Fawn & Rick Allen
"Things We Learned About China" or
"What We Wished We Knew Before We Arrived
& Why The Hell Didn't Someone Tell Us?"

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The following commentary is based on our experiences and in no way reflects on the beauty and cultural bounty to be found in China today. It is merely our observations after 21 days of travel within three major cities and the historic sites of Xi'an. We took three trains (two sleepers and one seated, logging over 35 hours riding the rails in modern comfort) and many subways and taxis, as well as motorized rickshaws which we affectionately called "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!" We tried (for two long weeks) to eat local fare including raw river creatures (Shanghai) and fried scorpions (Beijing) (they're good!), and communicated with iPhone translator apps, sign language and the great book, "Speak E-Z Chinese In Phonetic English" (Fang & Green, pub. by Incite, 2006). After much fried food and near starvation, craving MEAT!, we opted for The Sizzler (Oriental Plaza Mall, Beijing); The Outback (across the street on Wangfujing Road); and McDonald's breakfasts (Beijing & Xi'an). Oh, and let's not forget Starbuck's at the Mall. THE favorite site for EVERY FOREIGNER east of Tian'an Men Square. (It's the wi-fi not the coffee!)Despite some of our comments that follow, we want you to know that China is a vastly interesting and unusual nation with many wonderful qualities and beautiful treasures to behold. The people are non-violent and peace loving, and we felt SAFE EVERYWHERE we ventured. (We cannot say the same about America or Europe). Here are some of our observations, which, by the way, were the subject of conversations with many other "foreigners" who commiserated with us about the following. ...Let the traveler beware!

The very first thing you'll see as your plane lands in Northern or Central China is the horrendous pollution. From Shanghai to Nanjing to Xi'an to Beijing the skies were continuously smoggy except one singular blue sky day in Nanjing and one in Beijing. So sometimes the air currents will move it away somewhere...but it always comes back!
The residents of Beijing don't think it's pollution. When asked they will deny it and tell you that it is MIST !

The Nanjing Hack /The Beijing Cough...
As a result of the pollution, depending on where you visit and how long you stay, you will most likely develop a nasty cough after a few days of breathing in pollution and dust.
I recommend wearing a paper surgical mask from day one. No embarrassment. Many motorcyclists wear them.

People will stare at you...
Wherever you go. Everywhere. As if they never saw caucasions on TV or in magazines. Get used to it and STARE BACK. It works to get them to stop staring!Strangers will want to meet you!,..
Strangers will want to take their picture with you. They feel honored to meet you. Be polite and pose. But I draw the line at having a Chinese flag shoved into my hand for the photo! (and that was as we were climbing the Great Wall! They seemed to want me to make a politcal statement that I loved what the flag represented! (WRONG!) The lady just laughed when I refused to hold the flag.

Flat bellies & beautiful girls...
Eating with chopsticks and getting lots of veggies, soup and minimal fatty meats seems to be the key to a flat belly.
Most of the people we saw are slim with flat bellies. Young and old, women and men. (Yes, there are some fat people, but nothing like the rampant obesity we see in the U.S. Most of the Chinese people we saw in the 4 cities we visited had very trim figures.)

Squat Holes & Toilets... (see photo)
Most toilets are porcelaine squat holes! Which you are expected to balance over while standing in porcelain ridges on the side of the hole (which flushes). You are usually standing in someone's pee who missed the hole. Some of these restrooms do not have doors on the stalls but are open cubicles. These types of toilets are the norm. Everywhere. Modern malls, restaurants, stations, parks and historic sites. It's hard to find a regular sit toilet...but look for a handicap stall or find an expensive hotel with a bathroom off the lobby.
PS: Hotel rooms provide sit toilets, so don't worry about that! However, the shower may be part of the toilet area and you can do both at the same time!)

