Saturday, March 1, 2014

Buyer beware

When we arrived to China 21 months ago, we were excited about our new "home", its surrounds and adapting to a new culture.

21 months later, I'm anything but.

Here's why.

China lacks honesty.

From corrupt government officials to lying Ayis and unsafe foods being sold at our local grocery stores and vendors, dishonesty has become something that I worry about constantly. In the states, we have checks and balances and regulations. I feel that here in China, it's each man for him/herself, regardless of how their actions affect the person next to them.

I'm tired of getting cut in front of in line ( I stand so close to the person ahead of me that if I were to get any closer they may mistake it for flirting), being laughed at when I try my hand at speaking their language ( haha měi-guó rén wǒ-tīng-bù-dǒng /"American doesn't understand") and most importantly and seriously... worrying about the safety of our family whether it be the air quality or food I buy.

I do love the sense of community among expats and the apartment complex that we live in. I love the indoor playground that sanitizes hands and checks temperatures. I love having McD's on the corner (yes, I just said that--shoot me now), and I love that we have access to a knowledgable physician (even if she's only in one day a week). 

But...the worry about the safety of my family trumps the good.

It's no news that we're going through what's being deemed as a "nuclear winter" in many parts of China this year. Wuxi is no exception. I can count the number of days in the last three months when AQI was under 50 (safe) on two hands. My kids take vitamin D supplements daily to assure the lack of sunlight doesnt retard their development. We own two air purifiers which run 24/7 and need filter replacements monthly. My newborn sleeps in our room next to one of the purifiers. She's just a lil bitty thing-her body functions are still new and I sure as hell don't want to start her off with a disadvantage. 

For the most part, the kids and I have been housebound this winter. I never knew pollution could be this bad for so long. They're reporting that the lack of sunlight is going to be responsible for killing the crops of many farmers this year. This is aweful. If the pollution has this effect on the food we eat, I can only imagine what it's doing to our bodies. 

When we first arrived, we bought local/domestic. Well, we bought local for everything but milk and baby formula. We had heard of tainted formula and milk, so we used caution. We smuggled bags of formula in suitcases from the states and purchased 1litre boxes of UHT milk. However, we did buy local/domestic eggs, meat, baking goods, produce and breads. This has changed. With the exception of shopping at the local produce market, we only buy imported goods or make our own. 

Why the change of heart?

We were the recipients of fake eggs. 

Yes, fake, man made eggs.

Don't believe me? Need a visual? 

Check this link out.

It's actually cheaper to produce man made eggs from chemicals and silicone than to raise chickens to lay eggs..and as with everything in a China, the desire for money and wealth trump safety. We had been warned to watch for fake eggs but I was quite positive that the eggs I purchased at the local market were from someone's chickens. Afterall, there were often feathers and poop on them. It never dawned on me that a vendor may mix the two to be less suspicious.

This disgusts me.

Now I am careful about everything we purchase. 

I no longer buy domestic flour, sugar or oats due to claims that traces of cadmium have been found in all three. I rather pay $11 for imported flour than risk subjecting my family to poisoning. We buy AUS grass fed beef from a Shanghai importer and have pretty much quit eating chicken since even the american brand, Tyson ( which I wouldn't buy in the USA) is processed in a facility here. Nor do we eat seafood from China. If you could see the water the fish farms are in, you'd agree. 

Toxic runoff? No thanks.

We rarely eat out. If we do, it's in Shanghai at a chain restaraunt called Element Fresh. On occasion, I'll treat myself to Muslim noodles or pizza from Papa Johns. I used to eat Muslim noodles weekly, but once I saw the video on gutter oil ( )and the resale of it, I lost my appetite. My Muslim noodle joint is not exactly the epitome of cleanliness. I can totally picture them purchasing the recycled gutter oil. Barf. We used to like jiaozi, but then we read reports of cooks soaking cardboard in a pork flavored chemical, chopping it up and mixing it in with pork (or was that fox meat?) to make the meat go further and extend their profits. 

Shocked yet?

So, yeah-to say we are excited to move back to the US next year is an understatement. As much as rules and regulations can be a pain in the ass, they exist for a reason. I love that we come from a country that, although frustrating at times, people have the right to know what is in their food, and can take action against someone/something if it's been presented falsely or proven to be detrimental to health. 

Here? No such thing. 

Buyer beware. 


  1. I was just reading a Yahoo Travel blog article last night on other countries' perspectives on United States travel. We have our books on their countries and the author scoured books on other countries and wrote the funny notes of advice to their readers. One for the Chinese high lighted that Americas

  2. ...Americans follow the rules even when no one is looking--to imply that they are cutthroat, dishonest people that cut corners and have a sense of entitlement. When I read that, I thought of your experiences and totally understood that nonsense, of course we follow rules (as a generalization)! Anyway, here is the article:

    1. Awesome article and an eye opener of sorts. Thanks for the share!

  3. Sorry about all the comments. I'm typing on the iPad and it is giving me trouble. I'm appalled at these terrible health issues you deal with daily. Fake eggs? Barf.

    It's terrible that you can trust no one and that the health risks for your family could be so high. I have worried for you (though obviously you hold that worry heavily on your shoulders!) about the pollution and of course the food issue is just frustrating, limiting, and expensive. Makes you way less interested in learning the culture when all you are learning is about the safety risks. Makes you want to hole yourself up in your expat world and wish to be ignorant.

    I look forward to the blog posts in the future about you and your beautiful kids and husband surfing and having beach picnics in Southern California. :)