Comparison of life in Piscataway, New Jersey, Kochi, Japan, and Zhuzhou, China

Written September 6, 2004

modified August 20, 2009. Thinking of adding a beijing column.

Category Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
My age when I lived there ~6-22 22-25 26-27
Years 1984-2000 2000-2003 2004-
Population 50,000 350,000 3,000,000 ?
Status Small town near NYC in a dense suburban area Capital of a rural prefecture Industrial city & train hub
Feeling nothing going on locally except Rutgers U, NYC is close enough though Sleepy town, everyone interesting leaves for the big cities as soon as they can Developing pretty fast, everybody wants money and expects to live a better life.
Politics Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Ridiculous foreign policy stance That cuba is bad. That israel deserves unconditional support. That the war in Iraq was justified. That the US promotes democracy all over the world. That Japan wasn't as bad as nazi Germany in ww2. That the rape of Nanking didn't happen. That they were victims of ww2. That dropping the bomb was worse than starting ww2. That Taiwan is part of china.
Ridiculous belief Our language is the hardest in the world. You get colds from being cold and wet. Our language is the hardest in the world Our language is the hardest in the world. You get colds from being too cold.
Many foreigners YESSSS some no
If a foreigner in your store can't speak the local language... be incredibly rude Try one more time, then give up. Get really nervous and try to make them go away. Try out your english, call over your friend, ask someone walking by on the street to help, try drawing pictures & gesturing.
How do they feel about the Japanese? They study really hard and don't have many feelings, OR, they're crazy artists. They are unique among countries/races and impossible for outsiders to understand They don't much like them.
Locals like white foreigners? Not really Yes, if they're not too rowdy. Yes
Locals like nonwhite foreigners? No No No
Free Speech Yes Yes, but nobody uses it Yes, but watch out when talking about politics or Taiwan. Actually it's quite open, you can talk about democracy all you want, as long as you don't criticize China.
Elections Yes Yes, but no issues and one party rule No
Corruption Yes YES YESSSSS
Mafia Not that I know of. Supposedly YES
A poor guy can win in court against a rich guy Sometimes Unlikely, and it'll cost millions and take years No
How often do people think about lawsuits All the time Never Never
Locals allowed to move freely Yes Yes Yes, but if you're a peasant trying to go to the city, you won't be able to get a residence card in your new home, so you won't be able to get any public services and your kids won't be able to go to school
Racist nationalists A few YES Yes
TV Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
TV Shit Shit, but amusing SHIT, but there is a public 24 hour a day sports channel
Public TV A little boring, some good nature documentaries and foreign tv. Oh yeah, and it's sponsored by big oil companies. Lots of japanocentric documentaries, some go on tv LOTS of samurai dramas. They censor political talk, non-standard Chinese accents, and sexy clothes.
number of public channels 11 5 15+, if you have an antenna. (Once I got a good antenna, I was up to 60 Channels. Why can they manage to fit 60 channels into their spectrum in China, and only like 10 in the US?) (update: that wasn't an antenna, that was an illegal splice (into the really cheap local cable, which just broadcasts the tv from each province))
Food Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Food Good, unhealthy Bland, some ok, lots terrible Great, but it'll make you sick
Spicy Food Thai, indian, chili. You can find it. Almost nothing except coco's curry house and indian restaurants. And you can put a lot of wasabi on stuff but that's different Oh god yeah. Everything is covered in peppers. black, green, and red. You can order dishes that are 100% peppers. 我喜欢辣椒
Blue collar daily food Sandwiches, pizza, pasta? Ramen, Udon, fried stuff (agemono), box lunches (bento) Noodles, dumplings, some vegetable I don't know the name of, eggs
Surprisingly good local food Cheap pizza Japanese curry Chopped tomatos with sugar. Egg pancakes.
