I wanted to try and sum up China, or at least my time in China. So I put together an overall, tar brush description of the people and place. The following is a list of fun facts and opinions on this giant contradiction of a country.
1. The Chinese spit a lot. You probably know this one, what you may not know though is that it is not the spitting which gets you, it is the manner in which they hack, the spit preparation, handed down from generation to generation until it reached its current hideous form, which gets deep into your soul and sets the nerves on end.
2. The Chinese are an industrious lot. Building seems the national past time, and it is never more evident than when rounding a bend in a isolated mountain chain, and seeing a few blocks of high rise apartments reaching out of their unnatural surroundings.
3. The Chinese love to travel in their own country. I have never been to a place where the majority of tourists are locals. The Australian government could learn a thing or two about promoting its wonders to its own people, from the Chinese.
4. Exercise is ubiquitous. In most of the cities, the sidewalks fill with locals getting their daily dose of activity. Women walk around slapping their skin (presumably for circulation) and flapping their arms in the air. The open areas have crowds of older men and woman doing different dances, some requiring incredible skill (I saw a group of woman twirling a ball balanced on a tennis racket while they danced).
5. Health and safety is not a high priority. On our way back from Tiger Leaping Gorge, we had to change buses at one point because an avalanche a few days previous had blocked the road, the avalanche had not just blocked the road, it had covered it completely, taking some of it down the cliff side as it fell. Rather than close the mountain or go around as we might in the west. We merely walked over it. Stepping on slippery dust covered slabs, avoiding the dynamite which had been drilled into place for an afternoon explosion, our group made its way over the giant rock slide, being told where to step by a local who had the intention of catching you if you went over (good luck! He was struggling not to slip over himself), it was the closest to death I think I have ever been, one small slip on the loose rock and it would be lights out! Kinda cool though.
6. English is little spoken. Considering the countries modernity, everywhere you go, pointing and theatrics will be your best friend, it is possible to get around without speaking the lingo, but it ain’t always easy.
7. The Chinese are very friendly. Not freindly in the usual way where people go to ridiculous lengths to see that the westerner is kept in a manner he is probably accustomed to. But friendly in an authentic manner which ensures you are helped if needed, and if asked for.
8. They are a curious people. I have not been stared at more in any other country, not even India. In the west if you get caught staring at someone, you generally jerk away embarrassed to have been busted. In China they continue to stare, until you inevitably look away feeling a little eye raped. I often wonder what they are thinking when they stare like this, I guess with the countries history and current media restrictions, westerners are still an oddity, especially to the older folk. I have noticed however that if you give them a smile when they are staring, they smile back instantly, happy to have been acknowledged, maybe that’s all they want.
9. People will engage you on the street. More often than not it will just be a shouted “Hello”, one of the only words they know I assume, and if you respond, you will be treated to a huge grin and wave.
10. Chinese people smoke A LOT. This one I have mentioned frequently, but it really is such a surprise after a country like Australia, where you feel ostricised, and almost like a heathen for daring to spark up. I like the attitude here to smoking, yes, I know it is bad for you, but so is a lot of things we do, if you start making people feel like crap for anything they do which is not to your liking, eventually we will live in a sterile society akin to “Brave New World”. No such worry here. Spark up mostly where you like, regardless of people eating, sleeping, carrying babies, sitting in your cab, or pretty much anything else. It is a marvelous way to live.
11. They do what they want. OK, I know this kinda contradicts the political system, but in day to day things, they spit, smoke, eat, drink, belch, shit, and refuse to take you to your destination if it is out of their way, when and however they goddamn please. It’s cool.
12. Young children wear arseless chaps. nevermind nappies, if your kid needs to go to the toilet, anywhere will do, just cut a hole out of their bottoms, and they are ready to go. Bizzare, but is it any more strange than letting children shit their pants?
13. They prefer Samsung! A personal favorite for me, but in Hong Kong and China, you see way fewer Ipads and Iphones, and way more of the far superior (opinion) Samsung and Lenovo range.
