Just some random thoughts and observations about my time in China.
My observations of China.
Whilst China is good at doing things the rest of the world notices like; built the world’s highest railway/skyscraper, fastest train and is planning to send a rocket to the moon, despite it’s technological advances, it still has such a long way to go in a bunch of things that matter to it’s citizens such as basic sanitation, road and workplace safety and environmental destruction and pollution. It seems that in China “We’re still developing.” Is a catch-all excuse anytime any blatant deficiencies between it and a first world country are pointed out.
As a traveller, I’m not qualified to have an in-depth opinion of China and how it relates to the world politically and where it will be in years to come. What follows are my random thoughts and observations on a grass roots level made by someone just visiting, wandering and noticing what I saw. Make of them what you will.
Everyone seems to smoke, or at least those that do, do it everywhere. There’s nothing that spoils a great Chinese meal than having smoke from the next table wafting over yours. Cigarettes are way too cheap. Who’s going to pay for the health care requirements of all the dying smokers in years to come? How’s the brand of ciggies – Double Happiness? What’s the double? Cheap price – quick painless death? (Heart attack rather than lung cancer?) Trying to type blogs for you using internet cafes full of smokers was a challenge. No air conditioning the air was thick with smoke. You came out with sore eyes and throat and your hair and clothes stank. If you’re a smoker it would be cheap. Don’t buy your own cigs, just enjoy the second-hand smoke.
Safety in China seems to be non-existent. The following are just some examples of the too-many-to list things I encountered or saw. No seatbelts in cars, so even if you want to wear one you can’t. Drink driving is endemic and I’m told rarely policed. (You are only in trouble when you crash and kill someone for which they will probably execute you. I’m not kidding.) No one wears a motorcycle helmet or follows the road rules. Motorbikes think they’re synonymous with pedestrians, so they hoon up and down what should be FOOTpaths. Very dangerous for pedestrians. Even the ‘pedestrian mall’ in Shanghai was riddled with motorbike riders whilst police did nothing. Maybe China should divert some of it’s 30000 internet police to traffic duty and make a worthwhile difference to the lives of Chinese people?
Road rules seem to be for someone else. The only traffic lights that are observed are those with a policeman on point duty. Without that it’s mayhem, gridlock and a cacophony of beeping horns. Pedestrian crossings are ignored by all, including bus drivers. Just look for a gap in the traffic and run!
Workplace safety? Workers welding without a mask. Construction site workers wearing a hard hat, but running around in sandals and using very noisy tools without ear protection. Trip hazards everywhere. I’m not talking a bit of uneven pavement, rather something sticking up or an uncovered hole where you least expect it. People sweeping the kerb next to the centre of the freeway by hand as traffic whizzed by just centimetres from their elbow or worse. Obviously there are no duty of care by employer laws in China. Maybe some of the multinationals should consider this before outsourcing work to China. How are people treated?
Litter and pollution. I can’t believe that in the 21st century, a whole country just pours/throws anything and everything into streams and drains and thinks that’s the end of it. Rubbish filled streams that people then procure water from, and filthy streets of rubbish and human excretement are a recipe for community sickness. Provide bins and public toilets. Empty and clean them and then expect people to use them. Surely simple things like this are a better indication of a civilised society than sending a taichonaut to the moon.
As for air pollution. Isn’t it internationally embarrassing to have 15 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities in your country? Isn’t that a wake up call? Seems not. We went weeks without seeing blue sky the smog is that thick. It wasn’t until we flew to Tibet that we got blue sky. This has to have an extremely negative effect on the vegetation through reduced sunlight and acid rain and people’s health. Unfortunately for the rest of the world the air doesn’t stay over China but is also blown over other countries. Everything in nature is linked to everything else. No one can do something that does not affect someone else.
Xenophobia – historically the Chinese feared strangers and it seems nothing’s changed. This is manifest in several ways.
Calling us ‘aliens’, instead of tourists or foreigners.
Taxis driving off when they realised you weren’t Chinese, even though you had the name of the place you wanted to go written down for them.
A city the size of Shanghai only having a tourist map in Chinese. This is the city that is hosting the World Expo next year but it seems they don’t actually want non-Chinese there.
Treating us like second-class tourists. Chinese visiting Tibet can go anywhere, but non-Chinese (aliens) like us need special permits for some areas and others are closed altogether. We can’t even walk to the actual base of Everest, but Chinese people can.
I know we’re just passing through your country, but you don’t need to make us feel like a turd.
Chinese don’t queue, another sign of a civilised society. You have to fight for your spot to get served.
