Prior to the 18-day touring holiday, I won’t lie, I had a lot of reservations! The way animals are reportedly treated and stories of lack-of human rights (eg the one-child policy) niggled at me, I also knew that it could potentially be a tough place to visit due to the language barrier.
I am pleased to say that all of my concerns were blown away within a very small amount of time!
I wrote in my travel journal that I believe the one Country in the world people should visit, out of everywhere I had travelled up until that point, had to be China!
This is my account of the good, the bad, and the ugly, of a land of many contrasts and why everyone should experience it! Just when I thought I had experienced all the highs and emotions possible in China – something else would happen and prove me wrong!
The people are genuinely very friendly and their culture is to please and make everything “just right”. This attitude made us feel safe and we never felt threatened whilst walking around anywhere, not even in the capital which, for a City, to feel as safe as we did, can be a rare thing.
During our trip, we had two tour guides who made our experience so very special, Ryan and Qin. In Xi’an our guide was Ryan who, upon our departure, said that usually, when friends leave one another, they share a poem. Ryan wanted to sing for us. We were in a taxi on the way to the airport so he took off his seatbelt, turned around and knelt on his seat, put his head down as if praying and in a sweet and soft voice sung “Take me home Country roads”. It was just so beautiful and we all softly joined in. Is it silly to be sad leaving a tour guide after only two days? We didn’t care, we both agreed we would miss him.
Before we went to China, people said it would be totally different to what we were used to in the UK. But it wasn’t, not really, apart from the fact it was supremely better. We honestly felt that every meal was akin to the best, up-market Chinese restaurant you could find, but on steroids and even though every meal we ate was traditional Chinese, we never became bored of eating it! It wasn’t always different, just a greater variety and the food quality was simply gorgeous.
We found the Chinese culture very social. Many people were playing cards at the Temple of Heaven and we would see groups of people dancing on the streets late at night whilst others played a form of Chinese chess. In Guilin, we walked through a large communal square with market stalls where children played or painted pictures and whole families hung out – even as late as 10pm.
Fish pedicures were massive in Guilin and used for family outings, couples on dates or friends out for the evening. Even though it formed a social part of their evening, in contrast, people would sit on their mobile phones the entire time, sometimes not even speaking to one another.
In Xi’an we ate a delicious dumpling dinner at the Tang Dynasty Palace which was followed by an excellent theatrical performance. There was traditional music and dance, the actors wore spectacular floating costumes, and we absolutely loved it.
Ancient temples rub shoulders with designer shops and some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Fashionable ladies wearing white tights, tower-high stiletto heels carrying umbrellas walk along the same street as a man who has pulled his top half way up and it rests on his protruding belly. Ancient traditions such as cormorant fishing go side by side with giant advertising screens and 7 star hotels. People travel on traditional rickshaws pulled by humans as well as the Maglev train which can travel up to 431kmh.
Despite miles and miles of pristine white walls, we noticed there is zero graffiti. Banksy would have a field day! The streets in China are generally spotlessly clean – no rubbish on the streets, no dirty kerbs – it’s very refreshing to see.
China and the environment
China is the world’s largest energy consumer (they were in 2010) but they are trying to do something about this by pouring billions into developing electric and hybrid cars. We found this out first hand in Beijing and it was catching on in Xi’an, they are also committed to overtake Europe by 2020 in renewable energy investment.
Traffic, traffic, and more traffic
Goodness me, traffic is everywhere in the big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, but with an average population of 20 million in each city, it is to be expected. Boy oh boy, the drivers are kamikaze! Lanes? None of that! Cars cut people up, overtake, go wherever they want on the road and as for zebra-crossings – it doesn’t matter if it’s a green or red light – traffic will just keep on going and if you are on the crossing you had better have your eyes in the back of your head and dodge, otherwise you are a goner! Cars, buses, motorbikes and cycles fight for space with pedestrians.
