!! ⚠️ CAUTION! MAY CAUSE EXTREME BOREDOM ⚠️!!
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
OK. *breathes in*
Let’s do this.
We only spent around 4 weeks in China, but by then, I had noticed some recurrent behaviour traits:
– Ill manners: rudness was pervasive. It was present mostly at train stations: I was shocked to see grown-ups fighting like children, pushing past each other to get on the carriage and to grab a seat, even before others had gotten off. So, most of the time, we ended up standing in the carriage. I watched other passengers to see if this bothered them, but they turned a blind eye whenever this happened. It must be cultural norm, I then thought.
Similarly, in the Forbidden City, Beijing, which was incredibly busy, people were always shoving past each other to take a picture. I almost dropped my phone on several occasions, which would have been a disaster, since I had just repaired it (in Xi’an😄).
– Littering: The Chinese government seems to buy into some basic environmental policy by providing lots of bins and cleaners everywhere, even on the station and running trains! Unfortunately, the citizens don’t seem to share the same environmental concerns and regularly disregard any common rules on disposing of garbage or personal fluids.
We witnessed many examples of this. A particularly amusing one, for me, was on the tube where a young boy eating a chocolate bar subtly dropped the wrapper under the seats and pushed it away with his leg. Apart us pointing and chuckling no one else seemed bothered.
Unfortunately it wasn’t just big city behavior. While descending down the Yellow Mountains a man, ignoring the bin situated right by his feet, threw a bottle deep down the cliff, left to decompose for eternity. In the same countryside experience, people were smoking in non-smoking areas (while, in smoking areas, even though there were plenty of people, no-one was smoking!).
Generally speaking it was also hard not to witness constant relieving of personal fluids. People seemed unfussy about opening their zipper and urinate whenever nature called. Also, my mum had warned me of the cultural habit of spitting and I’ve been wary since then. Once, at a cafe, after seeing a man outside the window spitting all over the ground I made sure I kept track of where it went so that, when we left, I avoided the spitwads. After that little episode, I noticed that every now and then, somebody would lean over and dispose of their saliva.
To be honest, by the time we ended up in Beijing I grew quite disgusted with the amount of people spitting and littering. It really hit me at the Beijing stadium where Coke cans and tissues were strewn across the grass.
– Aseptic nature: It looks like the Chinese government also feels responsible for taming nature to fit neatly into an health and safety proof entertainment.
This was evident in the Yellow Mountains again. All throughout the walk, we were accompanied by built-in stairs and handrails which seemed completely at odds with the idea of mountaineering. In addition, a service of a chair manually carried was offered. I mean, it would make sense if there was a real necessity but I witnessed a young child carried on the chair, while playing on his phone (and people complain that the new generation are too lazy! Maybe that’s due to the naive parents who turn their head away when their children sit on the couch, watching TV or play video games all day long) .
In the Gobi Desert we encountered a similiar approach. Planks of wood and handrail were built across some of the dunes! We, of course, took the longer and fun way up, old school, climbing up the sand, barefooted.
The Silver cave at Yuangshan, an impressive work of nature on its own right, had also been subject to the beautification process. Man-made lights were set up to make the cave seem so much more dazzling, but it felt unnatural and artificial, because it removed the sense of nature’s accomplishment and replaced it with what human civilization has made.
I reminiscented of the days where we would hike in the countryside in Britain. The most civilised works would be the gates to keep out the aggressive cows.
I personally found it hard to enjoy the works of nature when works of humanity were clearly present, begging for attention.
– Friendliness (or lack of): Overall, in China, people’s attitude towards foreigners seemed either extremely unfriendly and unhelpful oral as extremely friendly and generous. We were lucky enough to encounter some of the latter. Random people offered us their help and some taxi drivers did try their best to understand us and get us to our destination (even though they often struggled to understand the Western name of the place we wanted to go to).
China may get plenty of tourists, but we still attracted many curious locals. Once, in Dunghuan, we stopped by a restaurant owned by a family with two boys. The children, who were studying late in the night, were particularly curious and we developed a bond and had a great conversation. They even taught us how to hold chopsticks properly, which was a relief, because since then it wasn’t such a struggle to eat food.
It also became obvious to me that the Chinese have a little pet peeve about loose laces. Every now and then, my shoelaces would undo themselves and a random stranger on the street would pat me on the shoulder and gesture to my shoe. Once a man even went as far as lifting up one leg while walking to point at his own shoe (since he probably couldn’t speak English) and gesturing to me. Another time, I was playing with my sister and this woman shouted across the entire room, frantically pointing at my undone shoelaces. And no, I’m not exaggerating.
– Cuteness: Another thing that perplexed me was how the society was eager to educate children through cartoons. For instance, short clips of safety were presented on the TVs in the trains. I can see why it makes sense though, because these children are going to be the next generation – among the cluster of kids, included a future president, teacher, soldier, doctor. These were going to be people who could possibly change the course of history and the Chinese society is determined to bring the best out of them.
Moving on to Dunghuan, I spotted a cute dog on the streets. Many were present throughout our journey on the Silk Road and they were all homeless. So, I was wary about stroking it, but it was still a cute animal. We had carried on walking and then I realised the dog was following us. At some point, we were inside a shop buying breakfast and the dog was waiting outside for us. Here’s a picture to show just how adorable it was.
The dog followed us the whole way. Unfortunately that day we were leaving to go to Zhangye so it broke my heart to see the dog scampering after the car we drove away in.
I wonder if it will ever think about me.
– Spices (and crawlies): If there’s one thing that was common in China, it was spices. The pungent substances were everywhere. Almost every dish we ate had spices. Plenty of shops in the market were selling spices. What would be a lot of spice to us would be very little spice for the Chinese. In addition, in Beijing, I spotted some live baby scorpions on a stick sold as food, which totally freaked me out. Even now (writing this in Myanmar) I shudder at the mere thought of these tiny animals squirming and wiggling.
To conclude: while China does offer excellent sights and polite locals, littering, smoking and spitting is present almost everywhere and you are bound to be shoved by people, adamant to get on the train. It was an experience like no other and I wonder if I will see things differently when (and if) I return to London.
And that’s China for you, folks.
Colette Dill said:
You read such a good writer. I could almost envision everything you wrote about
We think of you and your adventures often and wish you well
Colette and Jack