STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Vol 45, Issue 3

January/February 2006

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

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STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

A Texan's Perspective on Nanjing

by Melanie G. Flanders, Senior Technical Writer, Trend Micro, Inc., China Development Center

Melanie Flanders' comfort food.

Earlier this year, I closed out my life in Houston and accepted a position with a company in Nanjing, China.

Although the summer gets as hot here as in Texas, the humidity here is far less than in Houston. It cools down here at night, and I actually enjoy my late-night bike ride home and nightly walk with my two dogs.

Houston is almost completely air conditioned—you can go anywhere and typically spend no more than five minutes outside in the heat. I miss the air-conditioned offices, restaurants, and stores.

Whereas on a particularly hot day in Houston I might go to the mall or to a movie to cool off, here I go home where my apartment can quickly become a delicious 75 degrees. Ah, heaven! I certainly don't miss the $250 electric bills I would be having in Houston right now.

The thing I love most about Nanjing is the absence of fire ants. However, I have been quite intrigued with this dragon-like insect that occasionally makes its way into my apartment. It is an awesome (and fierce-looking) creature with wings.

A thorough search on the Internet has not produced an identity for this insect. It is not a dragonfly. The dragonflies here are much too delicate to be compared with the helicopter-like dragonflies of Corpus Christi.

People in Nanjing often complain about the traffic. Compared to Shanghai or Houston traffic, Nanjing's traffic is light. Except for peak hours where cars may sit for a bit, the traffic here mostly moves, even if somewhat slowly. In Houston the freeways often double as parking lots.

Now that I ride an electric bicycle rather than drive a car, I have obtained a whole new perspective on morning rush hour traffic.

Instead of sitting through two or three iterations of traffic lights in my air-conditioned car on a city street in Houston, I sometimes sit through two or three iterations of lights at a certain intersection here because there are so many bicycles trying to cross.

The cities do have in common constant road construction and the uncanny ability of all major thoroughfares to be torn up simultaneously.

I have come to terms with the fact that, except for toothpaste and body wash, "giant economy size" does not exist. Instead of driving to my nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter once every four to six weeks to stock up on household items and groceries, I am resigned to having to shop at least once each week.

For someone who dislikes shopping, the planning and execution required to complete the task in China can be frustrating. I remind myself that I cannot carry giant economy size home on my bike, and I cannot manage too much alone even when I decide to use a taxi. Although a taxi can manage the load, I can't manage the loading and unloading at each end unless I can cajole a friend or colleague to come shopping with me.

Wal-Mart and RT Mart here are just as mobbed on the weekends as their stateside counterparts. The free samples may differ, but their presence is similar. In Houston, however, I didn't have to contend with the curious masses peering in my shopping cart to see what I have selected.

Sometimes I wonder whether they are disappointed to discover that I have the same vegetables, meat, buns, and dry goods that they have in theirs. Other than peanut butter, tomato paste, and the occasional six-pack of milk, I don't buy anything that the average Chinese wouldn't buy.

Because I used to spend a lot of time in Houston's rather large Asian community, I am familiar with most of the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that I encounter here. I am also accustomed to buying fish with the head still attached (after living in Japan for four years, I prefer to buy it that way) and one Western supermarket chain was savvy enough to offer a large selection of fresh Asian foods, including live fish and shellfish.

A tech writer's work is never done.

When I go to RT Mart here, I always cruise into the seafood section and say "hello" to all the live turtles, frogs, and eels that I encounter. For a moment I pretend that I am in a pet store, and then I move on to the frozen chicken.

In Texas, you often see the sign "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" at eating establishments. At RT Mart there is a sign that states "No pajamas or slippers." I've noticed people in my community taking evening walks in their pajamas and slippers and thought that a little odd, but I can't imagine going to the store in my pajamas! As I walk and ride the streets of Nanjing, I am constantly amused at the things I notice. I am also reminded that certain human conditions, behaviors, and attitudes transcend culture; they are what make us human.

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