I wanted to take a bit of space to tell you some of what I learned during my time in China. Please, take everything with a grain of salt as these are off-the-cuff observations.
GOOD THINGS ABOUT CHINA
1. Overall, the people are wonderful. Very open, warm and accepting. Willing to help the funny American however they can.
2. The history is everywhere if you look carefully. China has one of the oldest continuous civilizations on the planet. There are ancient temples and buildings tucked in out of the way places that you can only glimpse if you are observant.
3. They are funny. They have a great sense of humor once you understand what is funny to them. They are not big on sarcasm.
4. They all want to learn. They realize that they don’t know everything, and they want to understand what you know.
5. Once you are friends with someone in China, you have a friend for life. They have hearts bigger than the country itself.
6. Their education system, while highly government focused, is still excellent and teachers are treated like the best business executives. Teachers are highly honored in China and paid accordingly.
7. The rice. I haven’t figured out why yet, but their rice is addictive, I wanted it at every meal.
BAD THINGS ABOUT CHINA
1. The people don’t necessarily mean to, but they do not want to ‘lose face’ in front of you so they will lie about things in order to ‘cover up’ any failings.
2. They are rapidly destroying much of their own heritage by attempting to catch up with the rest of the 21st-century world. Buildings and roads are constantly being ripped down, torn up, and rebuilt.
3. YOU CANNOT USE YOUR U.S. CREDIT CARDS! This was driving me nuts! The only place that I could use my CC in China was the hotel. Intellectually, I understand the reasons for this (strict control of the economy and no debt for the people), but it means that you have to bring a boatload of cash (Chinese RMB since that is all that is permissible) with you.
4. Driving. Foreigners cannot drive in China, only citizens. This is a good thing. Chinese drivers do not look right or left when they get on the road, they just get on the road. It astounded me that the streets were not littered with dead and mangled bodies from accidents. There is simply no way for me to adequately describe the driving. It’s something that you have to experience.
5. The cities, which is where I primarily was, were very dirty. I know that most cities of the world are, but China takes it to an extreme. The only place that I know is worse are the border towns of Mexico.
STRANGE OR ODD THINGS ABOUT CHINA
1. Most of the food is very good, but some of it was a little bit strange. I am not a fan of fish, which is a staple there. The Chinese think nothing of eating things with the heads and tails still attached, this includes fish, shellfish of all kinds and chicken. It’s a little disconcerting to be taking pieces of chicken from the plate while the thing is staring at you through its cold, dead eyes.
2. Every drink is hot (unless you specifically ask for something cold and/or bottled.) This is likely because the water is not fit to drink and has to be boiled. However, instead of waiting for it to cool, they serve it to you at boiling hot temperature. Water, a bean drink that they are crazy about, tea, you name it, it is right off of the stove.
3. Too much food. When I would go out with a group (even three people), there would always be too much food ordered. I’m not talking about your average left-overs, I’m talking enough to feed a couple of families for at least two days!
4. And on the subject of food again, if you order chicken, goose (which they have regularly) or duck, expect the pieces (and they always serve it in pieces) to have bones in them. You are going to be spitting or chewing and swallowing bones for the whole meal.
I actually very much like China. I don’t like traveling there because it is just very hard on my body, but once there, China is a wonderful place. Don’t think that all I ever got to see were ‘tourist places.’ I go to China to work (we have factories there.) I take walks around to look at the areas and small shops (where I CAN’T USE MY CREDIT CARDS! Still bugs me!) I get a few strange looks because most of the people aren’t used to seeing occidentals there, but they are more than willing to engage with me, and we often find enough common ground to laugh together and sometimes hug in saying goodbye. These are things that you can’t do as a tourist.
I want to offer a special thank you to Eling and Mai. I know that you may never get a chance to read this as the Chinese government strictly regulates the Internet, but you are very good friends, and I appreciate all of your help.
To the people and government of China, you have a magnificent country, a place to be proud of. While I still prefer our system of government, I understand and appreciate yours. I am a fan of your beautiful nation and your gracious people.