My byline debuted in China Daily‘s Friday newspaper and it feels good to see that name in print again. I wrote a piece connecting my experiences so far in Beijing to life growing up in Iowa for an expat column called “Hotpot”. I also

found out earlier this week they wanted to draw a cartoon of me — so click on the link and you can see for yourself. Does it look like me?

Here’s my China Daily piece. You can read my full essay and see a color version of my cartoon at China Daily’s website. 

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I arrived in Beijing a mere three weeks ago; a native Iowan of the United States far from the landlocked Midwestern state I’ve called home. It wasn’t too long after I stepped off the plane that I plunged face-first into this strange land filled with steamed buns, bare baby bums and flocks of umbrella-toting tourists. I was eager to embrace all the differences life back home never gave me and willingly flung myself – armed with chopsticks and a Chinese dictionary phone app – into chaotic Beijing. Yet soon after I arrived I noticed subtle similarities between this teeming global metropolis and my fairly modest state. It’s laughable at first to try and compare Iowa City, where I live, with a population of 70,000 people, and Beijing, which has roughly 20 million people. But while the parallels may be small, they do exist.

Iowans know a lot about rural life as an agricultural state and depend on it, like China, for jobs. We also know a lot about stereotypes associated with rural life. It’s Iowa where we grow corn. Also, for the record, I did not grow up on a farm growing corn or milking cows, just like not all Chinese residents grow up clad in straw hats and spending their days ankle-deep in paddy fields.

Iowa is also known for raising quality pigs, which we love to eat and so does China. A 2013Forbes report says that pork makes up nearly three-fourths of the total meat consumed inChina and the United States Department of Agriculture projects that the consumption will onlyrise. Iowa is the largest pork producer in the US.

Besides, Iowa’s Governer Terry Branstad and China’s President Xi Jinping are friends. Thebond formed when the Hawkeye state gave  Xi – then a local Party leader during an exchange trip – a good ole’ Midwestern welcome back in the 1980s. Xi last visited the state in 2012 and many Iowans are proud of this unique tie that’s a spectacle of sorts on the national stage.

Both Iowa and China have a lot of experience with an aging population. Iowa has one of the largest concentrations of elderly people — 65 and older — in the United States. In 2012, the state had an elderly population of more than 47,000 people, according to the US Census Bureau. The state ranks fifth in the percentage of its elderly population and predictions are the population will grow.

China has a reported 200 million people over the age of 60,according to various news reports. In Beijing, I often see theelderly out and about, walking, talking to their neighbors, orplaying with grandchildren. It reminds me of the issues that bothregions face with a significant aging population. These issues include healthcare, sufficient elderly services and a younger generation stepping up to take care of those who once raised them.

On a lighter note, I quickly recognized our mutual love fornoodles. As a college student, instant noodles are pretty much a regular and affordable staplein my diet. In Beijing noodles are a part of everyday cuisine and an essential part of northern Chinese dishes. I’m happy to report that noodles continue to be a prominent part of my mealsand are just as affordable.

I’ve also experienced uncomfortable heat in both Iowa and Beijing. Iowa can be unbearablyhot in the summer, with humidity that leads to regular sweating. I’ve sweated a few timesduring my Beijing life, however I must confess it’s usually at dinnertime while I’m slurpingdown my spicy beef noodles.

Who knew I’d travel more than 10,000 kilometers to be swept away in a city both unique and sprinkled with themes I’ve long known since childhood. Despite stark differences in customs and language there are some universal issues we share. And if a Beijinger sat down next to an Iowan on the subway, it would turn out to be an interesting conversation.


Here's a photo taken from the actual newspaper. Drawn by Zhang Jieye / For China Daily
Here’s a photo I took of the cartoon in the actual newspaper. Drawn by Zhang Jieye / For China Daily

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