China was a wonderful trip and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. I wasn’t introduced to much that was unexpected – at least not at the level at which people who I’ve talked to have overly exaggerated about. It could have been due to the protection of the tour guides or what people have told me to watch out for, but seems to me that Beijing and Shanghai are just regular cities, differing very little from San Francisco. Well, they’re unique in their own ways, but the “culture shock” that people have talked about, isn’t really didn’t hit me. Well, this is the list of the expected:
- Don’t drink tap water
- Toilets could be just a hole in the ground with a lid. (Squatting toilets)
- Some toilets don’t have toilet paper – bring your own.
- Traffic is pretty crazy – rules are different.
That’s about it. I think the rest is pretty much the same.
So what was unexpected? If you go on a tour, it’s likely that the service you get anywhere you go, is much better than that in the United States. Of course you pay for what you get, but I assure you that service in China is among the best in the world – maybe not the way they speak, but the way they act for sure. There were times where I felt disrespected, but those are only because I had based them on American values. Pushing and shoving, spitting on the sidewalk (I do it too by the way), and much of the way people say things in China can be offensive to Americans. I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words and that it’s just the way you see things. You choose your point of view and will be offended only when you choose to. It’s just a different culture. I bought an apple pear for 2.5 Yuan. For the 2.5 Yuan, the lady peeled it for me. In the States, I don’t ever see this happening. 2.5 Yuan is currently about $0.30 USD. You can’t buy an apple pear for $0.30 and it’s not likely that you can buy one peeled for you and ready to eat, for $3.00. When buying a belt in a store in Guangzhou, I talked to the salesperson for twenty minutes before deciding on the belt I wanted and even after that, I had him agree to adjust the belt size for me. Total cost for the belt was 29 Yuan. In American dollars, it’s less than $4.00. Another thing is that I haven’t heard very many “thanks” after purchases. I think it’s just another example of the Chinese “show me, don’t tell me” culture.
What did I learn? Well, I was told a lot (kind of like lecture in class). What did I learn due to my own curiosity? I learned that little kids instead of using diapers, have pants with holes in them – the just change pants. I learned that some people here are not nearly as fortunate as we are in the States. Well, I already knew that, but had a massage today and talking to the lovely young lady that gave it to me, I learned that she had just a high school education (maybe just junior high) and that she had no chance to go to college because she had two other sisters that she had to take care of in one way or another that wasn’t clear to me. Sounded very sad and I was thinking about what I could do to help her and give her some opportunity. Unfortunately, I was too shy to ask questions that might be too personal and was afraid to take responsibility for any promises I could make. I just left her a bigger than recommended tip. Her job is very hard although she doesn’t have to do it much. It’s usage of a lot of energy and is very damaging on her fingers.
Some advice for those that will be visiting China:
- Try squatting on a western style toilet seat (just put your feet up on the seat and try using the toilet that way and get the experience).
- Bring your own water, buy bottled water, or boil before drinking – never drink tap water.
- Bring your vitamins. Bring your medicine. Bring stomach medicine. Bring mouthwash.
- Always have extra toilet paper or tissues.
- Check the foreign exchange rate before exchanging currencies. Do not exchange it with people from the street (don’t want counterfeit money) – be sure to do it in a hotel or a bank or just withdraw money from an ATM.
- Don’t give money to beggars. The people in the country that work hard deserve more for working. Also, if you give to beggars, you might see a swarm of them come after you after you give to one.
- You don’t have to tip in most cases – if you follow a tour, it’s likely that the tip was already included in your meal. You may want to ask your guide before tipping. I like tipping though. In the States, you’d pay a lot more in tips. I think that people in China deserve a lot more also. By their standards, I over tip them by a lot.
- Always bargain when purchasing any goods on the street. Also, there are many little stands that sell the same stuff. It might be good to do comparison-shopping. Here’s my template for bargaining:
a. Buyer: How much?
b. Seller: Some number
c. Buyer: (No matter how reasonable) That much!?
d. Seller: Yes.
e. Buyer: I want cheaper.
f. Seller: How much are you willing to pay?
g. Buyer: How much lower can you go?
h. And from here, you decide on how you can play. You may want to ask for quantity discounts, etc. As a rule of thumb, I would shoot for 1/4 to 3/4 the amount originally stated. Use your common sense of course. If you’d shopped around and someone offers something to you for less than you’d paid before, it’s not likely you’d get a discount. Also, if it’s a really cheap item like a bottle of water for 3 Yuan, it’s not likely you’ll get a discount either.
- Buy stuff away from the tourist areas and places where the locals shop also. You’ll get a better deal that way.
- Don’t buy too much if you will be flying in China domestically. There’s a fee for going over a certain weight limit when carrying cargo. Buy most of what you want at your last stop in China.
- Bring your 240-110 volt converter if you have one. If not, make sure that the one you borrow from the hotel is a real converter – it should be heavy. You don’t want to blow out any of your devices.
- Bring extra batteries and a camera with a flash. 400mm film or a digital camera was recommended to me. Bring a camcorder if you have one.
- Don’t bring too much clothing. One or two sets of warm clothing should suffice. (So that you have a smaller load to carry). You could buy more warm clothing on the street should you need it. It’s much cheaper to buy in China than anywhere in the States.
- Try to learn as much Mandarin as you can. That’s China’s national language.
