Tuesday, 20 April 2010

My View of China

The entire Raoow! editorial team just arrived back from China where we were for a wedding. I managed to sneak back into Europe two hours before the ash cloud crippled the continent, though others weren't so lucky. Right now my girlfriend is stuck on a beach in Egypt, and another Raoow! contributor is trying to find a route back to London from Shanghai. No matter how great we think we are, mother nature has a way of putting us in our place. Anyway, I thought it was timely to write about what I thought about my time in China, outside of my memorable wedding experience. Blogger is blocked in China, as is YouTube and Facebook, hence the lack of updates for the past couple of weeks. I didn't miss being disconnected, though I can understand those who say that China is in danger of becoming a big intranet. It seems so closed off, and even though Shanghai is an international city, once out of it English is of little use and you get the odd stare from passersby.

I found China to be a lot more ordered than somewhere like Thailand, my other experience of Asia. The driving is still insane, bargaining loudly at markets is still the norm, but nowhere in China was I tracked through the city by hawkers, scammed by tuk-tuk drivers or poisoned by dodgy "meat". That's not to say it can't happen in China. However, it was a lot cleaner and controlled than I expected.

Chinese people are unfailingly kind, at least the ones that we got to meet. I did see a fair bit of spitting, and kids pissing in the streets aided by the assless pants they all wear. An old woman spat at my feet and I looked down in disgust, then back up at her, and she laughed at me. Adjusting your expectations is part of what travelling is all about. Keeping an open mind and going with the flow is required. My Mandarin is non-existent, and I know better than to expect everyone to speak English. Thank you and hello was about all I could muster.

The Chinese government didn't make themselves seen too overtly. I did see the odd military looking guy checking us out a couple of times, but nothing serious. The security at the airport was much more intense than most places, except the US. People seem to get on with their lives without thinking much about the oppression the West says is going on in China. That's not to say there isn't any oppression - just blocking parts of the Internet is a crime in itself. The people don't seem to miss Facebook though. Logging back on after my trip I realised that I wasn't really missing much. The state-run CCTV (an unfortunate acronym) is pretty good in terms of international news, and I couldn't detect as much bias as I thought there would be. There were even a few stories critical of various government departments, something that I thought would have been illegal. The English language channel even has an American guy teaching Mandarin to the viewers.

Shanghai is a big city with not much greenery. There are skyscrapers everywhere. We saw foreigners on most streets. I thought Czech cities had too many apartment blocks - Shanghai has even more. The bottle opener is the most spectacular building I have ever entered - it was like stepping into the future, with Star Trek style lights in the elevator and light shows in every hallway. We tried to find a strip club for the Bachelor party, though we were told they don't exist, at least legally. So we settled for Hooters. Not much to see there.
Hangzhou is a few hours southwest of Shanghai and is much greener. West Lake is perhaps the most prominent and beautiful landmark. We didn't see too many foreigners, and when we were all together we attracted a few stares and comments from the locals.

The food was to be expected - fantastic. Huge tables with lazy susans to share every dish. I ate some interesting things, such as pig brains and jellyfish. After a week my stomach decided to reject anything with a Chinese flavour and so I was forced to switch to fruit and jelly for the last day. I also contracted some kind of Chinese flu and have been quarantined in my flat for the past three days.

Overall I enjoyed my time in China immensely, mostly because my friends and I were reuniting together as a group for the first time in years, and because the country offered so much to see and experience. I probably couldn't live there long-term however, as the pay is relatively low and I would need to speak at least some Mandarin. However, I recommend China for a visit any time; I know I've barely scratched the surface.

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44534236@N00/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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