Toilet Paper:
The toilet paper is on a big roll as you enter the public restroom so don't forget to take your share before going to squat. BTW men are also expected to use squat holes for crapping but they are have urinals in their bathrooms...How do I know this? The doors are usually open!
PS: Most Foreigners just wait to crap till they get back to their hotel. However, It could be 3 days or more if you're "on the road!!!

Paper in the trash, not the toilet...
When lucky enough to find a "friendly" toilet, remember that toilet paper must not go into the toilet but into a trash can. No matter what's on it! (yeah, it's disgusting but you do get used to doing it! China's plumbing systems even in large modern cities like Beijing cannot handle the paper. (PS: we did not always follow this rule in our hotel bathroom! Bad us!)

Speaking of paper....
You must bring your own paper napkins to most restaurants, or tissue packs. Except KFC & McDonalds, which are on every big city street corner! You get one napkin, so use it wisely. PS: They sell tissue packs in the drug store, and every shop, so stock up and carry a pack with you at ALL times!

Speaking of restaurants...
Most do NOT have English menus. But they do have photos of the dishes. So choose by photo and point to it. Just remember this... The shells stay on the shrimp or seafood (including raw river snails, Rick!) and bones stay in the cut up chicken & duck. You are supposed to SPIT OUT the bones and shells. Everyone does! (and they don't use a napkin because they don't have one! (However, Rick & I tend to gag, so we stopped ordering those foods... starvation ensued.)Speaking of SPITTING..
People, young and old, SPIT in the street. Pretty girls in trendy heels and dresses, cool guys on cellphones, businessmen in suits...EVERYONE! Always preceeded by that lovely sound..."CHUUUUUUEGH TWOO!"

IT"S SNOT...Another nasty habit...
Nose blowing... there is none. (no tissues unless you carry them) Thus often you will see people shoot snot out of their nostrils into the street. :( Just look away.

Smoking Tobacco...
The PRC is addicted to nicotine. That and the air pollution will put the city folk into early graves!
PS. Smoking between the cars does NOT keep the smoke out of the train car. I kept shutting the car door...but they didn't take the hint!"

Open Baby Bottoms"... or "Show a Little Tushy..."
Babies and toddlers wear open slits in the back of pants with their baby butts exposed. Yes! It's true! So out in public you'll see naked baby bottoms. And Toddlers are allowed to poop or pee in the street! You see it everywhere. Occasionally you'll see a diaper on the bottom, but usually not. You'll see boys and girls sitting on dirty street curbs with their open bottoms. I'm disgusted by this, especially for little girls. But this is the "norm" even in the modern city streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. (I even witnessed a grandmother encouraging her 3 year old grandson to pee on the steps inside a new subway station. Grandma laughed when I pointed in shock! She thought it was amusing to allow him to pee there. Maybe she's making a political statement against the civility of the modern subway system!? )

You'll see cars, bikes and motorcycles parked where they want. On the sidewalks in many cases. We also saw a Delivery mini-vehicle drive right into the pharmacy through the front door. Weird!

TRAFFIC LAWS... where?
There are traffic rules but nobody seems to obey them. Cross at your own risk even when it says to "walk." We watched large motorcoaches nearly run over pedestrians in the crosswalk, even when the sign showed "Walk." Nobody even cares!
There are traffic employees who blow their whistles... but people just ignore them and they just keep blowing! So they TRY to do their jobs

.Hard bed vs. "soft bed"...
Even so-called "Soft Beds" are hard. (watch for the upcharge on the train sleepers... it says "Soft Bed", but it's no softer than the hard bed!)

Buying a mattress that's soft?...We looked for a soft mattress for Josh but there's no place to purchase a real mattress. . He sleeps on wooden slats with three quilts over them. It's still hard. I checked modern stores, traditional stores, bedding stores to no avail. Our hotel in Beijing (The Oriental Peace Hotel) was very nice hotel, and the "mattress" was a real one, however, it had sprung springs and was hard anyway, with lumps! Of course if you think you might get a softer mattress you could pay $200 & up for the Holiday Inn or Hyatt but we don't believe your mattress will be any better. And it's totally unnecessary since you can get something for $42 that beats any $150 hotel in America!