14. They like us, they really, really like us. As long as you don’t act like an arrogant dick, they enjoy the spectacle of a western person, and I am sure without the language barrier, there would be many a conversation to be had.
15. The government does ban a lot of media stuff. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Torrent sites, anything with “WordPress” in the name, often Google and various search terms, Dropbox and all manner of sites which could be used to spread dissension.
16. Their are whispers in the ranks. It will be interesting to see how China’s future unfolds, I have no doubt they will sooner rather than later be the worlds eminent super power, and being here it is easy to see why.
17. They eat weird shit, I have to say I have been surprisingly hard pressed to find it sometimes, but in the more authentic locales, bugs, gizzards, stuff I can’t identify, and things which at first seem normal, and then have some strange unidentifiable taste, like porridge for breakfast which ends up having meat and veg as part of its ingredients, seem to be widespread.
18.Public transport is great. It is easy to get around, even not speaking the language you can always find your way. The buses are pretty good, the trains are excellent, and the taxis are cheap. China apparently has the busiest rail network in the world, so be sure to book ahead!(see previous post for why).
19. The youth are very fashionable, the whole metro-sexual, modern punk, chest out and quaffed hair look is big with the kids here. The girls wear tiny shorts and a ton of makeup, and the boys all look like they should be in a band. It’s kinda funky.
20. Leave your hygiene standards at home, especially with food. If you look in the kitchen, or judge the cook by his filthy apron, you will starve! Generally it tastes good, and you don’t get sick, if that’s the outcome, just enjoy not being such a stickler for a change.
21. Book things in China. Rather than go through companies online, which will charge you a fortune for a 7 day this or that, you can usually book at a hostel for a fraction of the price.
22. The hostels are awesome. Don’t worry about booking an expensive hotel, for much cheaper you can find a hostel to cater to your needs, all we have been to have been great, whether you are young or old. They are not the dirty, party places available in other countries. A dorm bed will cost around $5, or a private double room with en suite can be had for as little as $15 – $30 per night. All the info you need to get around is supplied at the hostels, and as I said, they are clean, friendly, do good food, and have a great mix of young and old, local and farang.
23. They drive crazy. In Thailand they drive crazy controlled, in China they just drive crazy.
24. All the bikes are electric, gas guzzling bikes are banned in the cities, so locals zip around on silent wheels, charging up anywhere they can plug in. Great for the air, not so much for the less alert pedestrian.
25. There is a breed of dog which has managed to get its genes into most of the canine population. Marked by its shot snout and excessive underbite, it is ugly as hell.
26. There are people everywhere, which sounds obvious for a country of 1.5 billion, but it becomes apparent not only in the cities, but in how even the remote areas are populated. Sattelite dishes and electrical poles are abundant.
27. The Chinese love a bit of amateur photography, and take pictures of everything, they take pictures of roads, signs, buildings, westerners, and mostly of each other, in multiple poses lingering in front of anything which might offer a good shot.
28. The women are not opposed to a bit of hard labor, predominantly male orientated jobs in the west, are often the domain of women here, and it is not strange to see them hauling concrete or shoveling rubble.
29. They use the same plug outlet as Australia! Not really a fun fact, but useful nonetheless.
30. There are funny signs everywhere. Whenever I found a sign in english it used a broken form of the language, or pictures to get the message across. From stickmen defecating, to the obvious no spitting, and this one suggesting, well, you get the picture.
31. It is a great place to travel. Its scale means I have seen very little of it so far, but I get the feeling that there is so much here, you could explore for a year and not have seen all it has to offer. Its landscape varies from desert, to mountains, oceans, cities, rural life and modern advancement. Food, language and culture change drastically from one place to another. And you can almost be sure that if you don’t like one place, another will suit you to the ground. It is a grower, hard to tell why, but the longer you are here, the more you will enjoy it. Give it a go and you will be introduced to a modern world, friendly people, and most importantly, a different view of the world.
Click for full size Panorama (opens in new page), then click again.
If you have a different view of China, please let me know. Or if you have any questions about travel in this amazing place, feel free to ask and I will endeavor to help.