Monday, 16 March 2015

China: Expectation Vs. Reality

*WARNING*

This post may sound quite 'moany' and 'grumpy' to some people but we just wanted to express the reality of visiting such a bizarre country like China. To most people, it may sound like a normal place to visit but it's honestly like a whole other world once you're there. Please don't think we hated our time in China because we thoroughly enjoyed the entire trip and would like to go back someday, but there were a few (okay, a lot) of things that we found particularly interesting about their way of life. Oh also, this post is quite long so you may want a hot beverage to accompany you whilst you read! :)



________________________________________________

Language Barrier

Expectation:
Getting in a taxi, going straight to your hostel.

Reality:
Taxi drops you off in the middle of nowhere. Takes you two hours to find your hostel.

Upon getting into the taxi at the airport, the driver signalled for us to show him on a map where we wanted to go. At that point we tried to explain we only had the name of the hostel in English. The communication barrier became immediately apparent as the driver could not speak a word of English and we obviously could not speak a word of Chinese. He eventually pretended to know where the hostel was and after a short drive told us to get out at a random location. He refused to take us any further, obviously not understanding that we didn't know where we were, so we then spent two hours wandering up and down streets, labelled all in Chinese before eventually finding our hostel. TIP: Make sure you get all street names/addresses in Chinese and ideally a screenshot of Google maps to show any drivers.



Expectation:

Getting on a bus, asking the driver if the bus goes to X location, driver agreeing, then telling you to get off the bus when you arrive at said location.

Reality:

Being told to get off the bus an hour later because you've reached the end of the route and the bus goes no further.

Again, it would have helped if we had written down in Chinese 'can you tell me to get off at X location?' The driver obviously understood that we were asking if the bus was going to X location but didn't realise that we didn't actually know where that was because we cannot read Chinese symbols and all station names are in Chinese. Many times we would get on the bus and try desperately to match up the name of the place we had in front of us with the name appearing on the electronic screen at the front of the bus, fail to do so, and end up having to get off the bus at the end of the route and do the entire route again on a new bus just to get to where we wanted to go. The struggle was REAL!


________________________________________________



Technology

Expectation:
Being in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, a decent Wi-Fi connection to contact home and let everyone know you've arrived safely.

Reality:
Sitting in the corridor at 2AM when the hostel is most quiet, as close to the router as possible, in an attempt to get enough signal to send one single WhatsApp message.

Probably one of the most annoying experiences of our time in China was 'connecting' to Wi-Fi to then have absolutely nothing load at all, or a 'could not connect to the server' message appear. It was so frustrating to keep people up to date with how we were getting on because we had no means of contacting home (Internet cafes in China are non-existent).

Expectation:
Being able to travel freely around the country, undisturbed.

Reality:

Basically becoming a celebrity, subjected to constant photos and stares by almost every person we passed.

While we understand that we are a minority race in China, since the majority of Chinese tourists actually come from China itself, we found this to be one of the biggest grievances we faced. We couldn't go anywhere without being stopped and asked for photos, and even if we said no, people would take the photos anyway, disguising them as 'selfies' so we would be in the background. As if those photos were going to be attractive! As for the staring, it got to the point towards the end of our stay, that we started getting really irate and actually having to tell people to go away - a phrase we actually did come to learn in Chinese! It rarely worked, however, as people would just move to another location after being told and just stare at us from there. TIP: don't be a blonde or a red head in China! Or even a Westerner!



Expectation:

Photography being of normal, everyday things that you can put in an album and treasure as a reminder of your travels.

Reality:

Selfies everywhere!!!

And we mean everywhere! People will be alone in the middle of the street and will stop to take 5726235 selfies before carrying on with their business. Or they will take a selfie with their food/drink/random monument in the street. Pouting, cheesy smiles, frowns, etc - we've seen it all! As for the poses - people will take photos leaning on trees or a selfie of themselves pretending to take a selfie. Like seriously, it was ridiculous!


________________________________________________


Government Control

Expectation:
Keeping up to date with what's going on at home, and letting people know how you're getting on via social media.

Reality:

The Chinese government have decided that it's unnecessary to allow anyone access to Facebook, Twitter, Google, or any media outputs that they disapprove of.

We found WhatsApp worked (when Wi-Fi was decent) which was a relief, but had to change our search provider to Bing - annoying only because Google is default on all of our phones and just made doing anything online more difficult. Whilst in Kunming, Instagram was suddenly banned one day due to the Hong Kong protests. While we know that travelling is all about being in the moment and enjoying yourself, it annoyed us more so because we couldn't have it, and you know what they say - you always want what you can't have! TIP: get a VPN before arriving in China. This will allow you to bypass the government restrictions on any website and you won't have to be subjected to communist control - win!



Expectation:

Being able to sleep on a sleeper train.

