In September 2015 I spent ten days in China visiting Shanghai, Nanjing and Hefei. It is a mind-blowing country, filled with amazing sights and amazing contradictions. A country with an enormous legacy of poverty and hardship, but dramatically on the move, looking to the future and thinking HUGE.
I wanted to share some thoughts and impressions and in keeping with my blog title, they are in no particular order. Please note that these are impressions, which can be very close to generalisations. They come from the perspective of a white middle aged Australian male. Plus China is huge and I saw only a tiny part of it. So here goes….
Given many people live in small apartments, I can imagine that large dogs are impractical, but I was not prepared for just how cute the local dogs were! Brown wooly dogs were especially popular. Here are three I spotted in a Nanjing shopping center (Aqua City):
People hawking up phlegm.
Not sure I need to say more. It’s quite common and normal. Given how polluted many Chinese cities are, you may well end up doing this too if you stay there long enough. As for pollution itself, I think enough has been said in other places. Air pollution is indeed a major issue in many Chinese cities.
Small children wearing air-conditioned split pants.
The first time you see this you may well think, “oh that poor child has torn pants” until you realise it is by design. Children are toilet trained very young and small children can often be seen in pants that are split down in the middle, meaning you may well catch an eyeful of a child’s bare backside.
The train system is phenomenal.
Chinese train stations and bullet trains make Australian stations and system look very backwards. Seriously, they have gone all out to construct huge modern stations that run like clockwork. Airports are the same…. built to massive scale. These photos of one of the stations in Shanghai give no justice to the scale of these buildings.
The streets are quiet early in the morning.
At 6am in Shanghai the streets were literally dead. I just don’t know how normal this is across all cities.
In many cities, the amount of time remaining on a red or green light counts down in huge letters. It makes so much sense you ponder why every country doesn’t do this.
Incredibly cheap taxis.
Taxis are very easy to get and very very cheap. Many of them accept credit cards but given how cheap they were I generally paid cash. Don’t expect the drivers to speak a word of English and ensure all destination addresses are clearly written in large (I mean very large) Chinese characters. Don’t just get the name of the hotel, you need the address as well. Hotels should be able to supply these.
Some things to be aware of:
- Your taxi driver may smoke or may have just had a smoke. This may mean your taxi is still literally full of smoke.
- Your taxi driver may appear to be driving in such as way as to kill you… don’t worry they are quite safe.
- The back seats rarely have working seat belts as they are often covered with home-made seat covers.
- Finally your taxi driver may decide to have a sing.
If you want to hear a better version of the song, it is called Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies and was written by a guy called Wong Kai. The song is phenomenal!
Building sometimes have curious mistakes
It’s not uncommon to find a single floor has multiple ‘levels’ (usually going up or down an inch or so). It is also common to see that the order of construction appears to have been wrong. Sometimes doors cannot shut or windows are totally missing because pipes are in the way. This is not universal but is certainly quite noticeable.
Post lunch siesta.
At many Chinese companies, lunchtime is from 12 till 1 pm with a siesta from 1pm to 2pm. Many people store small folding beds under their tables or just stretch back in their office chairs. If you are a western visitor you may need to go for a walk.
Crowding is normal.
What can I say, it’s a crowded country, don’t be surprised if people bump into you or bash past you without apology or comment, it seems normal.
The food in general is fantastic but there are several things you notice:
- Bones in the meat – it seems it is not the cook’s job to remove bones, it is the job of the person eating the food!
- Shared food. It is common to have shared dishes with no serving spoon or chopsticks. Everyone uses their own chopsticks to eat from the same dishes.
- Cold drinks are not common. Water dispensers in a hotel gym or airport will only dispense hot or room temperature water. I was sometimes served room temperature beer. If you want cold drinks you need to specifically ask for your drink to be cold.
- People may well be genuinely surprised if a Westerner can use chopsticks.
- If locals order for you they may order twice as much food as you could possibly eat. This means a huge amount of food will be left on the table.
- Diet coke is not common. Many places stock Coke, just not Diet Coke.
- It is not unusual to be told a particular item is out of stock. It doesn’t matter if the menu has a large photo of it, if it’s not in stock it’s not in stock!
- If you crave western food, there are lots of KFC. It’s very popular. There are also Pizza Huts and the occasional McDonalds and Starbucks.
- Sometimes translated names are hilarious. This is from a Pizza Hut menu:
Fancy some Sauce burning super cowboy bone?
People just get out and enjoy themselves. Whether it is zumba, ball-room dancing, singing lessons, traditional dancing or just a badminton hit to hit, it is just marvellous to see how many people get out during the evening time and have a ball.
Obsession with white people.
If you are tall, bald, blonde, busty, fat or distinctive you will be a target for many sneaky photos or outright selfie requests. There is a genuine obsession with westerners. They want to take photos of you and they ideally want to be in them. I am unsure what to suggest if you don’t want this to happen. Just roll with it.
Chinglish is everywhere
It is no exaggeration that you will see many badly translated signs. They are everywhere. These examples are from the cable car on Purple Mountain in Nanjing.
Volkswagons are everywhere!
The streets are literally crawling with VWs and Audis. They are locally built versions. China is not importing millions of German Built cars.
T-Shirts and Caps with strange quotes
I saw many T-Shirts with quotes in English that made no sense. Things like “I just had a bad omelette” or “better to have lost love better to have”. Some of them had swear words, worn without any apparent concern.
I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. I loved my visit and would recommend everyone go to China at least once to see if for themselves. I want to write about some of the places we saw so that will be a follow up post.