The three weeks I spent in China and Hong Kong were the longest I have spent in one country on my trip from London to Brisbane. And as such, it feels appropriate to focus some attention on the Chinese people themselves.
I recently wrote a blog about getting scammed in Beijing by a local ‘guide’ on my first day in China. That experience, along with their insistence on spitting everywhere (with accompanying ‘huuuucck’ sounds), shout and push their way around, and their extremely low toilet standards may lead one to believe that mixing with the locals is something to avoid. The reality however, is very different and I quickly learnt to love the Chinese and their unorthodox ways.
Collectively the Chinese are a wonderfully eclectic mix of individuals, and taking their strange traits away, are extremely kind and hospitable to tourists and one of my lasting memories of the country will be based on the locals that I met there during my stay in their vast and beautiful country.
There were however, a few generic stereotypes of the Chinese that failed to be dispelled after spending more time with them; in fact some were re-enforced. Firstly, I knew the Chinese loved a photo before I visited, but my thoughts on this following my visit have only been heighted. Chinese people travel extensively throughout their own country to visit it’s many tourist attractions, and because of which, most places I visited were also accompanied by Chinese jostling for position in order to get the perfect snap. They take their photography so seriously however that little regard is given to those around them as they seek to find the perfect angle, light and composition.
This disregard was displayed to such an extreme at times that when at places in Beijing such as The Forbidden City and The Temple of Heaven I gave up my own attempts to get to some photo shots myself, not fancying the mammoth scrum with the hundreds of selfie sticks to get to the front for the best shot. Their standard queuing technique of pushing, shoving and shouting to get to the front is certainly very un-British.
What was more fascinating however was their obsession of taking pictures with tourists. I had been warned about this before, and had some first-hand experience of this when visiting India, but this was on a whole new level. I wouldn’t say I felt like David Beckham but I certainly felt like an ‘E’ list celebrity with barely an hour passing without a selfie or group shot being taken. On occasions children were bundled towards me for a picture, I can only assume so the family can one day reminisce about the day their then 3 year old daughter once met a white man in 2017.
Yet even my celebrity was nothing compared to that of being female, blonde and tall; the seemingly perfect concoction for mass excitement and photo requests, and some of the people I was travelling with at the time who fitted into that category moved quickly up to ‘C’ list celebrity status. On the whole this was taken in good spirit and I was happy to give them what they wanted, although when they resorted to ‘secret filming’ and cameras peering around bushes it began to get a little strange.
The reason why most want pictures in the first place is simply because it is not often they come into contact with non-Chinese people, and so when they do it is a surprise and an event to them. Perhaps a feeling I may easily take for granted having gown up and lived in such multicultural communities.
Although some of the behaviour I have discussed may seem rather unusual, the Chinese certainly have a humorous side and it is very easy to discover their personalities quickly. I discovered this with horrific consequences whilst in Yangshuo when I was taken to a street BBQ eatery just out of town by my guide along with three other English people on vacation. I call it an eatery rather than a restaurant, as it was literally a few small plastic chairs and a table upon which was a pretty basic BBQ where you cooked all your own meat all for less than the equivalent of a couple of quid. The food however was incredible and it was certainly an authentic local experience. Myself and another traveller I was sat with, P, were called over to a group of Chinese men who seemed genuinely delighted that we had joined them; they were laughing, joking and sharing their rice wine and food with us. When we returned to our own table however, I was still trying to digest the food they had given us, which tasted like rubber, and with the help of my guide, found out that we had been chewing on pig penis! Seeing the looks on our faces caused pretty much everyone else to burst out laughing – the joy! I guess there is a first for everything, and fair play to the group of Chinese men – if I had been one of them, and such foods were a part of my culture, I would definitely have tried to set up an unsuspecting tourist in the same way.
My final tale of the Chinese came on my final day in the country and strolling through the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. I found an area where locals came to socialise with card games and groups chatting formed in every available space. I noticed one man sat sketching the scenes that he observed, and on realising that I was checking out his drawing instantly stopped and insisted that he drew me. Again, I can only assume that drawing a non-Chinese man was a novelty to him but he quickly got to work and quickly drew a small crowd of onlookers who were equally interested in him drawing his unique subject. The artist seemed delighted throughout, and insisted I take his work home for free and display it in my home.
That being one of my last memories collected in China is quite apt. It was a lasting memory that although the locals there are certainly quirky and can have some odd and – at least to my Western values -annoying habits, on the whole they have hearts of gold and a genuine excitement and willingness to share their lives with the world.
A good friend of mine once told me that ‘one man’s odd is another’s normality’, a thought which perfectly sums up the Chinese. Scratch below the spitting, pushing and shouting and you will hit gold- even if you do have to eat pig penis to get there.