- Work out and get in shape. Walking the Great Wall and up the mountains in Guilin is quite exhausting.
- Buy foot massages whenever you can. You probably won’t get them anywhere else in the world for a similar price. It’s well worth it. (Also remember to tip)
I think that the best way to learn is this. Teach your children their history and let them take a tour of the place of where it happened. Of course, you’ll have to have a good tour guide that knows the history. We were immensely blessed with having accomplished tour guides that were courteous and easy to understand.
We had a wonderful tour guide by the name of Lisa Lee. We had initially met on bad terms however. At the time we arrived at the airport, there was no one there to pick us up! There were 18 of us in the group and it turned out that we had waited 3 hours before anyone had arrived to greet us! What the heck did we do for the 3 hours? Not surprisingly, the first stage was obviously shock. Interestingly (and luckily), we’d all found each other (the rest of the group of tourists). Then again, we would’ve all found each other anyways because until the next plane arrived, we were practically the only ones in the airport! Some of us wondered if we’d been had – if this tour was really just a scam. I don’t think any of us had ever bothered to check with any of the hotels to see if reservations had ever really been made. The next thing we did was try contacting them. Funny thing was, their phone number was changed and that they were no longer at that number. To keep the story short, we probably didn’t know until an hour and a half later whether or not someone was really coming (or not!). A lot of things were going through our minds as we waited. Whether we should take a taxi to the hotel and whether or not the touring company would pay for the ride, what we were going to do if they didn’t show up – there’s a lot that goes through just one person’s mind when puzzled; just imagine 18 minds. Meeting Lisa was an immediate relief. Her enthusiasm and friendliness easily overcame all barriers that I may have put up and she had instantly left me a good impression. The following days had only strengthened this notion, as I was extremely impressed with her knowledge of Beijing. She explained a lot of the tour sites and the events that occurred there. With over 5000 years of Chinese history and over 3000 years of written Chinese history, you can imagine there’s quite a lot to talk about. I think that my lack of vocabulary really limits the amount of good things I can say about her. She really took care of us as to talking about how China differs from more developed countries. She also brought us to the more developed areas. For instance, she told us which restrooms to use – showing us where the cleaner ones were. She protected us from the locals – not to say that the locals are bad, but she made us aware of what could happen. She told us to watch our purses and wallets at least twice before entering WongFuJing. She told us to avoid any political talk before entering the Forbidden City. Furthermore, her mastery of the English language was also impressive. I did not expect anyone to speak English at her level.
In the 2 days, we’ve visited the monumental sites of Beijing and have the pictures to prove it. First was the Temple of Heaven. This is the main site for Beijing tourism – being there, you could really imagine and admire and appreciate the work. Buildings erected at times where there were no bulldozers even cars for that matter. The main building in the temple of heaven is a pagoda with 3 roofs and was built without nails or cement. Our tour guide explained how it was built – having the many different pillars and the way it was supported. Unfortunately, like many of the different magnificent treasures of China, the lights were not on in the building. Not that it’s a big deal, but my guess is they didn’t want tourists to mess the place up. Wonder what would happen if the tourists decided to step over the line. If they just decided to walk on in. They were blocked off by nothing but one thick wire. Anybody can easily go over or under. For that matter, I would think the same as on a plane – one that I will be on in a couple of hours – what would happen. It’s quite a sick thought.
Tiananmen Square. After a long walk and a tour around the outside of the Forbidden City, the first sight of the inside was breathtaking to say the least. Seeing it on television or in print is one thing, but being there, I can tell you, it’s different. The size and complexity of it requires a map to navigate (unless it’s familiar territory – luckily for us, we had a guide) .The king must’ve had a really great life – the servants, the view, the perks! You can really admire the piece of art. If you look, you won’t think there are windows in the buildings. As a matter of fact, there are no transparent glass or plastic windows. So how do the buildings get oxygen? You can see the windows in the little designed cuts in the walls. Also, if you have the good fortune of touring on a rainy day, you could see water coming out of the dragons’ mouths. It wasn’t a sight that I’d witnessed first hand, but it’s quite a concept. The reason for design is in event of a fire. Since the dragons’ mouths could hit practically every part of the landmark, if there ever is a fire, firefighting would be a relatively easy task. It’s no wonder that they could make such a landmark with so much wood. By the way, this was all built just less than a century before Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue in 1492! I think the documented date is 1430.
The Great Wall – the pride of China. While taking pictures on the bus, another tourist said to me, “Why? You have plenty of places to take pictures – look at how long the wall is!”
The rest of Beijing was pretty simple compared to the first two sites. We had remarkable lunch at what used to be Yuan May Yuan – it was at a very pretty place with awesome service. The Summer Palace. A Tea House. A massage. Dinner. Watched an Acrobat show. Ming Tombs. Peking Roast Duck. WongFuJing
The three key areas for me in this trip was Beijing for man-made sights, Guilin for natural sights, and Guangzhou for food. The rest was icing on the cake. It’s really difficult to be impressed by anything after seeing the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. Not to say that I wouldn’t have loved to live along the lake in Suchou or have tea in the gardens, but I think that just walking through the Forbidden City is a magical experience in itself. If you think about it, it’d be extremely difficult to build the Great Wall even today with all the great technology we have, let alone centuries ago.