It Like To Live In China?
|Photos And Story by Daniel
is a goodbye to the country I've lived in for ten months - travelling,
living with a local family, teaching English. This is an account of the
good and bad things I've encountered, and as a result is inevitably a series
of generalisations - there are lots of exceptions to the tendencies I'm
describing. Also bear in mind that most of my experiences in China have
been in the western provinces, and the south western city of Kunming in
particular - I'm sure life in Beijing or Shanghai would be different in
All that aside,
let's begin with:
here is amazing. I eat in simple restaurants for almost every meal
of the day, prices are very low, and variety is seemingly endless. What
we see in Chinese restaurants in the West is a tiny fraction of what this
country is cooking, and each region has its own style. My favourite is
the painfully spicy Sichuan cooking, with the red chilies and brown "numbing
chili may take some getting used to, even the street food is unlikely
to make you very ill, as most dishes are cooked at volcanic temperatures.
And while it's tricky to be a “purist” vegetarian here (the same
wok is used for all dishes), getting food with no meat in it is no
problem, and there's a vast array of vegetarian options. Most cheap places
display their raw ingredients for you to select and point at – so it’s
easy to try lots of dishes even without speaking any Chinese.
A lot of
Chinese spit in the street, drop chewed bones and unwanted food on
the floor of restaurants, are chronic smokers and litterers. City rivers
are frequently disgusting with all the rubbish floating in them, and the
public toilets are like nowhere I've seen in the world. It's hard to feel
the Chinese have their own system of hygiene, and they consider many
of the things we Westerners do to be disgusting. Many people eat in KFC
or McDonald’s with a plastic glove over their hand – touching your hand
to your mouth while eating, or touching your food with your fingers, is
thought unsanitary by many. Chinese believe Western style toilets are unclean
(everyone shares that same seat) and so actually prefer the squat style
toilet. Stay with a family and you may be encouraged / forced to wash your
feet in scalding hot water before getting into bed every night.
If you come
to China expecting a life full of tea ceremonies, traditional music,
theatre - you may be disappointed. China often feels like a crude place
- full of the same repeated pop songs, shopping, computer games and eating.
Chinese people revere their history - yet the country is tearing apart
anything old in order to make space for the new.
be frustrating, to ask Chinese friends about Chinese poets, and always
hear vague enthusiasm about Tang dynasty poetry. Are there any modern Chinese
poets, I asked? My friends shrugged: Maybe.
Beijing would certainly be more of an artist hub, but in general, China
feels like a country that has lost a lot of its past, but where there isn't
a lot of modern cultural creativity to take its place.
while artistic or classical culture might be not so strong, this is an
immensely diverse country, especially here in the south west. One statistic
is that 93% of the population is the majority "Han Chinese", but
the remaining 7% of 1.3 billion is still an awful lot of people. Non Chinese
races in China: Tibetans, living all over the most western provinces as
well as in Tibet itself – more than one old traveller claims that western
Sichuan province has the most “untouched” Tibetan culture of anywhere
in the world. Muslims, the Hui here in Yunnan and the Uighurs in Xinjiang;
the minority peoples of the south west - Dai, Yi, Naxi, Mosuo, Bai, Maio...
Those tourist hill treks you did in Thailand, many of the same peoples
live here, unhassled by crowds.
|It is an
enormous country, and you should have no hope of seeing everything. Beijing
and Xian's ancient history, booming Shanghai, mountains and deserts in
the far west, ex colonial Hong Kong and Macao in the southeast.
Chinese life are very hard to adjust to. It is a place that is just
different to the West, both in terms of traditional culture and how life
has been so hard here for a long time.
think stuns most visitors is how rude Chinese people can be – staring at
you, ignoring you if you ask for help (or just grunting “no” or “meiyou”),
pushing past you in queues as if you don’t exist. Some Chinese people act
like: if I don’t know you, I have no obligation to you at all. Trust between
strangers seems very low – Chinese friends were shocked when I said my
parents leave spare front door keys with the neighbours.
|It is a
tough society. Bargaining might sound fun for antiques, but bargaining
for the simplest, daily things (like bottles of water) becomes tiresome.
People, particularly in cheap restaurants, will try and rip you off, saying
extraordinary prices sometimes, and they don’t care if you realise and
start shouting. Nothing you can say will upset them, they will wait for
you to pay and then forget about you. I watch Chinese people just shut
down when a situation gets unpleasant – customers are shouting at a waitress
because their meal hasn’t arrived, she can’t answer back, can’t hassle
the kitchen, so her face just goes grim and she endures everything she
has to. A Chinese person once told me an old proverb, “Bully the weak,
fear the strong” – and then remarked, “This is everyone in China”.
Index ~ China