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25 December 2012

Thoughts on China

(Note: Yes, I know it was nearly 4 months ago. I've been pondering the experience until now. These things take time!)

China had never been on my list of top places to visit, but a confluence of circumstances led us to make a trip there in early September.

Some things I saw:

1. Chinese people. There really are a lot of them. Including some very, very cute Chinese children, although some of the boy babies have very bad haircuts, like this:


2. Temples. There are a lot of them, too. 

Outer gate, Nanputuo Temple, Xiamen, Fujian Province

Interior temple at Nanputuo

Temple at Sunlight Rock, Gulangyu Island, Xiamen

Main gate, Yuantong Temple, Kunming, Yunnan Province

Interior temple at Yuantong

3. Signs and labels with amusing English translations.

'Warning slip' (i.e. 'slippery when wet') at Gulangyu ferry dock

'Skin doing device' (what we would call 'hair dryer') in hotel room

4. Breathtaking disregard for safety.

5. Lovely old architecture, and horrible new architecture.

A traditional tulou, Fujian province, southern China

A planned community under construction far outside Xiamen, in the 'horrible new' category.

Victorian-era structure on Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, Fujian province

6. Walmart. When you think about it, it makes sense since the crap they sell is all made in China anyway.

7. T-shirts with, um, somewhat inappropriate English phrases in large letters on the front. I don't have photos of these because I was too distracted by my thoughts on why these shirts exist and why people would wear them, but two have stuck in my mind, both worn by young women: (1) "Eat shit and die" (2) "I'm not easy but we can discuss it"

Then there are things I smelled in China; at the time there were three, but at this remove I can only remember two: diesel fumes, and sewer.

Best things about the trip:

1. Leaving Xiamen and going to Kunming. It was September, and Xiamen was too hot and humid.

2. Amazingly good and cheap food. Iced tea and wifi at Starbucks.

3. Brian. No way would I do China without someone who can communicate in Mandarin.

4. Stone Forest in Yunnan. Other-worldly and weirdly beautiful.

Worst things:

1. Toilets.

A luxury squatter - at least it was clean (and luckily there was a sitter in the next stall)
2. A plague of scooters.

Scooters waiting at a light
Now these scooters are electric, which means they are silent and can sneak up on you. Almost no public space is off limits to them, including sidewalks, the one place pedestrians like to think they're safe. And they don't always follow the flow of traffic, so they can come at you from any direction. On the other hand, I never saw any actual accidents. According to Brian, an accident would be a bureaucratic nightmare for the driver, and even more so if the aggrieved party was a foreigner.

3. The beds. It's of course impossible to convey in a photo just how hard the mattresses are, if they are indeed mattresses and not concrete blocks, which is sort of what they feel like. I like sleeping on a firm surface as much as anyone, but these things go way beyond firm, at least in the tourist-class hotels we stayed in. 

In our 10 days there we could only get the barest taste of the country. The experience was intriguing and definitely worthwhile. Would I go back? Well...maybe. 

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