Terrible local food Liver? Rotten soybeans (natto), cooked rice smashed into blobs by hammers (mochi), pickled things, boiled smashed potato extract mixed with animal bone ash (yes, really) (konnyaku), internal organs Internal organs. all kinds of dried sea invertebrates. Apparently they have chinese natto too. Nice looking chicken/pepper/rice dishes where every other piece of chicken is actually a bone chunk
Foods I ate a lot at first but then got tired of Velveeta cheese, potato chips Triangular chunks of rice with chopped salmon inside (onigiri), conveyor belt sushi Dumplings
Food I ate a lot of and could eat all the time for the rest of my life Pizza, garlic bread, thai Japanese curry, melon bread, pizza potato chips which have this flavoring splattered over them that is just solid crack, squid sashimi, tuna and egg salad sandwiches, indian food, royal hat pizza Spicy whole fish hotpot (huoguo 火锅) = a big pot of boiling water full of peppers, garlic, and peppers in the middle of the table that you add raw materials such as lamb, mushrooms, noodles to and then fish out and eat. Beef and onions fried over rice. Fried noodles with those long skinny mushrooms and peppers.
Food you always hear about but people barely ever actually eat Baked alaska? Sushi The wonderful food from their hometown, which is always better than the local version.
Fat People OH YESSSSS A few A few, 30+ guys are all a little thick. More than japan.
Bones in your food Yes, but just eat around it. Ha ha, never. Except for fish. Chopped up bone bits mixed in with chicken, pork, beef. Fish served whole full of bones. Bits of bone/rock mixed into your rice occasionally.
Spitting things out NOOOOO NOOOO Just do it, right on the table. while talking.
1$ gets you how much food 1 slice of pizza Half a tiny bowl of rice? A big bowl of noodles and a bottle of beer.
A soda 1$? 1.50$ 1.25$ 0.35$
Taking 30 people out for dinner and getting them drunk in a nice restaurant 1200$ + tip 1200$ 100$
Ordering Go as fast as possible and don't ask questions. If you piss them off they will do stuff to your food. Be serious, follow the script. Impossible to break out of standard phrases. Take 10 minutes, ask as many questions as possible. The restaurant will be out of half the stuff you order. Chat, laugh, joke.
Getting the attention of the waiter Look them in the eyes, or raise a finger Yell "sumimasen" or "master" (mastaa) Yell "laoban"
Get treated like a human being No, unless they pretend to in order to get tips No, if they vary from the script they could get fired. Yes
Tipping Yes. 15-20% for meals, 1$ for drinks No No
Floors of cheap restaurants Clean CLEANNNN DIRTY, spilled food, used napkins. floor = garbage can.
Local alcohol None Sake, 15%, it's awful Baiju, 40%, really bad
Effects of drinking Louder, more violent, sloppy Red face, louder, shows emotions, gets naked Red face, louder, grabs people more, shows emotions, more expressive
Someone says "You're drunk!" to you ? Jovial Condemnatory
Obviously extremely drunk people Yes YESSSSS No?
Drinking on the street NOOOOO, you will be arrested Yes, during festivals. Bunches of 10 drunks drinking "cup of sake" in the park all day. YES
Drinking on trains/public transport NOOOOO, you will be arrested Yes Yes
Street Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Street Tables No! NO YES, it's great
Dudes sitting at street tables with no shirt and 10 empty beer bottles No No YES
People walking on the street No, no public streets. Unless you count malls Yes, on the shopping street obiyamachi. Little towns have dead shopping streets full of old ladies at 5 am. Yes, on every little street
People selling stuff on the street No Yes, some israelis selling jewelry. YESSS. Little mirrors, fake mahjong tiles (to help you to cheat), etc.
People hanging out on the street NOOOO Yes, 80 year old women, school kids, guys trying to pick up girls, old guys drinking in the park Yes, sitting around, taxi/moto guys waiting to pick up rides, store workers, washing stuff, cleaning, eating, playing with their kid, grandmas talking, guys smoking together
People sleeping in the street No No Yes, on newspapers
People sleeping at their workplace No No Yes, lots of construction workers
People sleeping in the park No Yes No parks
People washing their hair on the street No No YES
People playing games on the street No Hidden groups of old men in the park playing shogi Many old dudes playing xiang qi, on weekends every house has the whole family outside playing mah jong, many young guys waiting around playing cards
Parks Yes, joggers & lovers in the day, closed with cops patrolling at night Yes, old men and school kids (Initially no, later I realized there are lots of them)
Obstacles on the sidewalk Nothing, if there is you can sue Huge canals with no rails, telephone poles, signs everywhere, bad pavement, blind people's "yellow brick road" walking paths which have raised slippery bumpy tiles which probably cause hundreds of bike accidents in the rain ever year. Rotten food, urine, air conditioning drips, people sleeping, beggars, babies, dogs, parked motorcycles, taxis, big piles of bricks, concrete, sand, sticks, garbage. Open grates, glass
If the sidewalk is wet it means It rained, or somebody's watering their lawn It rained It rained, someone washed their hair, someone did laundry, someone has an AC above you, someone was cleaning the street, there is a leak, there is construction near there, someone drank something
If you have some water to throw away Down the drain Down the drain Throw it on the street, spreading it as widely as possible. I don't know why they do this but they make a real effort to get it to cover as much area as possible.
