A bit of everything.
This post will be solely dedicated to loving China. I actually felt a little depressed after googling ‘why I hate China’ and finding so many results. I was interested in what other people think and realized their opinions don’t differ from mine so much. There is so much hate out there it makes me feel cold and scared. What greatly surprised me was that I found so many blogs about hating China but when I googled ‘why I love China’ I found only a few blogs and the rest were either forums or articles about what kind of men Chinese women like. Whatever. So here is all the love I am able to give.
1. It’s nothing like on the paper: My friend once said “The more time I spend in China the more I realize it’s nothing what they write about her in the west.” Once you visit China you will realize it’s nothing what you thought it would be. What you read in papers and books can give you a direction but the real thing is going to be different, very different. People are going to tell you a lot, what they liked and especially what they hated, you might feel like you don’t want to go there but I tell you, don’t give a fuck and just go because you are going to enjoy it in your own way. If you can’t speak Chinese that’s not a problem, you might have to pay a bit higher prices that’s all. If you don’t know much about the culture China will teach you in a rough but loving manner like a mother, you will grow up a bit and become wiser.
2. It’s safe: I have never felt as safe anywhere else (not even in South Korea where the atmosphere was often uncomfortably tense for some reason). Chinese might cheat you but they won’t steal. There are stories about kidnapping people and selling their organs but have you ever heard this happen to a foreigner? You know how in India the cows are sacred? In China a foreigner is a sacred cow, like my friend once commented. There are CCTV cameras everywhere. In the end the punishments in China are pretty strict so people are afraid, especially when they grow up in an environment where they are taught to blindly obey the rules. Besides, Asian people have strong Confucian values and stealing, getting caught then losing your face is something unforgivable already. Besides, doesn’t matter where you are, it’s dangerous everywhere. My wallet was once stolen, in Finland. But no matter how many times I have forgotten my stuff somewhere in China, I have always gotten it back. I don’t recommend to risk anything, though.
When they give you back your change they calculate the money carefully. In train you can safely leave your bag on the seat while going to bathroom and you don’t need to watch your suitcase non stop, nothing will be gone. Once I saw an old Chinese man open his wallet before entering the train, to take out his ticket, and there was a fat stack of 100 yen bills in there, he just slipped it back in his pocked without a worry. The more you suspect the less you enjoy traveling.
In China we sent a completely drunk friend back to dorms, gave the money to the driver and told him the directions, she got home safely. I have argued and bargained with black taxis, they always took me to my destination without a problem. I have walked on darks streets during the night and I am still here writing this blog, once a suspicious man followed me though, but I might have been just paranoid. You can leave your bags at left luggage at train and bus stations, you will get your bags back, untouched.
The shadiest hotel I ever stayed at was at this one town by the name of Wudangshan. I arrived late, came out from the bus and there were some old ladies renting rooms. I followed this old lady to some dark shady little street, turned several corners into the maze of houses and when we arrived I got a room but no key, also no receipt for my payment. Next day I wen to climb a mountain, when I came back I called her like we had agreed and she came to open the door to my room, my stuff (netbook too)was there untouched.
Just think logically, people are trying to conduct business there. If a rumor breaks out something was stolen or someone has disappeared, they are pretty much finished due to bad reputation. And don’t worry, your best buddy Chinese government will always know where you are and if something happens they will track you down, even if you manage to stay one or two nights in a hostel that has no qualifications for foreigners (don’t register you), they will find you if they want.
Of course, you should use your common sense at all times. I’m still alive and on the road, nothing has ever been stolen from me, I have survived by only using my brain that’s all (and I am not that smart either so). I am stupid to keep my credit cards all in the same bag with my passport, phone and all of the cash, every time I tell myself to separate it all into different places but why don’t I ever do it? One of these days I am going to end up in the middle of the jungle without a phone or money. Hmm, sounds exciting.
3. The laid back atmosphere: This is what I always miss about China the most. Somehow, the atmosphere is always relaxed there and the people don’t seem to stress too much or be in a hurry (you will notice when you will be annoyed by the fact everyone walks too damn slow, during hot days it’s siesta everywhere). In China I feel at ease, I feel like everything will always be all right. It’s such a pleasant atmosphere that makes you enjoy your time and want to stay longer, hard to explain you have to experience it. Of course, if you stress non stop because you are scared of Chinese, you will ruin one of the most wonderful experiences you could have. That’s your loss then.
In the parks people are dancing, doing sports and just hanging out together, especially in the evening it can get quite full and never boring. The feeling of community is strong. It feels comfortable to stroll in a park during a sunny afternoon, old people play ping pong while their cats bask in the sunlight.
4. The food: Oh yes, it’s oily, really oily but god damn delicious. Of course, after staying in China for a year I got tired of the food but even then there were many foreign restaurants (and ketchup chicken). Though, foreign food never tastes normal in China, never. Anyway, there is Mc Donalds and KFC.
