Thoughts on China

People playing traditional or oldies music where ever they go– hiking, on the train or walking the streets. The bus driver is singing. 
 
If the stereotype is true of long working hours, they still make time for exercise and hobbies. The early mornings are for exercising, tai chi or similar activities. Afternoon or evenings will be for card games, their version of chess and mahjong. Jianzi too! (It’s like hacky sack.) Evenings also include dancing and singing. Lots of social activities. When do they sleep? 
 
Chinese love watching their stories. On their phones, on tv in their small shops, in restaurants and at home. 
 
People live in their shop or restaurant. You’ll sometimes see their small living spaces. 
 
They love their snacks– steamed buns, ice pops, various breads, grilled seafood and meat, noodles and hundreds of other things I don’t even know. 
 
Majority of the time prices of drinks and snacks are consistent. Grocery stores are the cheapest, followed by small shops/ vending machines, hostels, tourist attractions. There was only one spot that was inflated– Mt Hua. It was three times the average price! Restaurants vary wildly on drinks. Generally inexpensive ones will charge the average price. 
 
Chinese people lend a helping hand. Sure, not everyone is rushing to your aid but I’ve come across several people who have helped with or without me asking. From my adorable roommates in Xi’an to the mother daughter couple making sure I reached the hostel in Datong to the woman who held my arm as I walked down a rocky path in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. These brief moments are highlights of my trip. They lessen any stress I’m feeling. It’s comforting. I try to show the same kindness when I come across tourists at home. 
 
People want to take photos with you. This didn’t happen often to me but other travelers had this issue. I think when wearing my hat and glasses I blended in. 
 
Unlike Europe, people wear sneakers here so it’s not a mark of a tourist. I still alternated with nice shoes in the cities. On the other hand, some women will wear high heels to walk the Great Wall and other outdoor attractions. 
 
Pollution– let’s not pretend it’s all roses and sunshine. When researching my trip to China, there was no shortage of articles on air pollution. I was worried that I would need to leave cities earlier than expected or need to wear face masks. That’s how poorly the reports spoke of China’s cities. However, I was lucky. I arrived in Beijing the day after a military celebration and like the Olympics, the air was clear. That was Beijing of course and the air got worse as I went on all the way to Xi’an which was the worst in air quality on my trip. Yunnan province had minimal air pollution as well. 
 
The other issue is garbage. Littering is common. I saw people throw their empty bottles from the bus. Garbage along the streets or in rivers is not uncommon. There are people who clean up after everyone but that’s just for the streets. There’s recycling cans but people use them as regular garbage cans. It’s not that garbage is piled up around you, but it is noticeable. 
 
The public toilets… You can smell them before you even see them. The smell I believe is due to poor plumbing. I see people cleaning them and rarely came across dirty ones but they are not new facilities. Some restaurants will direct you to public toilets because they don’t have their own. 
 
Toilets, whether it’s public or even your accommodations, will rarely have soap or toilet paper. It’s a luxury apparently. When toilet paper is available people take extra for later, fully enjoying the rarity. But don’t even think about flushing it! Use the waste bin. 
 
Sanitizer and wipes are your best friends. 
 
Need a rest? People squat or put down some kind of buffer like a newspaper before sitting on the ground or even on benches. Spitting, babies and occasional stray dogs are to blame. 
 
China is modern in some ways but not in others. Toilets are one example in that they can’t handle paper or heck, sometimes they’re not even the flushable kind. The courtyard homes can be high class but they also hide poverty. Stacks of bricks, collection of recyclables, worn out small homes, who rely on the public toilets. People wash dishes or other things in a bucket and dump the water into the streets’ gutters. The sewage system might be underground or open. Women wash their dirty mops in the small streams that flow along the edge of the streets. 
 
China likes to build things– from towering apartment buildings to new tourist attractions. Double check your guidebook– is it the real deal or a replica? Time was not good to China’s historical sites. The ones that were destroyed are now being rebuilt even at the cost of wrecking what’s left of that time period. 
 
Chinese eat meals family style making it difficult for solo travelers. Individual portions exist for inexpensive quick meals like soups and dumplings. 
 
Food is spicy and delicious. Not all of it is spicy, but most places I visited enjoy cooking with hot pepper and spices. They also like putting a sauce or glaze on everything. There’s one type up north that my stomach did not like at all. I had a lot of subpar noodle dishes (or maybe I don’t like noodle dishes?). The best one was in Dali. Yunnan had a ton of food stands that grilled meats and vegetables. So good! 
 
There are no fortune cookies at the end of a meal. 
 
 

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