Things carried in bicycles yourself, your baby yourself, guitars, umbrellas yourself, babies, bottles of propane gas, giant water bottles, your brothers and sisters, your passengers, giant pieces of styrofoam, 10 food long metal poles, giant balloons
Beggars No Play jpop on acoustic guitar, bow in their monk outfit, read palms with a laptop sitting next to them, play xylophone. Have signs telling their life story, challenge you to chinese chess problems, are horribly deformed (and I mean really really horribly), have their pitiful babies in their arms, have obsessive motion disorder
Vehicles on the road Cars, trucks, motorcycles, suvs, 18 wheelers, vans, buses Cars, k-cars, mopeds, motorcycles, schoolkids on bicycles, strange little mutant cars, weirdly decorated trucks Taxis, buses, rickshaws, motorcycles, motorcycle taxis, motorcycle carts, rickshaw taxis, carts, cars, suvs, bicycles, trucks, dumptrucks
Honking No No every 2 seconds
U-turns? Prepare to get a ticket and get raped by insurance. Yes, anywhere you want Yes, anywhere you want
Lines on the road YESSSS, yellow in the middle and white on the edges YESSSS No.
Interesting things in the road No Tram stops Trees with pavement laid around them, trucks loading and unloading giant bales.
Park anywhere you want NOOOO, prepare to be towed/your car damaged YES YES, sidewalk, side of the highway, wherever
Suicidal old ladies veering into the road NO YESSSS YESSSS
Jaywalking Yes NO! YEEEESSSSS
Visible dirt/grass yes, everywhere NOOOOO. dirt gashes around construction sites - yes. grass a little
Land Use Thanks to zoning laws, even the densest housing developments still have yards. There are still forests (about 10 acres across from my house, another 500 acre forest fairly close) A giant park running along the raritan river. It's incredibly beautiful. 20% extremely steep hills covered with "industrial cedar", 40% rice fields/concrete canals, 30% houses packed back to back with no yard/gravel yards filled with propane tanks/dead cars/buses, 10% roads/stores/parking lots. 8 story apartment buildings, wide roads, a few rubble/garbage pits. Lots of construction sites. Almost no private houses. The ground floor of apartment buildings is always given over to commerce.
Ridiculous Land Use Imagine a circle big enough to contain 5000 people's homes. It is likely that there aren't any stores in that circle. At ALL. Farmers use billion dollar plots of land to grow rice, since Japanese rice prices are kept at 10x the rest of the world's. So everyone lives in shitty little houses and there are almost no open spaces. Giant square pools of water with a mysterious purpose, surrounded by at least 40 8-story apartment buildings.
Chain Stores Yes, everything is a chain. Lots of huge outlet stores. In some areas there are still pitiful little mom and pop stores run by 80 year olds. They are spreading fast. Chinese local restaurant owners don't seem to realize that a McDonalds with clean floors is a lot more appealing than a local place with drifts of used napkins under the tables.
If you have nothing to do at work Chat, look busy LOOK BUSY Sit down, smoke, talk, eat, sleep, read the paper
Dirty Streets No, incredibly incredibly clean No YES
"Be careful not to step in that vomit!" um... once a month? once a year? once a week multiple times daily.
Public Garbage cans Yes, of course, what do you expect people to do with garbage? No! You must pay to throw things away! Sometimes, but bums constantly open them up looking for things and throw the garbage all around.
People pawing through big piles of garbage NO NO YESSSSS
Air Beautifully clear Clear You can't see more than 500 yards clearly due to the pollution fog.
Design Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Sides of buildings Clean Huge rain stains, grimy, or really rusty Soot covered
Wooden buildings Yes! beautiful! No, except for little falling apart shacks filled with junk No
Tiles as an architectural element Implies bathrooms Common Every building
The buildings are disgusting and make me sick Modern ones Yes Yes, but what do you expect? they're only 30 years away from the cultural revolution.