Reality:

You will be unable to sleep past 6:30AM because government advertising will take over the TV and speaker system, which you cannot turn off and have no option but to listen to.

We have no complaints about the sleeper trains whatsoever. We had our own private cabins, comfy beds, linen and pillows, and a TV. Sounds perfect right? Until you're woken up feeling like you're in Orwell's 1984. The TV automatically turns on in the early hours of the morning, pouring out government propaganda and commercials which promote government projects, products, and people. There is no 'off' switch so you're forced to listen to it. While this doesn't seem like a big deal, in the context of China itself, and the unawareness of the population of the control they are actually subjected to, little things like this seem so much bigger to a foreign traveller within the country.



Expectation:

Visiting a country, with different cultures, lifestyles, and social attitudes, and wanting to embrace and engage with such behaviours.

Reality:

Although we are aware that China is a communist country, we definitely underestimated just how much control the government actually has over its people. (Ironic that it's formal name is the People's Republic, right?)

We found it really hard to comprehend the fact that everyone seems to share the same views. It may be the case that the government has so much control that people do not express contempt out of fear, or it may actually just be the case that the people genuinely believe the communist shpeil they are fed! Our overriding view is that Chinese people are actually real life 'Sims'. The government chooses what it wants them to do, and they do it with no reaction. Think of a Chinese cliche, and we can guarantee that you've just experienced 95% of the population. Everyone is the same. They have the same fashion, the same humour, the same personality traits. It's ridiculous just how little originality there is. Clothing is the main way people tend to express themselves, but even the outrageous fashion choices have now become mainstream as people try their best to be 'quirky' and 'cool'.


________________________________________________

Food

Expectation:
Getting into Chinese culture and trying out all the local delicacies.

Reality:

Being subjected to delicacies like dog meat, snake, stinky tofu, scorpions, locusts, and pretty much anything else disgusting that you would never want to subject your taste-buds to.

Even 'chicken' wasn't a safe choice - chicken meat in reality meant chicken feet. Also, all menus are in Chinese so you don't actually know what you are ordering which is definitely a risky choice when the above 'delicacies' are available. If you are lucky, you will find a restaurant with pictures so you can take a guess at what the meal is, but even then the food never arrives looking like the picture. TIP: get translations of different foods in Chinese so you can show the waiters what you want.



Expectation:

Ordering one meal per person, as a normal person would do in a normal restaurant in a normal country.

Reality:

China is not what we would call a 'normal' country because every meal is enough to feed 3 people with leftovers!! Groups of people tend to share dishes between them so they get to eat a few different things at once.

On our first night in Beijing we ordered a noodle dish each to which the waiter looked surprised but took the order anyway. When the first dish arrived, we thought a mistake had been made and all our food had come on the same plate - it was enough food to feed the 5000! Two seconds later, another two dishes arrived. We couldn't believe how much food was on our table. We were the talk of the restaurant. Everyone kept looking over at us and pointing and laughing, more so when we failed to finish even half of what we had in front of us. At this early stage, we also didn't know the etiquette for leaving food so left the restaurant stuffed to the absolute maximum so as not to offend. TIP: check around you for portion sizes before ordering to avoid making the same mistake.



Expectation:

Noodles, noodles, noodles.

Reality:

Noodles, noodles, noodles.

We knew that we would be living 'the chopstick life' while we were in China but we didn't realise just how little variety was available to us other than noodles. There were, of course, western fast food places like KFC and McDonalds but that's not what we wanted. Although it turns out we ended up spending quite a few of our evenings stocking up on Big Macs and Chocolate Sundaes. Whoopsy! After a while we got bored of Chinese noodles, so went to the supermarket to look for alternatives, and found, you'd never guess, POT noodles. And if you go to a mall, there's KOREAN noodles. As far as noodles went though, we did get some really great street food. Despite the oil which tarred most dishes and swiftly required removing, the flavours were actually really good. They were the biggest bargains too - around 80p per serving. On times, the chef would sneakily put some super spicy sauces in to the pot whilst cooking which resulted in numb mouths for hours on end! But on the whole, big thumbs up for noodle love. TIP: ask for 'not spicy' and then add spice later rather than getting it as standard, unless you love spicy food of course!


________________________________________________

Weather

Expectation:

China in September to be quite warm and dry, thus packing light, non-waterproof clothing.

Reality:

Severe weather discrepancies. Hot and dry one minute, then torrential rain and freezing winds the next.

While we didn't expect Indian weather, we weren't necessarily prepared for the amount of rain we experienced, mainly in Xian, Kunming, and Lijiang. Bethan and Sarah sensibly packed a raincoat in preparation but Sam ended up having to buy an umbrella which spent more time inside out because of the winds and barely kept her dry. Lijiang was definitely the worst weather we experienced, and was the place where we discovered one of China's finest inventions - waterproof shoe covers! TIP: buy these! They're basically like space boots which come right up your leg and keep your entire leg dry as opposed to wearing stupid flip flops and basically walking through puddles 24/7.