What I like about Chinese food is that it tastes good, they know how to cook their vegetables, trust me. Also it’s different everywhere, Sichuan food is my favorite but it’s good only in Sichuan. This might sound weird but they are good only with the local dishes, for example Beijing chicken tastes like Bejing chicken only in Beijing and Ma Po Tofu is only edible in Sichuan (after you have tasted the real thing everything else will taste like shit, trust me (if you prove me wrong I will dance a chicken dance). So, they don’t only mess up the western food but even their own foods.. Well, I guess it’s all about the ingredients. Chinese…
One of the things foreigners can’t stand is that many meat dishes have bones, because apparently (just my own theory) in China they don’t separate different meats, just cut the whole animal into pieces in one big machine with the bones and all that shit, the fish is never deboned either. But, since I am crazy, I love it. When meat is cooked with bones the taste is completely different, I don’t mind spitting the pieces of bones on the table next to my plate, I feel like a local. Besides, you should work a bit for your food. And aren’t we westerners a bit too spoiled? Complaining whenever there are bones in the food, so freaking what (if it didn’t taste good they wouldn’t be there)? It’s just annoying whining. You can act as sophisticated as you want, everyone is an animal in the heart anyway, and I am not afraid to let that bear out whenever I am in China.
After China I have come to a realization that Chinese in the west is not so different from the Chinese in China (they fuck up mapo tofu everywhere except in Sichuan, and they fuck it up exactly alike). The difference lies in different ingredients (in China it’s cheaper to buy good quality than in the west), the cooking heat (since in China they use either gas or charcoal, even that makes huge difference) and hygiene (have you seen a Chinese kitchen in a restaurant in China? That’s how the Chinese taste is born, they don’t wash their wok that often). Heck, even Chinese in Hong Kong differs greatly from the mainland what comes to taste. In South Korea the Chinese is as far from China as sun and moon are from each other.
If you are now wondering is it safe to eat in Chinese restaurants in China (what if they are too dirty), seriously… You can just go to China then and not eat anything, go on a diet and just eat cup noodles every day or even better: crackers, do whatever you want. One Korean guy once asked how could I eat Chinese cup noodles when Chinese factories are so dirty. He was also sure that all cup noodles sold in Korea are made in Korea. Good luck with your life dude.
My suggestion is that you should taste everything from street food to the fancy miracles. Me and my boyfriend went to the best seafood restaurant in Guangzhou, ordered over 6 dishes which were huge and spent 50 euros. Mind you, 6 dishes in the best restaurant only 25 euros per person. All the fish was killed just before cooking or while cooking, I had never tasted such delicious sashimi before and the octopus, MY GOD. On the other hand an old couple in a small village sold the best Jiaozi ever, just by the roadside. I used to buy a few every day before going to class. And don’t forget to buy bubble tea, I always ordered it without the black balls, bubble tea without bubbles. Still remains my favorite drink in China.
5. Rich culture and never ending surprises: In one temple they had photos of the renovation project, first everything was destroyed and then built again. Riiii-ight. But if you wander around you will be able to see enough remains of the history, especially in Shanghai where new shiny blocks of flats and old shabby houses stand side by side, reminding you about the uneven development and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Forget about that and go to the countryside where the people live in idyllic little forgotten villages, dusty roads and wooden houses, rice terraces on the hills and nomads with their tents.
You will see that in some areas people still use their traditional clothes in every day life, you will see posters of Mao on the wall’s in the houses, you will see music cassettes being sold in the shops, see ancient tractors, and find candies of your childhood again (those not available in the west anymore). You will meet people who haven’t seen the world, who can’t read or write, uneducated and simple but you will love these people because they are friendly and have a good heart, people who won’t care whether you are Chinese or not and will welcome you with a wide smile on their faces. Those will be the best discussions of your life.
You will also notice the development everywhere, even the nomads have cellphones and know how to use computers and Internet, you will be surprised to find out they follow news and have their own opinions about politics. Even though many nomads can’t read they have application in their cellphones that reads the text aloud. There will be contrasts everywhere, old and new melting together. China is different everywhere in so many ways, sometimes you will feel like even Chinese from different areas are foreign for each other.
6. China makes you think: Like I mentioned above China is full of contrasts. Once you travel there for a while or yet better, live for certain period of time, you will see many things which will make you think. You will think, come to conclusions and mature, become wiser. China definitely has this kind of effect on people.
As for me I realized how scary it is to have so much people around and how meaningless individuality can become, one person suddenly stops meaning anything. It’s always the wellbeing of many you start concentrating on and to sacrifice an individual for many, that’s nothing.
Life is restricted. Even though at first look life in China doesn’t seem that controlled, people do what they want, you will slowly realize the weight of rules and regulations. When someone above makes a decision you have no right to oppose it and have to accept it quietly. Or you can complain but no one cares, if you complain too loudly you get into trouble.
When we had to move from our dorm to another one just a few days before leaving the campus forever, a few girls went to complain to the King of the university (yeah, it’s even hard to find out who is in charge of anything since there are deans, directors, vice presidents, chairmans and presidents. Of course, no one admits anything and no one is responsible for anything because the orders come from somewhere even higher above no one knows where, probably Justin Bieber) but the man just said to “Suffer along with the school, you should give all your love to our university” this kind of shit.