Bricks Red, or that nice mottled pattern. White, or grey White or red
Brick layout Always laid in that overlapping pattern In a grid, longer axis horizontal Tiles are laid in a grid, longer axis vertical, Bricks are laid in that overlapping pattern.
Old stuff Revolutionary buildings, nice old barns and houses Lots of nice old temples in every neighborhood, mostly falling apart and overgrown, covered with moss. Square stone stumps sticking out of the ground with old family names cut into the sides. No. Some old temples obviously recently rebuilt out of concrete.
Advertising Billboards some lots LOTS
FYI signs (no standing here, please don't litter, please don't forget your bags, next stop ~, etc.) some SOOOO MANY almost none
Recorded women's voices telling you what to do. Not that much 100 times a day surprisingly, almost never.
Broken appliances occasionally no YES.
Doors with no knobs or handles NOOOO! all doors must have knobs or handles on both sides, it's a rule YES, paper doors with no handles. YESSSSS. In my house there are 5 doors - only one has a knob. The other 4 are blank on one side and have only a little latch on the other side. They also don't fit the frames, so if the latch falls out you have to pry the door open.
Doors fit in the frame Yes, generally, except for sliding doors. Yeah, I guess so No, ha ha ha
Badly designed things Baths are always in the same room with the toilet. That's gross. Using a public toilet is equivalent to rubbing asses with some stranger. That's gross. Sliding doors that don't work. SUVs that are too big. Too many stoplights that are on all night. Sliding doors that don't work. Walls made of paper and glass with no handles. No heat or AC. No basements, so water heaters, propane tanks, electric boxes all are in the front yard. Power lines everywhere. Buildings are just concrete shells with all the wires and pipes stuck visibly on the outside. The drain in my shower is on the wall 1/2 inch above the floor. The pipes in the bathroom constantly leak massively. The pipes in the shower have water constantly running through them, even all night.
Noisy at 7 am NO, if so you will be arrested, or get a 500$ no warning fine Rarely, except in political season YES, the taxisand rickshaws start moving around at 5, honking starts at 6, construction starts at 7.
Money (value in US$) coins: 0.01, 0.05, 0.10, 0.25 $ bills: 1, 5, 10, 20, 100 $ coins: 0.01, 0.04, 0.09, 0.45, 0.90, 4.50 $ bills 9, 45, 90 $ coins: 0.01, 0.06, 0.12 $ bills: 0.01, 0.06, 0.12, 0.24, 0.60, 1.20, 2.40, 6, 12 $
Smells Bad rarely rarely. occasionally intense semen smell. (it's not only me that's noticed this, it's probably some kind of farming thing) occasionally old ladies burning/preparing tea leaves smells extremely like marijuana. oh god yes. piss, shit, rotting food, burning plastic, acidic smoke that makes you cough, public dumpsters
Public Bathrooms No, no, damn you no. Yes, especially in city centers No.
Public Urination Prepare to be arrested Ha ha yes, anywhere anytime after dark. Even have a word for it, "tasshon" Women too. Twice I've seen people crouched on the side of the road. I'm not sure yet, but probably. It sure smells like it's ok.
Taxi base cost um, 5$? 5$ 0.75$
DVD cost um, 20$? 25$? 0.75$ pirated
Netbars ridiculously impossible to find, even in New York City a few everywhere
Netbar/hour 12$ in kinkos 5$ 0.25$
<25 years old instant messaging users High? Low High. Everyone has IM
Locally written IM program Yes, aim icq msn etc no? yes, qq, it's awesome
Cell phone penetration < 25 years old High 99% 70%
Fighting in public Never seen it In 3 years I saw one fight, one guy getting beaten to a pulp by 4 other guys in a karaoke bar. Haven't seen any in the first 6 months.
If something seems to be going down in public... Call the cops, then go watch from a distance. Look down at the sidewalk and walk a little faster. "The Blob" clustering style
Society Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Tattoos So many Becoming more popular now, probably mostly fake Haven't seen any
Dudes with Earrings Many Almost none, except for foreigners and hip hop kids No
Guys with no shirts on No NOOOO YES
Walking around with no shoes on No NOOOOO sometimes! (hard to believe)
Male status symbol Car Phone, hair, clothes Brand of Cigarettes, Phone
Hottest it usually gets in August 95F/35C 95F/35C 95F/35C
How hot does it feel? Not that hot, because everyplace has AC. In high school everyone wore sweatshirts in summer and t-shirts in winter because the AC/heat was so high. Pretty hot, since there's not much cover. Stores have super intense AC, schools have none. Pretty hot.