It surprised me to see bikes everywhere! I didn’t realise that the Chinese are a huge nation of cyclists (there are about half a billion bicycles in the whole of China), but surely, with all those cars, this causes more chaos? Apparently not! We hired bikes for cycling around the top of the city walls in Xi’an and for a country tour in Guilin and despite the initial fear of the craziness; we actually became a part of the road cycling team! At traffic lights, at the front of the queue there would be three rows deep of cyclists; bikes are a way of life and vehicles readily give way and share the road.
Very, very few people speak English, and in truth, why should they, it’s their country and they don’t all interact with foreign visitors! This does, however, make communication rather difficult at times – even when ordering food or drink from a menu that contains pictures so all you have to do is point at your order! We just couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t as easy as it should be! Obviously we got by but sometimes this was largely due to our tour guide helping us out. All Tour guides throughout China are endorsed by the government, even if you book with an English or American company, they still have to source a tour guide from China operated by the government.
There are two parts to their language - “traditional” which has 90,000 characters but in 1956, it was adapted to “simplified” which uses only 10,000 characters – no wonder it’s so bloody hard!
Some of the beds are rock hard – ridiculously hard, like they are made of wood, despite staying in luxury hotels! I felt like the “Princess and the Pea” and couldn’t sleep. Our tour guide told us the Chinese like to sleep on hard beds and he quickly arranged for the hotel to add another mattress and that helped a lot! We now knew what we needed to do to ensure a good night’s sleep wherever we stayed.
Don’t be surprised if you sit at a table and find food thrown everywhere - literally all over the place covering the table, chairs and even the floor! Food is often consumed with a small bowl held close to the mouth and the contents appear to be thrown in using chopsticks.
Spitting – gross! Everyone spits! Men, women, old and young and they really give it a good throaty build up first. I will say no more on this subject!
Chinese babies and toddlers wear open-crotch trousers or split-pants called “kaidangku” instead of nappies, this enables children to squat and do their business without the need to remove them. Some consider this to be better for the environment and say it speeds up potty-training, others feel that potty-training shouldn’t be carried out on the streets.
We had a conversation with a tour guide about eating cats and dogs, a very taboo subject in the Western Culture. In Northern China, it is believed that dogs have a type of acid in their meat which makes you warm in the winter as it gives off heat, however if you eat it during the summer or if you consume too much, you can get nose bleeds and it may cause stones in your stomach. I found this fascinating and it was interesting to hear a some-what logical reason for eating an animal that is considered to be a much loved pet around the world . It isn’t just China who eat cats and dogs… Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and even Hawaii are reported to consume this meat as well. Now I’m not saying I agree or disagree, and I am not condoning what is reported in the media about how animals are treated, I am merely relaying a conversation that we had about this particular subject.
The one-child policy was something that used to bother me. One of our tour guides was the middle child of three, two were born before 1979 when the policy was introduced, however their younger brother was born 1981. The law permits you to have one child, unless you are a famer and have a girl, then you can have another but anything outside of these rules means you have to pay a fine to the government according to your wealth. Our guide’s parents were required to pay 500RMB (£55) which was a lot for people on a low wage back in 1981 and as they didn’t have the money immediately, they hid in the mountains and borrowed money from friends, otherwise they would have faced going to prison. The one-child policy means there are more men than women in China so girls can be fussy when choosing a husband. Ladies will look for the 5 C’s in a potential partner – cash, car, career, condominium (house/apartment) and cooking – that is apparently the deal clincher!
Since our return, I have read a new report by the BBC which stated China is planning to change to a two-child policy.
In conclusion …
As you will hopefully be able to tell from my stories, China has much to offer and you shouldn’t allow fear of the unknown, concerns or mis-conceptions stop you from travelling somewhere. I am so pleased to report that the country I used to fear visiting the most due to concerns of what I would encounter, was the one country that made me change my mind completely! My advice to anyone is if you want to go to a country, GO! Don’t let ANYTHING stop you as you will probably be more than pleasantly surprised!
Do you have your doubts about China? Has this blog helped changed your mind in anyway or are you still uncertain? Share your thoughts with us – we genuinely want to know!
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