isolated from not only the people you love, but the culture that made you you, and managing to stay connected will require more upkeep that you could’ve realized. Every now and then, you’re going to need to recharge.

Splurge on the plane ticket home for a week, make a major holiday special again by going somewhere unique for it, order gifts via the internet on important days, and put Skype to full use during your daily life. Backpacking through Asia during a summer or winter break is pretty tight, but eventually you’re going to need to pass it up for a solid 3-4 weeks home with your friends and family, and that’s natural. You can live it up and make Facebook jealous next time. Jacked up travel costs, pay cuts, using personal time… Trust me that none of those will mean a single thing to you when you’re there at your childhood friend’s wedding, celebrating with the people that matter on the most important day of their life. Do what you need to do for you and yours; living abroad is an amazing experience but should never be at the expense of your domestic life.


By the Way, What Is This?

Some things are better left enjoyed. I’ve had plenty of egg tart dishes before, and while this one was slightly creamier and had a subtle chalky taste that I just couldn’t quite place, it was hitting the spot after a delicious sea food dinner. My neighbors had invited me out to meet their daughter before she headed back to America to continue her studies, and besides feeding me every type of shellfish available, they’d splurged on an Alaskan king crab. After cleaning out every one of the crab’s long spiny legs, we topped off the dinner with that soupy bowl of what I’d guessed was egg tart.


Turns out the legs weren’t the only part of the crab that had been cleaned out, because after having asked out of curiosity just what exactly was in my bowl, I found out what that chalky taste was: blended up, congealed crab organs. When speaking in second languages and swapping between English and Mandarin like we had been, it’s so much easier than you’d probably expect to get as close to the bottom of the bowl as I had without actually knowing what it was that I’d been eating… I doubt I would’ve caught “crab brain goop” if they had happened to mention it in mandarin, and it was pretty unlikely they’d learned how to say “crab brain goop” in their English classes. Usually you just assume your way through it and evaluate based off of taste, and sometimes, you purposefully don’t get told in order to avoid what they expect could be a cultural taboo… such as how Americans typically don’t eat crab brain goop.


If we only knew how much this stuff boosts virility…

Upon hearing what it was, I suddenly became a whole lot less hungry, although I wasn’t at all surprised that they’d scraped out the carapace in order to make a mousse out of what would only described as by-products anywhere else. Cooks over here don’t waste, and the Chinese are anything but picky eaters. Tendons, congealed pig’s blood, fish heads in soup, even duck tongues… Crab brain mousse is just another edible oddity in the long list of things I’ve tried over here, whether accidentally or to please my host. It’s all in your head, right?


Fried, steamed, candied, pickled.. Chicken feet are as popular of a snack over here as Doritos are in the States


Tortilla substitutes or The Silence of the Hams?


Fish heads in bulk. No joke, it’s an honor to eat the eye


Even duck tongues… Actually not all that bad

If you're ever feeling adventurous, you can get duck tongues and chicken feet at just any convenient store or super market

If you’re ever feeling adventurous, you can get duck tongues and chicken feet at just about any convenient store or super market

A Terrible Night’s Sleep on a Chinese Sleeper Bus

It’s only 170RMB they said. It’s the most convenient way to get to Yangshuo they said. By the time you wake up you’ll be there they said. At least, that was the idea.

Rich or poor, there’s a method for everybody when it comes to traveling in China. The speed trains were booked out for weeks, and flying was either going to be too expensive or too time restrictive for a spontaneous weekend getaway, so at the time, taking a night bus had sounded like the best option for getting out of the city one Friday afternoon. Dirt cheap and set to arrive productively early at 8am, I’d boarded the 36 bed tour bus around 9pm, looking forward to falling asleep to movies and waking up well rested for a weekend of hiking and exploring in the mountains of Yangshuo.



As soon as I’d crawled up into my bunk, I realized this wasn’t gonna be the relaxing ride I’d been hoping for. Whether it was due to the fact that I was literally several inches too tall for the length of the bed, or the many, many times I’d banged a knob or a funny bone against metal and corners while shifting or repositioning myself, or how every time the bus hit a bump, my body bounced upwards, smashing my shins against the lip of the foot cubby… within the first ten minutes it had become dismally clear that I wouldn’t be getting much sleep.




But still, I’d tried to think positively and make the best of it by padding my shins with clothing from my pack, and using the blankets provided to cushion the wooden foot cubby of the passenger behind me, which my head had overextended onto. And then the man underneath me’s phone went off, ringer set all the way up to “inconsiderately loud,” to which he answered befittingly, shouting into his phone to overcome the increasingly poor cell service. The whole bus had already sounded like a hot June night near a pond, with text alerts going off like Spring Peeper Frogs, but those could be blocked out by headphones easily enough. This guy and his ten decibel conversation though, definitely wasn’t.


They say the first scratch on a new car always hurts the most, but that isn’t the case when it comes to sleep deprivation. Besides the ten or so phone calls I hadn’t been able to sleep through, each of which consisted more or less of the person shouting about they hadn’t arrived yet, and ironically enough mentioning just as loudly how they were on a sleeper bus, the bus had also stopped about every 2 hours to pick up and drop off passengers, none of whom passed by me quietly or thoughtfully. Bags occasionally slapped against my bunk and whichever part of me that was slightly sticking out to make room for the rest of me, raucous announcements of arrival were made into phones, and most of the men exiting were in such a hurry to smoke that they’d already lit up as they passed by me. By the time I’d gotten off the bus and driven to my hotel, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep.


Budget travel comes at a price


Whoever said ‘It’s the journey that matters, not the destination,’ clearly never took a night bus to Yangshuo. But damn, this place was worth it