To wrap up the China section for now (and to delay talking about my blown budget until later in this post), here are some random thoughts about China and the Chinese…
- Public Toilets abound
- Read the star rating and take heed. Always have your own paper, and plan to step up to the squat toilet. Don’t make the mistake of stumbling over that small step. Fortunately, we were forewarned.
- Expect many “hello’s”, followed by much hounding to make you buy the goods.
- We actually found out that that is what they call westerners when they talk among themselves. Like, “Here come a bunch of Hello’s. Sell them that thing no one wants… and charge them triple.”
- Hand Counting
- We will never count on our fingers the same way again. I will put up a graphic below showing how to count to 10 on one hand. Makes all the sense in the world.
- Every vehicle we were in drove right down the center line. Only when a crash with oncoming traffic was imminent, would they quickly move over into their true lane. Hopefully, there was not another car or motorbike already there. Many times there was.
- Tuk-tuk’s didn’t even bother with the lanes. Gigi, Marcy and I will ever forget going the wrong way down that busy street in Xi’an. At least, what we saw through our hands that were covering our eyes. Karen swore them off entirely after her ride. The kids loved it.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking that the traffic ends when you are off of the street. Apparently bikes and cars have the right of way on the sidewalk as well.
- Capitalistic Communism
- Every driver is a taxi. If you’re on the side of the road, expect to be offered a ride – for a price.
- Haggling is everywhere for everything. Honestly, start with half of what they ask, maybe even one third. When they meet you in the middle, say no and walk away. They will lower it again.
- They sellers are very persistent. If you go to China, make sure you know this one phrase, pronounced BOO YOW (as in wow). It means “I don’t want”. Spread it around generously.
- Businesses love to have a dude with a mic spouting knowledge about their store or product. Emcee’s are everywhere, trying to hustle in as much business as possible. This led to a hilarious moment when our hosts at one spot stopped mid-sentence and bolted out the door. They had heard the call of “Tooofuuu!” from apparently the best tofu maker in town (a little old lady on a bicycle, peddling by and shouting like an out of tune, vegan ice-cream truck).
- Farming is fundamental
- Every inch of dirt is farmed, down to the 18″ of space between the road and the cliff-side.
- We saw everything we knew how to identify and more. We were especially fond of the mandarin oranges in Yangshuo and the fresh pomegranates in Xi’an. Actually, Xi’an is the Chinese word for the flower of the pomegranate tree.
- Lots of IV usage
- I don’t know enough about this to form a fair opinion. All I know is that there were many clinics with rows of teddy-bear decorated seats for children to sit under IV bags. For every 2 babies we saw, at least one had an IV drip – usually into their heads.
- Huge cities
- Even the small towns in China are around half a million people. A quick look on Wikipedia shows about 150 different cities with over 1 million people, and 14 with over 5 million. Honestly, there were countless apartment buildings and construction was everywhere. Nearly ever block had various stores for water heaters, tile floors, lighting, paint, etc. Oh yeah, these stores were separate for each item.
- Talking with a very nice family (by passing the Google Translate app back and forth) on the 27 hour train to Xi’an, we found out that housing costs are determined by the government, based on city size and location on a square meter basis. Bigger place, nicer area – apply the formula.
- Mao is everywhere…
- His likeness is all over the country. They really do love this fellow. The longest line we saw (and in China, that’s saying something) was to Mao’s mausoleum. It is basically a pilgrimage site for every Chinese person who is able. They line up for hours just to walk by his tomb. I am told the lines are so long that security will not allow any one to stop at the coffin, so they wait that long just to get a glance as they walk by.
- … and so is “Obamao”
- We were never too far away from our own president’s image. He is on shirts, bags, hats, etc. He is always referred to as “ObaMAO”. If you read the bullet above, you will recognize that to the Chinese this is a huge compliment.
- Everyone is talking about the recent removal of the 1 child policy
- They are great people and the country is stunning.
- Sure, the sellers are pushy, but they are just trying to make a living. Also, with the way their language uses tones to differentiate words, they cannot use inflection to soften their sentences or to help make a point. If they are mad, they have to say it the same way or it will loose meaning, so they use volume. Boy, do they use volume. They also don’t regard personal space the same way we do. Get over this, and you will do just fine with the people. There is usually a smile behind the eyes of the loud lady who sat sort of on you, instead of beside you.
- We saw many, many jaw-dropping, post-card worthy, downright beautiful landscapes and buildings. And I know we barely scratched the surface.
Now about that budget…
Staring at the beach here in Vietnam, buying 3 squares for the family for under $30/day, I am really upset with myself over our expenses in China. Don’t get me wrong – it was incredible – but we made some decisions that really did boost the costs. Of course we knew flights from Paris would be high, although under $400 per person is still hard to beat for that distance. We took on a big cost (I placed in Attractions) for an English-speaking guide and driver on our first day in Beijing. This feels justified, since Candi was great, but I wonder if we could have negotiated or found this service cheaper. We made the mistake of staying in a hostel that served western food. Each morning, our breakfast was probably 4x what it would have been on the street. And we gave in to our inner foodies, eating four-course meals at a favorite restaurant 14 out of 16 days in Yangshuo.
We also knew that vaccines and visas would be expensive, but we were actually able to trim that down. See, in the US, Japanese Encephalitis vaccines are $600 each with a booster 28 days later. So that would have been $4800 for the four of us. Instead, we got some help (THANKS TOM!) and made some calls, and got the shots in France instead – total cost: $960. I will total these types of expenses later, since they are hard to dump onto just one country.
Concerning stays, I want to make sure we call out our accommodations in China, because they were very good. HY Little Yard was an awesome jumping off point near the Great Wall, with amazing English skills (well, Emily was born in Boston, so the English was as you could expect from Bhastan). The Hangtang Inn in Xi’an suckered us in with their tempting “American Breakfast” and “French Toast”, but it was great otherwise with nightly entertainment, classes, tour bookings, and even the occasional nude spa night (this we declined, ya know, family vacation). And Fun Sam’s Bed and Breakfast (we booked through AirBnB) was the perfect balance of hotel meets homestay. Sam and his family made our time in Yangshuo seamless and unforgettable.
China was also our first experience with haggling and we just weren’t good at it, especially at the beginning. I am sure I helped a few people retire earlier than they planned by paying what I did. Anyway, here are the numbers. Come-on Vietnam, help me get back on track! -ALaff
Oh yeah, those Chinese hand signs: