China Trip

Marge and I had a great trip to China (April 13 – April 27, 2012).  It is an amazing country and many of the pictures in my head were totally outdated and/or wrong.

I would like to share some of our experiences here.  The goal isn’t to produce a travel log, but rather a series of insights and observations.  First the disclaimers:

    • Our tour was with Viking River Cruises, which is first-class all the way.  Almost all the excursions were included, and we stayed in excellent hotels with excellent service.
    • The trip began in Beijing and ended in Shanghai.  Our travel was by jet between the cities except when we were on the river cruise when we were on the boat for six days.
    • The tour guides were outstanding (they worked for Viking).  Our guide particularly so; he kept us entertained and laughing and touched by his candor about his own life story and what it was like for him growing up in China.
    • We were kept busy almost all the time.  We did not have a lot of time to wander on our own.  I can’t say we saw the “raw underbelly” of China; we didn’t.

Some of the things that were absolutely impressive:

    • The streets are wide and clean and the traffic is mild by USA big city standards.  I was expecting an overwhelming number of bicycles and motorbikes, but we did not see them.  Apparently, the bikes don’t dare go on the roads and the motorbikes are restricted in the cities (at least in the big ones).
    • Everything is on a scale of grandness unlike anything I have seen before.  The streets are very wide, the sidewalks are very wide.  The buildings are all new and shiny.  Almost all the buildings are multi-story structures.
    • The buildings are unique.  They were designed by different architects from all over the world with what appears to have been a nearly unlimited budget.  They are amazingly unique and elaborate structures.  And on certain buildings, you will hear about things that had to be changed or done differently because the architect simply didn’t understand the feng shui.
    • The only duplicated buildings we saw were the high-rise condos that were everywhere.  You see clusters of 4-8 condo buildings that look the same; next to them on all sides are more clusters of condos with their own style of building.  Most of the the buildings were 10-20 stories, but a few were as short as 5-8.  These buildings were not as “pretty” because, even though they are new, the air conditioning units are installed outside the buildings.  And you often see laundry hanging on the balcony to dry.
    • We saw huge swaths of bulldozed land.  At one end, you would see the bulldozers sitting idle.  In the middle, you would see what looked like a flat tilled field full of broken concrete and other building materials.  These were the remains of the houses that used to be there.  The government has a program that knocks down your house, gives you a certain amount of money for it (a little more for larger houses), and then sends you to the bank to arrange financing for a condo.
    • Condos are build by private contractors.  You have to pay them in advance for your condo (and then hope they don’t go bankrupt and you lose your money).  The buyer is subjected to various up-sells by the contractor for extras (tiled bathrooms, American toilets, carpeting, non-toxic paint, etc.).  The mortgage rate our tour guide got on his condo was 7%.
    • Energy use is a big concern in the country.  On the outside of condo buildings you can see panels of lights.  There is one light for every unit.  If you turned up your air conditioning unit too high, then you get a ticket for over-using the energy.
      • We went into an amazing indoor shopping mall.  Surprisingly few people there.  The biggest surprise is that it was around 80 degrees everywhere inside.  The second biggest surprise is that all the posters with people modeling clothes, holding up products, etc. were all Western.
    • The Chinese people we met were very friendly; they seemed very willing to go out of their way to be helpful.  I got separated from our group once and had no problem finding someone who made phone calls to get me back to them.
    • Chinese have a reputation for very bad manners.  Things like blowing your nose (two finger style), spitting on the floor in restaurants, etc. were supposed to be common.  We didn’t see any of this.  Apparently Chairman Mao introduced and popularized these bad manners as a way of showing disregard for the rich folks.  China over the last few years told its people to improve their manners because the tourists don’t like it.  Apparently it worked.
    • It was very easy to get around with English.  Children study three subjects in elementary school:  Chinese, Math, and English.  There are more people in China who speak English than the population of England.
    • The Three Gorges Dam project (done to generate electric power) displaced over 1.3 million residents.  The government built new homes for them.  In some cases, we even saw where the government moved topsoil higher up the mountains so the farmers could continue farming.  Can you imagine a project in the USA that would move 1.3 million people?  It would never get approval.
