(circa 1998)

Before You Go:

– read at least some of Mao’s Little Red Book
– read at least some of Dream of the Red Chamber
– read the Tao Te Ching
– read Bad Elements by Ian Buruma
– read Red Azaleas and Madame Mao by Anchee Min
– read China Pop by Jianying Zha
– check out every Zhou Yimou and Chen Kaige film in your local video store
– brush up on Chinese history, especially the Cultural Revolution
– perfect at least one good karaoke song
– become adept at using chopsticks (if you can pick up and correctly position them with one hand and promptly swipe up an unshelled peanut, you’re ready to go)

While You’re There:

– camp overnight on the Great Wall
– dance atop the table at Afanti’s
– ride a bike through a hutong
– conduct your early morning exercises at a park/canal/median
– nab an invitation to a banquet and sample everything in sight
– play mahjongg with someone’s grandparents
– take a culinary tour of the xiao chi (small eats) stalls: pancakes, noodles, jiaozi, baozi, shishkebobbed hawberries, scorpions
– go out for a night of karaoke with a large group of friends
– dance at a discotheque
– eat yuxiang qieza, fish-smelling eggplant
– drink a shot of baijiu
– ballroom dance at a park
– have a picnic at Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace

Don’t Forget To Visit:

– Mao’s Mausoleum
– Beida, Beijing University
– a contemporary Chinese art gallery
– The “Human Hall” of the Natural History Museum
– Ba Bao Shan National Cemetery on Tomb Sweeping Day (usually early April)
– the Simatai section of the Great Wall (i.e. the “Most Dangerous Part”)
– Fragrant Hills in autumn
– Xinjiang Kou, home of the Uighurs

You’ll Know You’re Catching On When You:

– quote Chairman Mao (“Shit or get off the pot!”)
– deflect any and all compliments (i.e. “No, I’m not smart at all. I’m quite dumb in fact.” “Pretty? Hah! Have you taken a good look at me lately? I’m ugly as sin.”)
– can sit in that thigh-defying “Asian Squat” for hours
– put your lips to your rice bowl to inhale the last grains of rice
– use chopsticks for everything, including birthday cake and ice cream
– decide that silverware tastes bad and is ultimately inferior to chopsticks
– adopt Chinese logic as your own (i.e. “Toddlers are far more comfortable walking around with slits in their pants. Diapers are wasteful and disgusting.”)
– don’t bat an eyelash when your waitress grabs a fish from the aquarium and bonks it on the head with a mallet
– prefer your water boiling hot to cold
– keep orange peels drying on your window sill
– your cooking ware consists of an enormous wok and pot, a meat cleaver that looks straight out of a horror flick, and a pair of chopsticks
– your table condiments consist of soy sauce, vinegar, crushed dried chilis, and MSG
– feel honored when a fish head is put in your rice bowl
– stop asking “And what is this?”
– resolutely declare that Chinese cuisine is superior to any other culture’s in the world