Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A tourist's observation on China

Before I begin my posts on Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, here are some of my observations on China.

This is my fifth trip to China to-date. Previously I had been to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Xian. My last trip was in 2005 to Xian - Luoyang - Qufu - Penglai - Dalian. I'm definitely not a seasoned traveller to China, yet I can say I have been to more places than most of my fellow peers. Most of them are not willing to venture out from the Beijing/Shanghai spots, mainly because of food, sanitation and money concerns. My observations here are based on my recent experience, and comparing them with my last trip in 2005.

1) Chinese people do not know how to use toilets
A lot of people ask me : How are the toilets in China? I can tell you from my most recent trip, I have encountered 1-star to 5-star toilets.

1-star toilets are the ones generally without doors. There are two types : one with just a drain below you, and you have to squat sideways and attempt not to look down what is beneath you. The other is whereby a squatting toilet bowl is provided (with or without water) but your backside will be seen by others. The walls are usually low, so everyone can see your face the minute you stand up after finishing your business.

image source : www.shaolin-wushu.de

Some of the toilets still come with half a door, some with flush, some without. I have to say the toilet conditions have much improved, as most of them provide toilets with full doors and working flush. The 5-star toilets I encountered in Chengdu is fully equipped with toilet paper and air-condition!

Having said that, the reason I don't understand why some Chinese people still do not know how to use the toilet. If there is a door with a lock, please lock the door. Many a times we open the toilet door to come face-to-face with someone doing their 'business'. Sometimes these people do their 'business' but do not know how to flush. I also noticed most of the toilet door locks do not work. Why? I guess due to the people aggressively pulling the door open, even when it's locked.

Regarding the smell, at first it will smell really bad, but once you get used to it I think it is the same as the stench of the school toilet last time.

Having said that, the toilet experience is a must for every China tourist, then only you have tales to tell your friends :)

2) Dao Lang sells more records through the bus drivers
Dao Lang 刀郎 is a singer who performs modern adaptations of popular folk-songs. During our trip to Xian, the bus driver played his albums throughout our journey. Oto-san and a few others ended up buying his albums. The same goes during our recent trip. The bus driver played Dao Lang's music again. Some other uncles ended up buying his albums in a CD shop. It seems like Dao Lang appealed to guys in their fifties. Oto-san is playing back his Dao Lang albums again.

3) You don't just speak mandarin in China
The interesting part of China is that while majority of the folks speak Mandarin, they tend to follow some local accent (like how the British made fun of the Welsh and Scottish). Our tourguide from Chengdu speaks in such a singsong manner you can't tell she's actually conversing in Mandarin and not other dialect. I remember the same experience in Shanghai, where I thought those people were speaking in Japanese, while it is more of a local accent is used. So if we put someone from Shanghai to speak to someone from Chengdu, will they understand each other?

4) When buying souvenirs, do not buy from the first stall.
This is a common rule of thumb while shopping in China - the first stall will usually sell the most expensive price, or rather the last stall will always give you the best offer. People tend to crowd to the first stall. If you think about supply/demand - you give the seller an upper edge. When you patronise a stall with fewer people and all selling the same products, chances are that the seller will be willing to negotiate, although they may show face and curse you in the end when they give in to you.

5) Shopping is a headache in China
It's really hard to ascertain how much are the items priced in China. The rule of thumb is to bargain half of the price set by the shopkeeper. When after bargaining you got half of the initial price, you wonder if you could have gone lower. Oto-san related his experience buying books. The retail price of a book is 90 yuan. One of the shop owners was willing to cut the price to 30 yuan, while another offered at 10 yuan. So how much is the cost of the book anyway?

I think the same culture shock applies for my China colleague who came to Malaysia last year. When she asked how much can she bargained for a dress, I told her not much as the pricing here is pretty fixed. While she was surprised over this, she also exclaimed it was very hard for her to shop in her home country because she do not know how much to bargain with the shop owner in the first place!

6) Everything is "The Best" wherever you go
Whichever place you go to in China, there's bound to be someone telling you their tea/silk/pearl is "The Best" in China. I guess we just have to take it with a pinch of salt. However, it is true that some souvenirs can be bought in certain parts of China, such as Jingtailan (in Beijing) or Tangsancai (in Luoyang) as the art originated from that particular province.

7) Everyone tries to sell you Pixiu
In the past, Chinese people try to sell us medicine. Now that the travellers are more savvy, we frequent less 'shopping areas' whereby they try to sell us strange looking pills. However it now looks like Pixiu is the 'in' thing.
image source : www.higo.com.tw

Pixiu 貔貅 is a Chinese mythical creature resembling a lion. It is believed to be auspicious creature for wealth, one reason being it does not have a backside hole, leading many to believe that good fortune remains with the person and is not disposed off. In my two recent trips, plus my parents' trip to Huangshan/Shanghai, we visited at least one shop selling Pixiu. They will explain that you do not chose them, they will chose you. The salesperson will also teach you how to you touch the Pixiu so to keep the good luck, even the place of putting it (similar to Feng Shui). As far as I remember, each of our trip there is someone who purchased a Pixiu home. These creatures are definitely not cheap, hence always putting a smile on the tour guide's face (because thinking of the commissions earned)

8) China breakfast is......
I had to admit I can't get used to China's breakfast no matter how many times I've travelled there. Porridge and man tou are just not my thing in the morning. I'm happy to have bread or buns, but sometimes the hotels don't even provide that. The milk has a funny taste and the vegetables are oily. This is when I will gladly whipped out my packet of maggi-in-a-mug and savour it like it's the best breakfast ever.


More postings on my trip...

1 comment:

lilium said...

Haha!! So the toilet is still not that improved. Hmm..I heard the rule of thumb is 70%..tried but dun really work. 50% is more like it =).