The funny thing, China wasn’t really on my radar until Eric told me he was moving here. I was so wonderfully blown away by it all, it’s made my “top places I’ve been” list. I realized I was spoiled being here over the New Year. With 1 out of 10 Chinese people traveling this time of year, I didn’t have to deal with nearly as many crowds. The only downside, many shops are closed. But for a first time visitor, all the stuff I wanted to do was open.
Before I get into my takeaways, I wanted to give an update on the battle of dumplings: Baoyuan v. Mr. Shi’s. Toe-to-toe, they were both great, but I have to go with Baoyuan. The color-coded dumplings is still ingenious. I found I actually appreciated the dumplings more when I knew which one I’d be expecting next. Plus, I found the filling combinations a bit more interesting at Baoyuan.
Anyway … back to a few of my takeaways …
Different is good – and there’s a lot of good in China
Obviously, being here just shy of two weeks by no means makes me an expert on Chinese culture, but there are some interesting differences I observed. Not good, not bad, just wonderfully different.
- Feeling safe: I’ve never felt more safe in any foreign country. I walked around at night with zero qualms. Maybe it’s because I know no one has a gun and that the crime rate is really low, but I felt really safe the entire time I was here.
- Bodily functions: From not covering supremely loud sneezes and coughs, to hawking loogies on the sidewalk, to picking noses and wiping them anywhere, it happens a lot. This was admittedly a tough one for me.
- Smoking: Almost exclusively men do it, and they do it a lot, including indoors. Even when they’re coughing out a lung.
- Diversity: There isn’t a lot of it. From the outside, even homogeneous Minnesota looks more diverse. Westerners stick out.
- Staring: As noted above, there’s a lack of physical diversity, so just accept you’re going to get stared at. A lot. While the children stare more, the adults do too. It’s truly done out of curiosity.
- Curiosity: Be prepared for people wanting to take pictures with you and practice English. It’s harmless, so just go with it.
- Queuing: People budge in line here. You only get to Point B by moving. The Chinese manage to do this without getting pissed about it. We in the States could learn a thing or two on this one.
- Personal space: Get used to having none. People will stand close to you and bump into you frequently. You’ll rarely hear an apology, so just accept it and keep going on with your day.
- Elevator/subway etiquette: The polite thing to do is wait for people to get off before you get on. That’s … not the case in China. It’s a free for all/mad dash to get on/off public transit. Don’t be afraid to push/nudge people; they do the same to you, all without any incident.
- Tipping: There’s only one instance where you do it in China – when you go on a tour. 10% of what you paid should suffice. Your guide shares it with the driver.
- Dogs: You’ll see five kinds – auburn toy poodles, white Bichons, Golden Retrievers, Labs, and a mutt that kind of resembles a single-colored Corgi. People who have the smaller dogs dress them up … like in actual dresses.
- Tea: We do it SO WRONG. After attending a tea ceremony, I learned the value in rinsing your tea before you let it stew.
- Efficiency: They get shit done here. And fast. With no red tape, it allows things, especially major construction projects to get done.
While in some instances, I felt uncomfortable, in most instances, I found it all very endearing. This kind of constant diversity is exactly why I travel. I learn so much about myself and the world every time I go somewhere new.
Even though I don’t speak Chinese …
There’s a pretty noticeable difference between the two dialects I heard while here: Mandarin v. Shanghainese. While people who live in the north (and speak Mandarin) can make do in Shanghai, it’s not without some effort on their part.
To my ears, Shanghainese sounds lighter and you hear the “ing” sound a lot. Think “shing, ching, and jing.” And they speak very fast. Mandarin sounds a bit heavier, and they speak more slowly. There’s a very hard “r” sound. Eric and I heard “sure” a lot, including other variations of “rrrr” sound. When compared to Shanghainese, it sounded more garbled. And where I felt I could pronounce words in Shanghai (which was necessary when riding the subway), I had to put a lot more thought into trying to pronounce words in Beijing.
The more time I spent here, whether I read a sign, watched the news, or talked with someone, the more obvious that they’re not getting the full story. And I’m not deluding myself; I understand all the issues we’re faced with in the U.S. I’m just saying, it’s interesting. And as a result, their perspectives are interesting.
Two instances that blew me away:
When we were in Tiananmen Square, it was if our guide knew nothing about what happened in 1989. And it’s obvious they don’t do any reporting on protests. After another of our tour guides heard that the president fired two high-ranking judges for disagreeing, she asked why Americans don’t fight for democracy. I mentioned the Women’s March that occurred a day after the president’s inauguration (and was before the firings). She had no idea and I didn’t bother pressing the issue. Watching the news here has been painful. Reporters don’t ever ask questions, they just allow the person they’re interviewing to deliver a carefully crafted message. But it was funny to see the snark from the broadcaster about the “America First” agenda.
The one that completely blew me away was a book I picked up in the hotel lobby. It covered the greatest events of the Olympics since the 1930s. Even though it was in Chinese, it had a lot of pictures and you could get the gist of it. Every time something controversial happened, it was as if that olympics never took place. So there was nothing for 1972, 1984, and 1996.
China is truly amazing!
This country completely blew me away. It really wasn’t on my radar until my friend moved here. So I guess it was on my bucket list and I didn’t even know it was there. I’m definitely going to make it back … I have to get to Hong Kong!
Xiexie! (Thank you!)