    • Some of the older people don’t like “the new ways” and having to move.  There is a family value that says it is very good to live and die where you were born (and where your parents and grand parents lived and died).  Displacing people who believe this is hard on the people.
    • We saw a huge number of gigantic monitors everywhere.  Imagine Times Square and all the electronic screens there.  Now imagine it everywhere you go.  Some of them are government displays (like the gigantic one we saw in Tieneman Square) that carried the latest government slogans.
    • Western franchises and branches were everywhere.  You can go to McDonald’s or KFC or TGI Friday or Subway in all the cities.  You can find all the big name extra fancy stores there too.  And the GM and Ford dealerships.  They don’t discount their prices either.  But you will also see lots of non-American brands there too (lots of European and Japanese brands).
    • Pollution is a problem (and a growing one).  Half way into the trip I had to get some medication to supress an alergic reaction that had been building up since my arrival.
    • Our guide told us to be careful when buying things on the street.  He was primarily concerned about toxic materials in the products.  Avoid things that come into contact with your skin.  Avoid things that might give off odors in your home or other closed environments.
    • Religion is an interesting thing.  I know China had been largely Buddhist before Communism, but I had read that almost none of them were considered Buddhist any more.  I was surprised to see the few temples we visited were full of young Chinese people.  Our guide said most people practice a blend of Buddhism and Taoism and ancestor worship.  Somebody is going to have to do another count, because it is definitely higher than what was reported a few years ago.
    • I have to say something about the Great Wall.  You can’t climb it without being overwhelmed by the enormity of their task:  building a gigantic wall over 3,000 miles long.  It is hard to imagine the amount of work that went into this.  Up and over mountains and any obstruction in its way.
    • The government seems to understand capitalism.  They created three state banks and they compete with each other.  So do the 2-3 state owned airlines.  And lots of other companies.  Lots of the businesses we saw are locally owned and operated.
    • People work for private companies where their wages are not uniform.  Some pay much better than others.  If they get fired, they can get government assistance until they find another job.  However, there is great reluctance to doing this because it can affect your credit rating (yes, that is right).  The government doesn’t always know when you are working, but it always knows when you have drawn assistance.  Because the banks have access to this info, it can show them that you may not be credit worthy.  So people usually rely on family or savings during these times.
    • One child per family.  If you have a second one, you don’t go to jail, but you do get fined.  You could also lose your government job.  You also have to pay for your child’s schooling by yourself.  And more.  In spite of this, according to a Pew Research survey (2008), 76% of Chinese support this policy.
    • It is the male child’s responsibility to contribute to the retirement needs of his parents.  But what happens if you do not have a son?  Even having only one son to take on full responsibility for the parents can be a lot of pressure.
    • One child per family has also produced significantly fewer female children (abortion, etc.).  This changes the marriage dynamic since the guys are in competition for fewer mates.
    • Education is very important.  And it is competitive.  The kids study hard to qualify for advanced education.  Our guide told us he studied 16 hours a day to pass the entrance exam to get into high school (otherwise he would have gone to trade school – and his dad would have “killed him”).  He said the only TV he watched was the one hour news show because current events were on the exam.


8 thoughts on “China Trip”

    1. Pictures, huh? That means more stuff to learn. Maybe I will look for some sort of picture gallery applet for a few of the pictures. Stay tuned!

    1. Tom, you are absolutely right. Maybe those of us who have climbed it (like you), should start a campaign to call it the Stupendous Wall. I always thought of the Great Pyramids as amazing, but put next to the Wall, I am not sure they measure up.

      1. Never been to the pyramids, Steve, but I don’t recall such a feeling of awe when I walked the wall!!

        Glad to have subscribed to your website, I’m looking forward to reading your other postings.

        1. Thanks, Tom. I hope we can get together the next time you are in Muskegon. It would be fun to compare notes on all the cool places a couple of Muskegon Boys have seen.

  1. I enjoyed your shared China Experiences.. What an amazing trip it must have been..Its always interesting to explore other countries cultures.. I’m sure you also have some amazing pictures , hoping to see them as well…

    1. Thanks, Jackie. I do have some great pics, but I took so many that every time I think about trying to do something with them, I get overwhelmed. Soon, though, I promise. Thanks for your reply!

Tell me what you think!