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June 07, 2005

More random thoughts on China

Jason wants me to put this in a new entry, so here goes!

* The floors are dirty, dirty, dirty. (This is related to the entry in my last post about how everyone wears shoes. I have a theory that shoes are protective gear one doesn't generally need in SE Asia.) No one puts anything on the floor. At restaurants, folks generally reserve several seats for purses, briefcases and bags. We recently enjoyed taking the train in China and at the train station about a third of the seats in the waiting room were taken up with suitcases and other bags. Late birds were having to stand up -- people refused to put their bags on the ground. On buses, bags will not go on the ground. Bags go in the lap or in the overhead compartment.

Why are floors dirty? Because the floor is where one spits massive gobs of yellow-green sputum, where you throw banana peels and other trash, etc. In restaurants, the floor is for bones and other inedibles. Well, supposedly. I've not seen anyone actually spit on the ground, but that's what my guidebooks tell me.

* Fun at the dinner table, or anything goes! At a Chinese dinner table, one is given a cup on a saucer, a spoon in a little bowl, chopsticks and a pot of tea. Large tables will sometimes have several pots of tea.

There is a complicated ritual involving tea: folks pour the first cup, swish it around, and throw the whole cup and tea in a bowl. The tea cup gets warmed up for a couple of seconds and then the person discards the tea in a separate bowl. If there isn't a glass bowl in the middle, people will use an unused setting on the table. Then another cup is poured and only then will people drink the tea. Jason and I took a tea appreciation class in Hong Kong, so we know what this is about: Chinese people think that the first cup, nay POT, of tea should be thrown out. It's just for getting the leaves wet and letting all of the "bad stuff" float to the top to be thrown away. The second pot is for drinking. Most of the time, no one bothers to throw away the entire pot, just the first cup of tea. It's actually a good idea since the first cups of tea are really weak anyways and by the time you get around to the second cup the tea is then too strong to enjoy.

Phew! That was just the part about the tea! The fun doesn't end there as one wonders -- where is my plate? or where is my napkin? I'd already explained that even at relatively fancy places, the napkin is absent. The plate, I believe, is just superfluous. People move food from the platter to the bowl. No plate involved. Bits of bone and other indigestibles are thrown on the table. Except with really messy dishes, like crab and lobster -- we were given discard plates for those dishes.

The funniest thing by far is that no one eats rice at restaurants in China! We have seen maybe one table eating rice. We read in a book that rice is considered filler food and not fit for a night out at a nice restaurant. Contrast this with Burma, where you were given a massive serving of rice and folks consumed bowls and bowls of the stuff.

* Hello Big Brother! Jason and I took a sleeper train to Guilin and at exactly eight o'clock in the morning, really really loud music comes out of the speaker in our room. This music could not be turned off and played for hours. Up, up comrades!

The next morning, at the New Plaza Hotel in Guilin, we were awakened at exactly eight o'clock by "Auld Lang Syne", followed by a Chinese version of a Celine Dion song. It was coming out of a speaker in our night table, under the top of the table. We looked in vain for the off switch. I called reception and she assured me the music would be shut. Ten minutes later, nothing. I thought about trying to cut the wires on our speaker and wondered if they would notice the damage. But Jason got up to get the housekeeper on our floor and finally the "music closed". At eight o'clock the next morning the same music piped out of the speaker. Argh!!!

* Underemployment. China has Indian levels of underemployment. Here is how one buys stationary at a department store in China: You pick up your pen and hand it to an attendant at the end of row and she writes out a bill for you and bags up your pen. You pick up a notebook on the next row and another attendant writes up your bill and packs your notebook. You take your two bills to the cashier in the center of the floor. She takes your money and puts two red stamps on each bill. You return to each attendant, she carefully scrutinizes the stamps and you receive your goods. Sometimes you wait in line to get either your bag or the bill because the attendant is busy chatting or writing up a complicated bill.

