It’s the 61st Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (National Day or 国庆节). Partayyy! That’s what it was in Tiananmen Square. Cotton candy, corn on the cob, massive floral displays, and… multi-colored plastic devil horn headbands. I have yet to discover their significance. But in essence, the mood on the square tonight resembled that of our Fourth of July. It was unfortunately (or fortunately) not the security-ridden atmosphere that I’d previously conjured up in my mind. Perhaps last year when China rounded its sixth decade the mood was a bit more conflicted, but I doubt it. All the controversial censorship, arrests, and injustices that plague the foreign press coverage on China feel like bitter annoyances when you stare into the crisp, glistening characters on two giant flat screens that illuminate messages of technological success, economic progress and a harmonious society. There is no looming sense of dissatisfaction here but one of overwhelming pride. After all, tonight’s square wasn’t empty but bustling with a smiling crowd snapping photos of their kids posing with Chinese flags and peace signs. And in the end, what’s not to be proud of? All the bad aside, because every country has its dark side, China’s unprecedented growth in the last twenty years is not to be taken lightly. Recognizing the pressures experienced in the past from both within its borders and abroad we might make rational sense not only of China’s rapid economic development but also of its political system. Of course there are many problems left to tackle here, but every citizen deserves a day to honor and rejoice in the successes of the country they live in.
I finally journeyed to Carrefour (the biggest supermarket chain in China– a French company) to look for as many familiar edible things as possible so I can attempt to cook on my own this week. Just as I was nearing the checkout line with a cart full of odds and ends that I’d determined safe enough to eat, I found a corner stocked to the ceiling with oil— gallons and gallons of oil. Everyone knows how important oil is when cooking Chinese food, but few know just how complex the story behind savory Chinese dishes really is. Yesterday, one of my coworkers introduced me to the term “地沟油” , which, to be honest, was my real motivation for high-tailing it to the nearest supermarket as soon as I got out of work. “地沟” means a “ditch dug in the ground” and “油” translates as “oil”. So… “ditch oil”. Yummmm. He said it’s pretty much unavoidable if you go out to eat (save at more expensive restaurants) and when I asked how to avoid it he just shrugged and said I could make my own meals or find restaurants in wealthier areas of town. Otherwise, he said, just learn to live with it.
This is the image that comes up when you google “地沟油” in China without a vpn:
“潲水油” is another kind of “sloppy” oil, which (according to the cartoon) some sneaky, wide-eyed, heartless folks are putting into jars labeled “食用油” (oil used for cooking).
According to the CIA world factbook, the Chinese life expectancy is 77 years for females and 72 years for males– ranking 96th in the world. (The United States ranks at #50, Japan is #3, Monaco takes the lead with an average of 89.6 years, and Macau is second with an average of 84 years)
There is a happy ending: As my roommate put it this afternoon on our way to lunch, “This whole oil thing is done on purpose, you know, by the Chinese government. If any country declares chemical war on China in the future, the Chinese people will already be tolerant to toxic substances and won’t be harmed.” I looked at her in horror. “I’m joking!” she said with a smile.