China Travel


Nov 14th, 2006, 12:27 PM
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Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 5
China Travel

Over the years this forum has helped me a great deal. Thanks everyone. I have been remiss in filing reports but I hope to make up for it. Here is my trip report covering an October 2006 vacation in China. I hope you find it entertaining and useful:

The bottom line on China is that it was fun and exotic, but I found it to be a foul land. Think “Blade Runner,” the science fiction movie about an overpopulated planet in the far future. This is a reality right now in China. The sheer volume of people was chilling and nearly everywhere we went there was a thick, smoky haze. Sometimes it would give the rivers and harbors a sort of surreal feel, with plastic jugs or someone’s old tennis shoes bobbing up and down in a heavy sheet of smog.

China’s primary fuel is coal, instead of gas or electricity, so part of the air problem lies there. They don’t have as many landfills or waste disposal services as we do and many simply burn their garbage. The smoke from these fires dot the countryside. About 300,000 people a year die because of the rotten air. The areas that do not have adequate waste treatment attempt to store it or simply decide to dump it in the rivers and the ocean. Most major river estuaries have been declared dead zones and over a third of China is covered in acid rain. I read an article that said about 600 million people in China (half the population) have water supplies that are contaminated by animal and human waste. This is compounded by the change in disposable income, causing millions of people to dump their bikes and buy cheap Chinese cars that have inadequate smog controls. The government acknowledges that only 20 percent of solid waste is disposed of properly, but they seem unwilling to force any changes. According to the World Bank, China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities. I believe it.

It was claustrophobic being in the big cities because of the millions and millions and millions of people. In Beijing there are now 16 million people and in Shanghai there are another 20 million. When you get in a cab in Beijing, you just sit in snarled traffic and watch pedestrians walk by and you try to keep from gagging on the diesel fumes from trucks. When we were in Tiananmen Square we could barely see the ground for all the people. We almost got crushed in an underground pedestrian crossing by Chinese soldiers who decided to link arms and march through the crowd, trampling everyone in their path. In the subways, everyone gets packed together like sardines. You become trapped in a sea of bodies and there is no dignity as there are multiple people pressing every crevice of your body. We learned to walk whenever possible.

It is a little tricky ordering food in the restaurants. You choose those with English menus and then you need to play the “show me” game. This lesson was learned when we ordered hot and spicy chicken and got hot and spicy chicken feet. Another disaster was when we ordered garlic king prawns and we got a platter of locust-sized shrimp that had to be eaten whole because of their small size. A crab dish turned out to be something similar to deep fried spiders that also were eaten whole. Most restaurants also automatically add a 10 to 15 percent service fee onto your bill. No one tells you, but this is to cover damaged dishes and furniture. The waiter gets nothing unless you pay an additional tip in cash.

We visited Hong Kong, Guilin, Yangshuo, Beijing and Shanghai, staying in western 4 star hotels (Hyatt, Marriot, etc). This became an unintended cultural shield from China, in that they were copies of hotels here in the states and had comparable restaurants, satellite TV systems, pools and health clubs. Still, it was easy enough to escape our hotels. To get around, you simply asked the concierge to write your destination in Chinese on a card. These cards have the hotel’s name and address on the back for the return trip. The door man shows the taxi driver the card and also says your destination in Chinese. We found it to be a good idea to ask the door man, in front of the cab driver, how much the fare would be to the destination. We then would turn to the driver and ask if the fare was accurate. They all know numbers.

We braved the traffic in Yangshou and rented bikes. It was a real adventure to make it to the countryside. Once there, however, we were cowered by two separate motorcycle accidents, a van that ran over a bicyclist ahead of us, a steady mist of acid rain and a horde of hawkers trying to scratch out a living selling whatever they could. We took a bamboo raft trip and actually had a few moments of wonderful peace and quiet before getting hazed by the river traders, who squawked like mad geese when we came within yelling distance. Screeching “beer” and “fish” and “hello” as we approached them, these poor people seemed desperate to sell us anything. To make matters worse, they were anchored every 50 yards, so it wasn’t something you could float away from.

Despite the pollution, I was awed by the thousands of sky scrapers in all the Chinese cities. The lights at night were astonishing, especially from boats on harbor cruises in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The museums and public parks were world class. The big tourist stuff like the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, etc., were also spectacular, if you could shake off the constant intrusion of hordes of peddlers. People were friendly and those we met seemed well versed in world affairs.

I was also mesmerized by the beauty of the country around Guilin and Yangshou. The entire countryside was covered with these huge limestone karst towers, creating gigantic haystack and eggbox landscapes. Think of thousands of these things, covered by a myriad of trees. The beauty was almost haunting, in a way, because of the environmental wreckage around it. It was like a one-of-a-kind treasure, not found anywhere else on our planet, being mauled by the march of industry. Try to picture the Grand Canyon being treated like a landfill. This is the best analogy I can imagine.

What will be my lasting impression of China? It will be an old fisherman I saw on the Lijang River, using a stork-like bird to catch fish. He had a wire around its neck so the bird could never swallow the fish. It was a wonderful vision, of this poor fisherman and his old wooden boat. Just as he was grabbing another fish from his bird, he jerked, stood up in his old wooden boat and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a shiny, silvery cell phone and proceeded to yack away. Technology had reared its head even here, on the Lijang River, in the middle of no where. I laughed and then, in the end, could not help but cry.
jeff1737 is offline  
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Nov 14th, 2006, 05:01 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Was it worth going to? Was planning on going in April, but with all the pollution and people, am now wondering if it`s a wise choice?
pat is offline  
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Nov 14th, 2006, 05:14 PM
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Yes, itt is worth going but jeffmisc does everyone a service presenting the the very real downside of travel in China.

I found it very helpful to subscribe to Peter N-H's Oriental List as part of preparation for our first trip. His candid advice prepared me for the real country rather than romanticized notions of it.

Others on this board who are very knowledegeable counsel waiting until after the Olympics (begining August 8, 2008) for a visit.

Good luck thinking through your own needs and preferences.
marya_ is offline  
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Nov 17th, 2006, 07:16 AM
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Guilin is without dispute the most scenic city in China. Hilltops pop up from nowhere like trees in the forest and they are shaped like buns, camels, fishes, saw-teeth, horses, etc. It is a city you must visit or you will miss those beautiful landscape there. Rivers flow around like green silk ribbons while the hills reveal themselves as jade hair-pins. Guilin embraces great landscapes like green hills, clear waters, pretty rocks and fantastic caves.
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