A friend of mine asked me the other night what was the best part about being in China so far, and with the shear vastness of my experiences—some bad, some good—, I found it difficult to come up with one aspect of my time here that I could label as being “the best part.”  Instead my mind immediately began to wander, taking me back to those moments when I feel that glowing sense of being out of my own element.  It’s an energetic feeling, that seems to originate in my head and then work its way through the rest of my body, resonating somewhere deep in my chest I finally responded by telling her that the best part about being in China is the feeling that I somehow seemed to have landed on another planet, or perhaps fell into a wormhole and ended up in some sort of parallel universe, where everything is pretty much the same, but at the same time so different.

It’s a place where little kids are free to piss and shit on the street.  Where everyone drinks tea instead of coffee, where to buying cheese is like buying truffles, norms of politeness and congeniality are turned upside down and inside out.  Where traffic laws are more like suggestions.  Where people don’t shower often but clean their feet every morning and every night.  Where they greet you by asking, “Have you eaten yet?”  Where it’s totally acceptable to hock a big lugey in public, where men trade cigarettes when they first meet, where they believe the head and the feet of a chicken are the best part.  Where it’s impossible to buy a good cut of meat.  Where bootlegs are more common than the genuine product, where the toilettes are essentially a hole in the ground,  where pubic restrooms never have their own supply of tissues and you are required to carry your own.

Where Mao Zedong is to this day considered a national hero.  Where dental hygiene is the least of their worries.  Where the beds are so firm it feels more liking sleeping on a hardwood floor.  Where there is no such thing as class discussion, only right and wrong answers.  Where karaoke is one of the greatest national pastimes.  Where the liquor tastes like poison, where Budweiser is the fanciest beer you can buy.  Where what we would call corruption is often considered status quo.  Where the written language could take three lifetimes to master.

Where the first price is never the real price.  Where the air is more dust than it is oxygen.  Where the people seem content with their tumultuous past, but at the same time yearn to leap into the future.  Where the newspapers, radio broadcasts, and television networks are puppets of the government.  Where men grow out their pinky nail so that they have something to scratch themselves with.

Where a spoiled young American can roam the streets in a constant state of amazement, wondering how on earth he got here, wondering how on earth he’ll ever be able to explain this experience.