|Hey Wendy! I've been stuck in Chengdu in SW China for 2 months now, and reading your opus has made me feel that my reactions to China are not entirely unfounded!!
I have had an almost parallel experience with the odd toilets, the food, the restlesness about not being able to get your comfort foods (particularly in the morning!), and food in general (snails in a wok??!); the overpriced, and just plain weird coffee, and pretty much everything you've mentioned! I even went to the store the other day to buy some (ahem) 'dried fruit' to make up a trail mix for a hike day, and every single one of the packets of innocent looking fruit was salty and marinated with Chinese 5 spice. Very disgusting! Suffice to say, no trail mix for the hike - they all went straight in the bin! We ride bikes around the city on the daytime, and some exploring of the suburban backstreets has been very interesting - yesterday we saw a lady sitting in the open in a park area, getting her teeth drilled out with a dentists drill... Sitting next to a table covered with second-hand false teeth for sale. It was excruciating to even contemplate....!
Similar parallels with talking to the local people, and the topics that were thought to be 'taboo', are actually the ones they want to talk about! and I thoroughly concur on your opinion on the carbon footprint issue, I was another Westerner casting nasturtiums on the mysterious East and it's fossil fuel/coal dependence, but after seeing the massive use of electric scooters and bicycles in Chengdu, and the frugality with which most people are forced to live, I have been quite humbled in terms of that particular debate. I've been reading a book on the socio-economic history of China, and I'm fascinated that out of 1.3billion or so Chinese, 900million are subsistence peasants and farmers, and the average wage in China is a mere $240USD a year. And that if you are a farmer/peasant, that you are not legally allowed to enter any of the urban centers, and if the law sees you trying to get in the city they will arrest and remove you... : / Now I'm only quoting from a book here, but assuming these facts are correct, it's quite a startling to contemplate...
Anyway, cheers for taking the time to write, you've inadvertently alleviated my homesickness somewhat!! Another 3 months here before I get released into the wild again, and I will be making a beeline back to Oz for a good coffee, antipasto platter, and a pepperoni pizza. Actually, now that I've written that, I'm thinking maybe I should go to Italy instead...?
Happy climbing, BTW!!! Chengdu is pancake flat, and I don't get enough time off every week from work to explore the plethora of mountains not far from here.... : (
Cheers, enjoy your trip!