At most restaurants, you have at least five free waiters. Sometimes, like at a restaurant tonight, these waiters are really busy looking at the wall. But, that's been the exception. Service is really very good in China.

* Weird food. We were in Guilin for a couple of days and the town is famous for its dog meat stew, anteater dishes and some other unsavory sounding stuff (to my timid palate). So, we went to a restaurant where they have sample dishes of everything laid out on multiple counters. You just point to the dish you want and they cook up something fresh. I saw an interesting looking sample stirfry and the cook seemed eager for me to eat it. "Good, good". That was all of the English he knew. I thought it was pork, maybe, so I pointed to a section in our phrasebook that listed 10 or so common meats. He scanned the list and shook his head. Hrm. I turned the page to the seafood list. Again, he looked and shook his head. Then another, younger guy came up. "Hosh! Very good [give thumbs up signal]" Horse, arg. Thus, the time Jason and I almost ate horse meat.

Posted by Cathy on June 7, 2005 07:03 AM

From reading other RTW journals, this is what other people have said about China:

Spitting is much more common in the north/Beijing,

You cannot find a China travel book (Lonely Planet, Lets Go, Frommers, etc) in China because the gov't doesnt want to support foreign publishing houses when it comes to what they say about China,

If you want to convert Chinese currency into US Dollars, you have to do it on the black market (the gov't wants money made in China, to be spent in China),

If you want to purchase a magazine such as The Economist, there will be a few pages ripped out of it,

During the SARS problem, the Chinese gov't was saying that foreigners brought it into China and thats why border officials were very diligent about making foreigners sign paperwork confirming they did not have SARS, hadnt been in contact with a person who had SARS, etc.

Chinese locals don't feel comfortable talking about the Tiananmen Square incident,

beware of taxi drivers: i heard there isnt a metering system (plus language barrier), so its easier for them to rip off tourists. but if you feel you have been ripped off, you can threaten the taxi driver that you are going to report him and that usually solves the problem,

Chinese locals dont wear deodorant, they don't smell, deodorant is hard to find/purchase.

Chinese locals like to shout out HELLO!! to tourists,

I'm curious if you guys notice any of this, or maybe it was just unique to each of the other RTW travelers.


Posted by: Cousin Holly on June 7, 2005 04:14 PM

Dear Cathy and Jason,
We went to China on a couple of tours and missed most of that stuff you are talking about.
I note that Jason almost ate the horse meat. I thought that he never ate any kind of meat. Has he changed?

Posted by: Dad and Mom on June 7, 2005 06:43 PM

Holly: We have not yet been to the north, so dunno about that. I'd been reading that Beijing started an anti-spitting campaign for the 2008 Olympics. My memories of spitting are mostly from my days in Korea. Lots o' spitting nasties up there.

We have not seen LP China, nor hardly any other English-language books being sold in the cities we have visited. We went to one bookstore that beckoned with "Welcome to Guilin Bookstore", but alas, no English books.

The "yuan" is not available legally anywhere except in China. Maybe that's what the guidebook meant.

I haven't seen any English language magazines sold anywhere! Our only news is from the internet and the government English-language channel (CCTV 9).

Have never bothered talking to folks about Tianammen.

Taxi drivers in Guangzhou were good about the meter and were able to get us to our destination. We just handed them the hotel card though. :) No speaking at ALL.

All over the developing world, good deodorant is hard to find. Stick is near impossible to find -- fugget about it. Ancient roll-y deodorants are universal. Spray deodorant is sometimes found. Jason might speak more to this as I (GASP!) don't bother with deodorant either. heh, heh.

"Hello!" is spoken more here than anywhere else in the world. Usually, just as described in guidebooks. "Hello", giggle, giggle.

Posted by: Cathy on June 8, 2005 07:15 AM

Dad: Alert reader! Yes, Jason has thrown his vegetarian ways out the window.

Posted by: Cathy on June 8, 2005 07:19 AM

I don't wear deodorant either. :-)

Posted by: James Hu on June 8, 2005 04:21 PM
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