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July 20, 2005

Tai Shan, holy mountain

Jason and I have only 5 more days in China. I bought our plane tickets to Korea last week. Jason is climbing a mountain and I am at the base, just relaxing and catching up on news and email.

We are in the town of Tai'an. It is a smallish place, only half a million people. heh. The food is terrible and the city is, well, a typical Chinese city. One funny thing about Chinese restaurants, is that in smaller cities (6 million or less), the restaurants have fairly rigid opening and closing times. If you want a meal at 3 PM, forget about it! Chinese people eat exactly at meal times. No snackers in this country. We tried to eat at 3 PM yesterday and encounted several restaurants where the staff was slumped over the tables, sleeping. Tables were covered with old dishes.

The longer one travels in China, the more one sees "slumpers". Everywhere in this country, there are at least ten people doing the job of one person. As a result, productivity suffers. Any time of day, nearly every shopkeeper, waiter, visible person, is slumped over a desk, sleeping. It makes you think -- this is what a country looks like when it's economy is growing at nearly 10% a year?? The funniest row of slumpers we saw was at the Shanghai museum. A line of 8 people, slumped over sleeping in a room labled "Managerial Staff".

At the Jinan airport, no plane departs from the airport from 11-1:30. The ticket desks are empty, because the staff is taking their lunch! A train we took from Shanghai to Tai'an, the train stopped for an hour from 11-12. Lunch break? I think so.

Another thing that is driving me crazy about China, is how difficult it is to travel. Travel agents seem to delight in telling you - "No, you must to buy train ticket X at the station". It is impossible to buy train tickets in advance from another city. Fine and dandy, but it is very difficult to buy train tickets on the same day for destinations. Sigh, sigh. We ended up having to fly from Pingyao to Shanghai, and I am worried that we will need to do some flying to get back to Shanghai from Qufu. Never mind the language barrier!

We met a terrifically funny traveler in Pingyao, an Israeli guy. He joined Jason and I for lunch and ordered for himself "Fried Rice with Chicken". Thirty minutes later, he got a greasy bowl of rice with some bits of chicken. He asked the guy at the hostel (it was a hostel restaurant, good English spoken) for some vegetables to be put into the rice. The hostel guy takes the bowl to the kitchen and comes back with the same bowl and said "Sorry, we have no more vegetables. A tour group came in and there are no more vegetables."

Israeli guy: "You're telling me that there are no vegetables at a Chinese restaurant at lunch??"

Hostel guy: Yes, that's right.

Israeli guy: [to us] Why is he lying to me? Telling me there are no vegetables...

Israeli guy: [to hostel guy] Where is the kitchen?

Fifteen minutes later, the Israeli guy came back with some vegetables in his fried rice! "Being a waiter in Israel is a very hard job. We send dishes back even if something is not wrong, if we just don't like the food."

Over lunch, the Israeli guy regaled us with stories of his China stories. How he got train tickets despite being told "No have". His method: stand your ground and insist on a ticket! (There are always a few tickets left for VIPs)

Jason used this method to great effect at our hotel in Shanghai. The air conditioner's remote control stopped working on our second day in the hotel. In Asia, all air conditioners are remote controlled and there are no manual controls (erm). The housekeeper insisted we just get her when we wanted to turn off the AC and that if it got too cold, we should just unplug the AC. Needless to say, we found that solution rather unsatisfactory. Jason went to the hotel desk and stood for 20 minutes, insisting "Yes, there must be an extra AC remote SOMEWHERE in this hotel or someone somewhere must have extra batteries for the remote". The hotel lady told him lamely "There is no extra remote" and "There are no batteries". Finally, she produced an extra remote from an empty room (always empty rooms in Chinese hotels).

China -- why are you so WACKY?!! I'd love to come back in twenty-five years or so. Will things be different?

Posted by Cathy on July 20, 2005 12:07 AM
Category: China

I think the reason why the customer service is lacking is because of communism. Ive read the same bad customer service was plentiful in Russia too. Since most/all services were gov't owned (no profit motive, plus no competition) theres no incentive to 'delight' the customer.

The customers don't have any alternate choices to choose from so they will have to accept the bad service.

Posted by: Cousin Holly on July 20, 2005 04:24 PM

This sort of explains why at many Chinese restaurants, I experience sub-Denny's serivce :-). -- James

Posted by: James Hu on July 21, 2005 10:53 AM
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