Weather report consists of Temperatures, and a mention of sunny or cloudy A report on the state of the clouds, waves, clothes drying weather, allergy index. Temperatures are mentioned as an afterthought. ?
Ansewer to "How's the weather today?" Hot/cold/warm/nice/cool Sunny/cloudy ?
Cost of a little box fan ? 20$ 4$ - yes that's right. I have two.
Things used as umbrellas Nothing - Just run from the car to the door. Umbrellas Umbrellas, hands, plastic bags, books, jackets
Umbrellas to keep off the sun NO - who goes walking outside? YES YESSSSSS
Gloves to keep off the sun NO? YES Yes
Bicycles with gloves built into the handlebars Ha ha, no Yes, for old ladies Yes, for working people on their bike rickshaws.
Baby haircuts None, or short None, or short Ronaldo, or two little horns
Being outside at night No. Why don't you have a car? The police will creep along behind you Yes YES
Bowing NO! YESSSS No
giddy, freespirited laughing in public Yes No YES
Girls Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Do guys go up to girls on the street and try to pick them up? No, prepare to be maced/arrested YESSSS, "nanpa" is pretty common YES, at least according to one of my students
Extremely Short Shorts A few Very few YES
Girls with dyed hair ? 95% 20%, will be 90% within 10 years. (including all the grannies who dye black...)
Transparent blouses No No YES
Skirts Not much YESSSSS No
"Massage" Parlors No? Yes YESSS, pink lit "hair salons"
"innocent" looking girls ? 80% 90%
% I actually believe are "innocent" ? 20% 70%
Makeup Lots? LOTS Not much
Pornography Yes, hidden EVERYWHERE (except on tv) Yes, hidden, illegal
A beer in a bar 3$ 3$ 3$
Bars with dancing girl acts, alternating with long haired dudes singing karaoke No? Maybe? YES
Bars where every girl there works for the bar No No YES
Bars that girls go to without working there Yes Yes No, they are nice girls, why would they go to a bar.
Karaoke No, ha ha, only for losers YES YES
Police Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Physically afraid of the police YES No Maybe
Afraid of the police YES Yes Yes
If you are arrested must be charged within 24 hours, don't have to talk without a lawyer. can be kept in solitary for up to 3 weeks with no lawyer and no visitors, 12 hours a day of questioning, without being charged. ???
Prison Prisoners are often raped, beaten, and tortured, with complicity of the guards. Every aspect of prisoners life is controlled. They're not allowed to look into someone else's eyes. Not allowed to talk. Must sit in a certain way in the cell. ?
Amount of violent crime low low to nothing low?
How many times a day do you see the police 3 or 4 times once sometimes...
How often do you hear sirens every day, many times rarely to never rarely
Language Piscataway, New Jersey Kochi, Japan Zhuzhou, China
Main Language English Japanese Mandarin
Other Languages Spanish, NJ English Tosa dialect Xiang (zhuzhou dialect)
English Level debatable most people have no english, educated people have terrible slow exam english, very few randomly have great english most people have nothing, but young people have some basics
English Teacher Salary ? 3000$/month 500$/month
How rich do you feel as an english teacher Not very Rich enough to eat out every day, buy consumer electronics, and travel to cheap countries Rich enough to take your entire class out to dinner
English Teacher status low low high
English Fear Level - very high. Nobody will approach you with english, and they'll be super shy and take forever to say anything. You get a lot of hellos on the street, sometimes people try to speak english.
Accent - Really bad. No/wrong intonation, can't say vowels right, l/r thing Bad, lots of vowels wrong, intonation wrong.
Uni Student English - Awful. It's like they haven't studied at all. They stop after every word and try to remember how to continue. They know tons of written vocab but don't know the right pronunciation or how to use it. Don't know basic "Do you..." sentences. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. They know lots of vocab, but don't use it in the right way. Pretty emotive though.

A few other of these around the web: http://heim.ifi.uio.no/krzys/comparison.html