Forget about human rights, the party decides to move 7 million people from town A to town B they have to move despite anything, if you happen to be a foreigner and part of that community you leave too. Later the party might change its mind and not use the area of the emptied town A after all, so in the end you went trough hell for nothing. Swallow that, worm.
I had heard about the ghost cities where no one lives but never saw one before this summer, Qinghai province the province of the ghosts. You drive by a highway and suddenly there is a town on your left, you can clearly see schools, apartment complex buildings, police station, kindergartens, shopping malls, parks and even a little channel for river, with few cute little bridges for crossing, just there is no water (you start wondering how are they going to make this river and come to conclusion to rather not think about it) and most importantly this town is completely empty. I think it’s a scary sight, makes you think.
When you travel in full trains and experience the shit times of standing ticket, man, I believe that every person in this world should once travel 30 hours standing in a Chinese train, alone. During that time, by looking at people and just being there, sitting on the dirty floor, eating cup noodles, feeling dirty and low. There is no room for being haughty. I’m just saying, I saw this little kid and really wanted to tell him to study hard so he could get a good job and would never have to travel like this again but then I wondered why should I say it? Would it make any difference? Why must everyone have a good job, what if he fails? Is it realistic for him to even attend school, does he have any hopes for better future? Will he ever be able to buy any other ticket than the standing one? Traveling like an animal will certainly teach you the meaning of reality and hopelessness. When you return home you will start appreciating everything you have in a different light.
Even though China might be rough with you, somehow instead of making you evil it will turn you into a honest person, at leas that’s what it did to me. I became more compassionate and little less cold, a bit more understanding and reasonable.
Once you return from China you are a changed person.
7. Dirt cheap: Do I even need to explain this? When bargaining remember to at least cut the price in half, 60-80% off should be pretty close to the original price, but at least 40% if you are too embarrassed to bargain for too low and well, it’s not always that easy either. China is one of the safe heavens of budget travelers, cheap accommodation and food. The cheapest breakfast me and my boyfriend had cost us 25 cents per person, we had porridge along with steamed buns and tea. The cheapest hostel room cost 2,5 euros, breakfast included. If you go for a Chinese cheap hotel, one room for two with private shower and toilet should cost about 5-6 euros.
8. People: As much as I hate the people I love them. They can be rude, cold and indifferent towards you but then again you will always meet someone nice who will make you smile and feel grateful. What I appreciate in Chinese character the most is the honesty. They don’t try to be what they are not, they just are, no unnecessary pretenses. Even of they cheat you they do it kind of honestly, I am a cheater that’s who I am. Even though it soon becomes annoying when they comment about your clothes and looks (you are fat or your shirt doesn’t suit you, why are you wearing it?) when you get used to it and understand they don’t mean to hurt you, it’s easy to push aside. I have this Chinese friend who kept mentioning about my skin, first it was so good and then so bad, I got annoyed at first but later realized it’s no use to be angry, Chines just are like that. They just say stuff, giving each other nicknames like Big Butt just because someone’s butt is big. You will see couples yelling at each other and fighting in public, they have nothing to hide from you.
You can arrange cars for reasonable prices if you can speak Chinese and negotiate, mostly they won’t cheat you in the end (of course, there are rotten people everywhere, in China too). You can trust Chinese, not with time tables but you can always ask if you can leave your bag in a shop and come get it later, you will get it back untouched.
Sometimes you really need help but people will ignore you or have indifferent attitude in the style of “Take care of your problems yourself” but then again, someone will definitely approach you and ask if you need help. This year in Guangzhou I couldn’t find my hostel because the directions they gave me were bad. After 3 hours of walking back and forth this one street asking in a hotel and travel agency and getting the cold shoulder in both, some guy asked if I needed help. We spent 30 minutes looking for this place and finally found it (just because it was a normal apartment in a normal apartment complex building, no signs or anything). I have to say without him I would have never been able to find the hostel, never.
Chinese try hard, always. It’s amazing how there almost are no beggars around, with such huge population you’d expect more. I believe this is because Chinese work so hard (and probably they wouldn’t be able to give money to beggars even if they wanted to), they don’t give up and instead of being miserable do something about their problems. They are people who keep trying.
Maybe it’s because of their pure honesty but Chinese are extremely kind, at least towards their close friends and family, sometimes towards total strangers too. They are kind in a way it’s totally visible that they have no ulterior motives. An acquaintance of mine lost her wallet, all cash and credit cards along with her purse. She was far away from the place she lived (still in China, though) and the only way for her to get money was to ask her friend to wire some or to go back home, the problem was that she had absolutely no cash. The woman who worked at the hostel reception that time understood her situation and lent her some money to buy a ticket home, in return my acquaintance promised to pay back once she gets home. Overall at hostels they always try their best to help you and get the cheapest deals.
We did a trekking trip to Amnye Machen mountains with my friends, I befriended one of the nomads quite well and after our trek spent 5 days at his house with his family, they were all friendly, gave me food and shelter for free and asked lots of questions about my country. I had lots of fun. The problem now is that the boy thinks we are dating and wants to marry me, but anyway I hope he gets over that soon.
China is an adventure.