I hosted my first visitor. Since I don’t use real names on this blog (they’re watching me), I’ll refer to my guest as Howie. He stayed for 10 days, and together we travelled all over Beijing and Shanghai. I wish we could have gone to more rural parts of China, but it was certainly a great introduction to a massive country. It’d be like going to the USA and only seeing NYC and LA… there’s a lot more than just two cities.
This post won’t be about our travels, but rather, my observations of tourists in China who come with absolutely no idea of what to expect. My good friend also has a buddy visiting, and I’ve noticed the same things with him.
This country is filthy. No shit, Sherlock. There’s 1.6 billion people in China, most of which are jam-packed into cities on the Eastern seaboard. If heavy industry, electricity production, automobiles and more are all stuffed into a small area, it’s going to have air pollution, filthy water and nauseating smells. Furthermore, Beijing is a 700+ year-old city – it was never designed to hold 19 million people and their cars.
The food isn’t anything at all like Chinese food in America. I’m pretty pleased we didn’t have any incidents of, “Where’s the fortune cookie?” But no, I can’t order in a Chinese restaurant without a picture menu. “Empress Chicken” doesn’t describe the flavor of the dish. And although some Chinese food is cheap, good food is often not. Each meal could be had for anywhere from $7 to $15 per person, provided you don’t drink beer like its going out of style. I had Chinese food for 10 days straight aside from a Burger King attack while in the middle of Shanghai. I have no intention of eating Chinese food for the next week.
When negotiating for goods, it’s a game of how little you can get ripped off. If you think of shopkeepers as (decent) human beings, you’re going to overpay. Just because they give an initial price of 1280 RMB for a silk robe with an embroidered dragon doesn’t mean you should start at 500 RMB. Offend them with a low price. Tell them you’re a poor student. Hide money outside of your wallet and resort to showing them how little you have. Lie and say you have three kids. Call them pretty. Everything can work – provided you’re willing to spend your time wasting theirs. The aforementioned 1280 RMB silk robe we ended up getting for 200 RMB, and I’m sure we could have gotten it lower. If you’re attracting a crowd of Chinese onlookers, then you’re doing it right. If the shopkeeper gets angry, you’re doing it right. But also know that you might have to walk away because sometimes the shopkeeper just doesn’t want to lose face. As a general rule, I like to give my price as 5-10% of what they originally quote.
Chinese have no manners. In previous posts I’ve detailed my frustrations with getting on elevators, going through doors and riding the subways. It’s not that they don’t have no manners, its that their version of polite is different from ours. A few good things to do would be to ask people for their business cards and receive it with both hands. The same type of reception should be used for pretty much anything handed to you. Staring is common, so feel free to stare back. Don’t expect the Chinese to sneeze into their hands. Carry anti-bacterial, alcohol-based liquids because the bathrooms are too dirty to wash your hands in. Also, pedestrians yield to cars, not vice versa.
Learn a few Chinese words. You can say Ni Hao (hello) to Chinese people, but you’re probably saying it wrong and even if you spoke the language correctly, they won’t say it back. Ask your host how to say the following: thank you, how much, pretty, don’t want, waiter, beer. The Chinese love it when you speak their language – after all, you are in their country. I applaud Howie for learning these words and more. He really made an effort to not be the obnoxious American who demands to speak English all the time.
Carry cards with the Chinese addresses of places you want to go. You’re definitely saying the address wrong. It’s a tonal language. The chances of your cab driver knowing the English name of a place or hotel is about 1 in a million. (So you’re saying there’s a chance!)
Rice comes at the end of a meal. If you don’t ask for it to come at the beginning of the meal, it’ll come at the end.
That’s all I can think of for now.