If you want living proof that the ‘Aitkins Diet’ - the no carbohydrate fad diet - is a waste of time, go to China. Everyone eats carbs - rice, pasta and doughy buns - all day long, yet you will struggle to see a fat Chinese person. I don’t mean obese, even just a little ‘fat’. Can’t be carbs. Regardless of the fad diets that come and go, it always comes back to two things.
1) It’s the kilojoules that count, regardless of where they come from. Consume more energy than you expend and you will put on weight.
2) Eat a variety of fresh foods. Most things contain both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things. Mix it up and make sure that you don’t eat so much of a ‘good’ thing it becomes ‘bad’. The fresher and less processed your food, the less likely it will contain chemicals and other additives that are best avoided. Again, all things in moderation.
China is a noisy place. People YELL into their mobile phones like it’s a tin can on a string. Imagine a train full of mobile phone yellers and you get the picture. Actually it’s not just when they’re on the phone, they are just noisy all the time. Peace and quiet do not go with enjoying your restaurant dining experience.
Construction noise goes all day AND night. No curfew so people can sleep. Pile driving, rock breaking, whatever. Sleeping is your problem, not ours.
Spitting and throat clearing is everywhere. It’s impossible to walk a Chinese street and not hear and see someone harking back a goozy and having a good spit. Out on the street’s one thing, but indoors? Saw that too. There are ‘no spitting’ signs up in places, but no one obeys them.
What's with tactile paving? Seems a great idea to have special paving on the ground that blind people can use to negotiate and warn them of hazards such as steps and roads. Tactile lines and dots - you’ll see it in cities the world over. Great in theory, but when you install it on Chinese footpaths a blind person is safer not trusting it. We saw it lead into obstacles, open holes in the path or just lead nowhere like the paving layers were having a laugh at the expense of blind people. We didn’t see any, so maybe they all fallen victim to tactile paving and fallen down uncovered manholes?
Three-wheeled vehicles. China loves them. From cycle rickshaw, to auto rickshaw, to small trucks and even larger ones, three wheels are the go. They look unstable, but I never saw one that had toppled over.
Chinese who can afford to be, are very lazy. Poor people work hard but those who don’t have to walk don’t and will pay some poor Chinese people to carry them up or down a mountain in a jampon rather than walk. As cars become seen as a symbol of wealth, I hate to think where all these cars are going be parked. China is a country built without cars. Narrow old city streets full of people become horrible as cars start squeezing down streets for which they were not designed. The government is building elevated freeways as fast as you can say, “Pour the concrete here.”, but it’s on the small scale that cars will destroy the quality of live. Quiet little laneways will be choked with parked cars and those rushing through. The places where people sat and chatted or played cards will be swept away and with it their little community.
Arse-less pants on babies and toddlers. They don’t wear nappies. When they need to ‘do something’ you just make them squat where they are and they do it then and there through the big hole in the back of their pants for that purpose. Amanda tried to buy some clothes for her newborn niece, but couldn’t find any without the bum split. I guess the culture of relieving oneself anywhere begins at a young age.
The Chinese are not a happy people generally. Our Chinese guide Ling loves going to any other Asian country because she says that unlike Chinese, they’re happy and smiley. Any one who’s been to Thailand knows what she means. Perhaps its being under a Communist regime that takes away your freedom? Whatever it is, it’s noticeable. It’s not that people aren’t friendly just you won’t see the smiles you do elsewhere in Asia.
Chinese love umbrellas so much they use them whether it’s raining or not. Sunshade when it’s sunny and rain protection when it’s raining. The only problem is you walk down the street without one you end up almost getting poked in the eye by those carrying umbrellas.
Perhaps it’s very easy to notice the negative things, so I’d like to finish on a positive thing or two.
There is a real sense of community in China that I don’t see at home. Instead of locking themselves inside in front of the television on their own, I’d see people sitting on the street until late, chatting with neighbours or playing games of Mah Jong or cards. If there was a TV on, there’d be a group watching it. People seemed to use their houses to sleep and eat and not much more. The street – their community – is were it happened. I liked that. Interconnected with people around them in a way that we aren’t.
I imagined that with over a billion people in one country it would be more of a crush than India, however China does BIG cities like no one else – over 600 cities – but that means out of the cities is rural, slow and uncrowded. It felt like a step back in time for many of these places with livestock still in use for transport and bullocks ploughing fields.
Despite Mandarin being spoken and written everywhere, there were just enough people who spoke English that we never really had a problem.
I trust you’ve enjoyed my writings, photos and the odd video of my adventures in China and got to travel vicariously with me.
I recommend you go and experience China for yourself. It is a big and interesting place and there’s no better time than now. Plan YOUR next trip and go for it. I look forward to hearing YOUR stories when you do. Enjoy.
The Wandera AKA Malcolm Roberts
(Adventures in China August 14th – September 28th 2009)