Bad Manners is "A Cultural Thing"...
That's what I've been told. It's their culture.... So PUSHING and SHOVING is OK with everyone! No "Excuse Me" just silence.
There is no such thing as queueing up. If you form a line, they will just get in front of you. This applies to waiting for the subway, trying to flag a taxi, or any other public gathering, like crossing the street!
Just do the same! push your way in otherwise you'll stand on the sidelines forever.

No apologies...
No one says excuse me and they don't understand western "manners". So don't be upset. They are not really being rude. (If you've never been taught manners, how can you know to use them). If they bump into you and keep walking without looking back, do what I do... curse at them in English. They won't understand you and you'll feel a whole lot better!

Speaking of English...
They don't speak it. At least, not the vast majority in the business streets and tourist shopping areas. China has been pretty open to having Foreigners visit for the past 10 to 15 years. PLUS, the children get English lessons in public school from gradeschool forward. (At least that's what Leoni tells us). So apparently they just refuse to use it. or try to forget it. In a huge city like Beijing on a busy tourist area like Wangfujing Road you would expect at least ONE sales clerk to understand the phrase "Do you take Credit Card?" CREDIT CARD??? VISA?? MASTERCARD???" Just take out the damn card and show them! It's easier and saves you time. Often they DO take credit card... If they want to make the sale, you'd think they'd learn the English words!
(PS: to show you the price of something they grab their calculator and show you the numbers, then you type in your counter offer! Now that's communicating!)

Teachers of English...
I guess this is why our son and many other Americans, Brits, Aussies and Canadians are there to teach English. It's a good thing, and maybe the little ones will use the language once they grow up. That's China's goal I suspect.Talking AT YOU!
As Josh says, the Chines talk AT you, not to you. And its usually very loud. This is a loud group of people....
Think "Italian, or Cuban Family Gathering," and you'll understand the volume level.

Speaking of Loudness....
Everything is loud, not just People talking. Vendors selling. Music coming from store doorways, hotel corridors, subway TVs (yes the newer subway cars in Beijing all have LCD TV's. So do the D trains sleeper cars for each berth. Nice feature! Look for the volume knob... it's been set to LOUD

.Making yourself understood...
Become good at sign language! Otherwise you may never find the right tour bus in Xi'an...
Flap your arms and make pictures with your hands. Someone may get the message!

Leoni's Law:
Leoni is an Australian teacher in Nanjing who teaches English for just nine hours per week and gets paid very well!. She gets a free apartment, healthcare and bonuses. Josh learned a lot from her and made some good connections for better teaching jobs. She introduced us to her friends Sheila and Howard, a Canadian couple teaching there for four years who are soon returning home. They have the same deal. You can live well, earn a living, and not have to speak but a few phrases of Chinese to get along! (Must be what the Chinese adults are thinking about not learning English!)
Leoni has worked in Nanjing for three years. She's decided that's enough and is returning to Sydney in a few weeks, looking forward to the next great adventure. Leoni was immensely helpful in giving us tips and advice to reduce our frustration and stress levels in dealing in China.Here is Leoni's Law which helped us get through our third and final (and very trying) week in China...
(Read this with an Australian accent!)

"They won't understand WHAT you want.
You WON'T be able to MAKE them understand what you want,
AND you WON'T EVER GET what you want...
So don't frustrate yourself by trying."

Anyone wishing to visit China in the near future... we recommend you go for 2 weeks or less. You'll get the flavor of China, and will leave still being intrigued, rather than disillusioned!We plan to visit again someday, especially if Josh stays for several years... Next visit we are definitely BRINGING OUR OWN PORT-O-POTTY!.......................
Fawn & Rick

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