As many of you know, I travel a lot for the job that pays the bills. What some of you might not know is that most of this travel is far outside of the United States’ boundaries. This has its quirks and disadvantages. It also leads to some very interesting and wonderful experiences.
Let’s start with the quirks. Travel to mainland China is a unique experience, especially when you are not going to one of the major ‘tourist’ cities like Beijing. The industrial cities have a beauty all their own, but they aren’t really set up for the foreign traveler. For instance, there is only U.S. credit card that will work outside of most hotels in these cities, and that is only taken at a handful of places. I am going to give Discover a plug here because they took the initiative to form a partnership with UnionPay so that their card would work worldwide.
Once you’ve been through the credit card mill, you know to bring enough cash to last you. Another quirk is the water. Most of the water is not potable, not even in the hotels. It all has to be boiled, and the Chinese serve the water warm or hot in their restaurants. You have to specifically ask for cold water (it is normally bottled.) Looking for Diet Coke of any kind? Not outside of most of the hotels, sorry. In both instances, cold water, and diet soft drinks, the Chinese will give you a funny look.
Disadvantages, at least for me, range from very poor television and WiFi reception to hand washing. Hand washing, you ask? Yes, outside of areas that cater to the Westerners, don’t look for a way to dry your hands after you wash them in the restroom. Most do not have paper towels, and I have yet to find one with an air dryer. Lots of hand-wringing there (pun intended.)
The wonderful experiences start if you at least attempt to learn a little of the language. The average person that I’ve met in China really appreciates it. They also appreciate when you show them even a bit of kindness. I am extremely careful to always thank anyone who does even the smallest thing for me. I always get a huge smile. And, while you will often read that tipping, especially in the hotels, isn’t necessary or expected, it is always appreciated whenever I do it. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if it is as small as $20 RMB (roughly$3.00 USD,) the people are happy to get it.
I tend to stay at the same hotel when I am in China. The people there know me, and the restaurant staff is very kind to me. Let me give you just one example:
There was a large convention going on, and the hotel was packed. The restaurant tended to fill up quickly after I would arrive (I am always the first one in.) I was sitting at breakfast one morning when three other people plunked themselves down at my table and began talking amongst themselves. Now, at any other meal, I probably wouldn’t have minded, but breakfast is a quiet, meditative time for me (I like to read my Bible when I travel while at breakfast.) The hotel staff saw this. I honestly didn’t say anything, but the next morning they seated me at a table for two, took away the second place setting and removed the second chair altogether.
To be fair, I have given many of the waitstaff small monetary gifts over my last few visits, nothing large (again, the $20 RMB range), but they all treat me quite special. They bring me anything that is being cooked special (my eggs), my coffee and even a plate of selected fruit. They do not do this for anyone else.
The second half of the equation is that I talk with them when the place is slow. We try to teach each other new words. The managers will sit with me (we move to a larger table), and they quiz me on the food, what do Westerners like, what do they not like. I don’t consider myself a gregarious person, but for some reason, I am comfortable around my Chinese friends.
China is a place of definite contrasts. The government strictly controls what is seen and heard in the media. History is taught from a single perspective. On the other hand, teachers are highly honored and paid very well. The average Chinese, once you are a known quantity, is warm and loves to chat with you.
In the Senses Novels, you find a few nuggets about China and other places I’ve been. The next book to be released will have more about Asia than the others. I do not focus on the Chinese government in my books, just the people. The reason is, their system works for them, and I respect that. I believe that if my books are ever translated into Chinese, their government will have no objection to them.