Along with the cultural and national pride that a country feels after being selected by the IOC to host the Olympics comes the concession that some of the cultural and national norms are completely unacceptable. In London, it was the realization that their artistic tastes have not expanded since Kajagoogoo. In China, it’s that they can’t allow their citizens to swear publicly, ignore existing ticket queues and traffic laws, spit and defecate in the street and, most infamously, allow the notorious bare-chested masters to walk around Beijing.
China has also realized that they need to clean up the products they intend to sell to the throngs of international visitors next year, so they might as well start with most basic. When I was in China, the basic rule for wherever you go is “Don’t drink the water.” Don’t drink tapwater, ever. Don’t drink the water that vendors sell on the street. And only then drink bottled water if it’s from a western company. Everyone knew the water was bad and full of gross things that I will discuss in a second. But for the Chinese government to act surprised that the bottled water is fake is just like them acting surprised that they sell racist toothpaste or that there are already copies of Transformers 2 being sold on the streets of Shanghai. Spoiler Alert: Sideswipe dies.
Here’s how the scam works. Whenever you throw a bottle of water away in any trashcan in Beijing someone follows shortly behind and takes it out. They travel to the nearest faucet or spigot or puddle and refill the bottle. Employing a lighter, they carefully apply the flame to the cap and plastic rim and melt them together. Appearing to be sealed, unwitting Americans or uncaring Chinese purchase the water and chug it down because it’s hot.
I know this to be true because 1) Chinese people told me it happened so don’t drink the goram water, you stupid roundeye and 2) I didn’t listen and drank the water.
Having spent a very warm day touring the best of what Beijing could offer according to Lonely Planet, I was approached by a woman selling frozen bottles of water from a cooler. Believing that I could not be outsmarted by an elderly Chinese crone, I inspected the bottle and determined that it had never been opened. The seal also responded with the appropriate cracks when I twisted the cap. I paid my two bits and made my way.
Since it was mostly frozen, I took a few sips and waited for it to melt. Over the course of an hour I consumed most of it, relishing its hydration. But as I was taking the final sips I realized that something hit my tongue every time I tipped the bottle back. At first I assumed it was bits of ice. But now only water remained, I held it up to the sun and almost threw up.
Inside was a clear plastic straw. The bottom half looked normal. But the tip that entered my mouth with every sip was chewed to a mangled flatness and featured the gentle smudges of lip gloss.
You would have gagged too.