Ok, no pics on this one. We are waiting for our flight to Chengdu and it's late "due to air traffic congestion."
So, let's have a little fun on the "small game." A phony Q & A session. If I don't finish this before we board (currently set for 90 mins from now) I'll finish tomorrow morning. Right now, I'm thinking we are getting in to our hotel on a late night timetable. Ugh. I'm pretty sure it's a long drive to the Panda Center, and that is just the morning schedule. We hit Dufu Cottage in the afternoon. Bruce and I have been having fun with his name for days. Can't wait to be laughing hysterically for no reason once we get there.
Ok...the Q & A
Q: What is the strangest things you have witnessed in China so far?
A: Probably some of the English language T-Shirts that make no sense. It's largely a fashion statement for the Chinese. Now, they don't get a total pass. Most of the younger people start learning English early, like we teach French and Spanish to our elementary and middle schoolers. That's how Faye, our most recent guide, learned hers. But there are some real howlers. We've put a few in our pictures, we'll try to get some more up.
Q: What has surprised you the most?
A: There haven't been a ton of surprises. I like to do my research and I did a lot this summer before we headed over. I guess what is interesting is some of the things I read about that have become readily evident. The dust, the construction, the masses of people, the jostling, the cigarette smoking (unbelievably bad) the poverty, the staring at us (two old westerners with two little Chinese girls who speak english, not Chinese), the people who walk up and ask questions. I get quizzed by people when I'm at the bathroom, I think so they can practice their english. When I tell them I'm American, they don't act surprised. It's probably similar to the way we can't help staring at Amish in Lancaster County; we expect to see them, but we still can't help staring in surprise. "Gee, they really exist?"
The biggest surprise for me is the incredibly evident Chinese wealth as evidenced by automobiles, luxury stores (full of Chinese, not westerners), large groups vacationing at 5 star resorts, and on. Bruce and I agree: Mao may be on the money, but he would be cheesed to see what has happened to his socialist revolution.
Q: What do you like the most over there?
A: The people have been largely outstanding. Our guides are little short of amazing. I know this is what they do for a living, but they know they will never see us again, yet they keep in touch. We have continued to exchange emails with every one of them. Example: When we left Nanning, the driver threw away a bag that he thought had trash in it. It actually held a tile from the site where Laurie's original SWI had been. She had picked up a piece as a memento. Bruce just got off the phone with Hannah: she had obtained another tile and will be sending it to our hotel in Beijing. Seriously. I can't tell you some of the other amazing things she did. Sandy got us front row seats to the cultural show. We wouldn't have known the difference, but he worked hard to do it. Faye just saved our bacon when there was a discrepancy in Laurie's passport. Evidently, the ticket had her old passport number on it; Bruce had to get her a new one this summer because the passport must be more than 6 months from expiring when you travel. This young lady in her early 20s cut through some pretty tough red tape and got the situation resolved in around 15 mins.
Q: What do you like least?
A: Hard to say. Some of it is simply comfort issues, and I know that, as an American, I am spoiled. They consider air conditioning at 80 degrees to be ok; we don't. We drink a lot more fluids, especially because we sweat so much when it's hot, and we miss ice-cold drinks with ice. Some roads are super smooth and nice, others are like tank traps at Normandy. Dust, heat, noise, yelling, chattering, excited gesturing, massive crowds and pushing, and a resistance to lining up. All of these can grate on your nerves if you let them. Being pre-warned made it easier for me, but didn't make me like it any more. I also have strong opinions of a national/cultural need to do things for higher reasons. I see an important place for religion there. I think it is something some are seeking, but for many, it's simply about getting ahead, keeping your forward momentum, and advancing. Most of those we meet are interested in coming to visit America. We would love have them come visit. I think it would be more of a cultural shock for them than China has been for us. That's due to availability of information. Many Chinese are learning to get around the "Great Firewall of China "(government blocking of websites like US Google - they use Hong Kong, and Facebook) But most aren't interested in wasting their time with that when there are so many approved portals they can go through. In 20 years, what will the government do when all that is for naught? Interesting question.
Q: What would you hope people would take away from your experiences from this blog?
A: Ah, I'll save that for the end...many places still to go.
Q: What is modern air travel like in China?
A: Pretty good. Most of the facilities are new, security is not nearly as draconian as it is in the US, and luggage comes out quickly. I could tell on our flight from Nanning to Hefei that a number of them were flying on a plane for the first time. They were posing, taking pictures, and having to be told the flight rules. I love the way each member of the flight crew is introduced over the PA and they bow as each name is announced. It's kinda fun. The attendents work hard because they need the job and want to keep it. For the most part, you see that around China with service personnel except the stores. You can tell the store salespeople are bored; and not on commission! Probably because they see us Americans. We spend all our money just getting there and are cheap, or don't buy much in the stores. Whereas the Chinese figure they are on "vacation" and drop a bundle on gifts, souvenirs, and parties when on vacation. At least, this is what Sandy told us, and I'll bet he's right!
Q: Do you tip in China?
A: In theory, no. But westerners have ruined things there also, and it's starting to get expected. The Chinese culture would say that you shouldn't get extra money just for being proper in performing your tasks. But the consumer culture is booming in China and tipping is catching on. In a few years, in the major cities, it will probably be like most cities in the world.
Q: What do the Chinese do for fun?
A: From what we saw, smoke, drink, eat, talk loudly, and stare (just kidding on that last one). We see a lot of ads for liquor (not beer), fashions, but mostly by the government (police, admonishments to behave better (I don't know what else to call it) and government construction.) The models are starting to look western in revealing outfits and made up to a T western-style. Looking around the airport here, many of them read a lot (books, newspapers, etc) but, and here is another big surprise of the trip, EVERYONE, AND I DO MEAN EVERYONE, OWNS A CEL PHONE. The telephone is a relatively new reality for many Chinese. We had wired phone technology for a century; China has not. Cel technology has allowed them to connect hundreds of millions of people simply by putting up massive numbers of cel towers, not miles of pole and wires. People are motorbiking with one hand and yelling on their cel. They walk and text and expect others to get out of their way (from what I have witnessed, amazingly, they do.) Numerous signs tell people on the highway not to text and drive (they do anyway) I have seen people in what looks like abject squalor texting on a smartphone. It's truly amazing. There are few iPhones, unlike the USA here. The smartphones are largely Android, with those huge Samsung Note IIs being most popular. There are other manufacturers like Lenovo, Huawei, and others. But you can walk for a long time around any public areas and see swarms of people in groups, or individually, swiping, texting, or, more often, yelling (not talking quietly) It's quite a massive experience.
Q: Anything you forgot?
A: Sure, and perhaps I'll do another of these sometimes. Some I hold back on. We have had weird blockage of some sites we use from time to time. I don't know if that is intentional or accidental, but it does make one a little paranoid. Some things I hold back because it sounds petty. Like the spitting phenomenon. Chinese spit...a LOT. It's ok, because it's usually presaged by a loud HOOOOWWWWWAAAACCCCCCK..then a pause, then PTOOOOH. So you do have time to not get in the firing line. I attribute it, as outlined in one of my guide books, to the smoking, but also the poor air quality. Bruce and I are ready to leave Hefei. It's nice, but it reminded us of Anaheim in the 1970s...or worse. Hopefully there is a clearer air in the hilly regions of Chengdu.
Well, I hope this has been fun. Allegedly, our plane leaves in 30 mins...but I'm preparing to be disappointed. It's all good. The Chinese take it in stride...and I think I should too.