________________________________________________

Unique Inventions/ Fashion

Expectation:

China, as one of the world leaders when it comes to innovation, to have some crazy inventions.

Reality:

The unthinkable has been done!

It's really hard to explain just how random China is. Trying to remember all the random things we found is really hard now that we've left, but we remember always finding new things that amazed us. Here are just a few things we came across...


Fringe spirit level - yes this is exactly what it sounds like. A spirit level with a comb on one end to make sure your fringe is straight before cutting it.

Baby seat - this is essentially a bum bag that's padded for the parents to balance their child on so they don't have to carry the child's full weight on their arms, genius!

Poo pants - I know these sound bizarre but let us explain. Toddlers and young children in China wear trousers with a hole from the back to the front which is between their legs. We came to the conclusion that the parents put these on their children to save them money on nappies, but then we realised that it is to make it easier for the child to go to the toilet whenever and wherever they want. The children will squat down and do what they need to do in the street, on the train station and even on the local buses!!

Selfie stick - now we know these have recently become popular worldwide, but we believe the selfie stick began in China because they were EVERYWHERE! Whether the people were Chinese tourists or locals in the city, sooner or later they'd all bust out their selfie sticks and start their own personal photo shoots anywhere they pleased.

Flower cakes - these cakes weren't just flower flavoured, they actually contained full flower petals, WHAT!? The majority of them contained roses which unbelievably tempted Sam one day and surprisingly, she liked them.. Until two hours later when they made her sick for the night!

Meat floss - yes, this is as disgusting as it sounds! We saw this a lot at bakeries where it would be put over hot dogs, croissants and various other pastries. The first time we saw it, we thought it was stringy cheese as it looks exactly like it! We swiftly changed our minds the minute we ate it as it tasted horrific! Meat. Floss. Just, WHY!?


Expectation:

Being able to buy any colour hair dye you want - particularly important for when the dreaded roots start to appear!

Reality:

Chinese people have black hair and they seem pretty content with this. As a result, finding any shade of blonde hair dye is pretty much impossible.

It is not the case that hair dye doesn't exist. We managed to find many shades of brown, and even red which was perfect for Sarah. However, trying to find blonde dye was the biggest mission ever! Not even the massive beauty retailers such as Mannings or Watsons had it. Throughout our time in China, numerous people kept staring at our hair colour in disbelief, and couldn't understand how we managed to get it that colour. It was pretty clear that they have never found any need for hair bleach, and as a result, it is pretty much non-existent across the country. Luckily for us, we had a special delivery of it when the mermaids came to visit! Hallelujah!


________________________________________________

Hygiene and Mannerisms

Expectation:
Although it is very stereotypical, there is a general consensus that Chinese people lack manners so we anticipated that we would be met with some questionable manners and behaviours.

Reality:

Our expectations were confirmed almost instantly.

We're not sure of the correct term but 'hacking' or 'flegging' is one of the most disgusting things ever (maybe urban dictionary that)! Apparently, hygiene is very important to the Chinese. Many wear masks while out and about to prevent any germs/ pollution from getting into their lungs and when eating crisps or chips etc, they will pour the food into their mouths from the packet rather than use their hands to eat, and we often found people vigorously washing their hands after any contact. The worst, as we have mentioned, is definitely the way they clear their throat in such a way that we can only describe as VILE. It doesn't matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, they will spit the phlegm they have gathered out onto the floor, but not in a subtle way. They maintain control of it as it comes it of their mouths, dripping it down and back up into their mouths like a yoyo. (Sorry for the graphic description but it's so hard to explain just how gross it is!) No idea why this is necessary or even why people haven't realised how disgusting a habit it is. All we know is that we never want to be around it again!


Expectation:

When you want to buy something in a shop, get on a bus, or order food in a takeaway, and there are other people in front of you, you form what is known as a QUEUE!

Reality:

What is a queue?

As every Brit knows, we love a queue. Often, we will try and form a queue even if there is no queue. And we also HATE queue jumpers. So when we arrived in China, you can imagine our disgust at the realisation that the word queue means absolutely nothing!! If a Chinese person wants to buy something, they will walk right past you, barge you out of the way, and purchase their goods without the sales assistant even batting an eyelid at the fact that they have just committed the biggest crime known to man *cough* Brits! (Not dramatic, honest. We just really, really love a good queue). It's almost like we had to re-programme our minds to become 'Chinese' and commit such a faux pas - which we had to do or spend an eternity waiting and getting nowhere. It felt so wrong! Haha! TIP: be aggressive, be, be aggressive! (10 points if you get the movie reference without Google - if you were in China you wouldn't have Google!)




The Happy Wanderers

No comments:

Post a Comment