Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gone to the Motherland

An opportunity came my way and I was able to visit China for two weeks at a ridiculously good price ($2000 CDN which included travel, hotel and food). Even though I can barely understand Cantonese and my Mandarin is even worse, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit the Motherland, even if it meant participating in two lion dance competitions through my martial arts club.

My trip took me to Hong Kong, Fo Shan, Wuzhou, and Beijing and all I can say to those who have never had the opportunity to visit, it is a totally different world over there and I'm not referring culturally. It's not an issue about the weather or the crowds of people but the lifestyle. It's fast-paced, aggressive and very materialistic. No wonder the Communist Party have brought in capitalism for the masses - give the people the opportunity to make scads of money and they could care less about what's going on.

Anyways, two weeks there isn't enough time there (that could barely cover most of the sites in Beijing alone) and I know that I will have to go back when the opportunity presents (I still have to try and climb the steps to reach Shaolin Temple). I guess I'll have to start some Mandarin classes.

Anyways, here are a few thoughts and observations about China:
  • The smog/pollution factor is quite bad, so much so that it was on my day before I left that I could see clearly beyond three or four blocks.
  • For some reason, the Chinese really love the song "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music. In my two weeks there, I managed to hear the song five times. Also, one TV channel in Beijing was showing The Sound of Music in one hour parts over three days.
  • In the south, a motor scooter is essentially a vehicle for a family of four. I couldn't keep count of the number of times I saw entire families travelling on vespas and other types of scooters. (for those trying to figure out how everyone fits, usually the father is driving, the eldest child is standing and holding onto the handlebars, the mother is on the backseat with her arms wrapped around her husband and their baby is between them.
  • The south also features the largest flying insects I've ever seen (the humidity must help make them grow big).
  • The traffic lines on the streets are there merely as a suggestion for drivers to follow.
  • Getting your hair done in China, be it a cut or just a shampoo, includes a full body massage. However, there is no frontal release (for those naughty readers who were curious)
  • Bartering is a way of life there. If you're out shopping, don't show any interest as they will drop the price for you (and then you bargain it down further). Incidently, except in the major cities, they don't speak English but they do communicate via calculator.
  • Be warned that salespersons are very aggressive when customers come near their store. At one point I was watching this Korean woman trying to leave a shoe store, and the salesperson was holding onto her arm wanting her not to go. The same can be said for street hawkers.
  • Everybody smokes (NOTE: of the numerous cigarette brands there, the one that stood out for me was "Double Happiness Cigarettes").
  • If you find yourself at any banquet where you're a guest of honor, be prepared to get drunk. Those in attendance will go out of their way to get you pissed by giving toasts with Chinese rice wine. That stuff could probably strip paint off boats.
  • In the north, you can eat scorpion-on-a-stick from street vendors. (NOTE: wasn't brave enough to eat that, but I did manage to eat praying mantis and another giant insect whose name escapes me).
  • The Forbidden City features 9999.5 rooms, which apparently a half-a-room less than how many there are in heaven (so it was believed).
  • Apparently you're not a real man until you climb the Great Wall. Incidently, the Great Wall at Badaling (there are three areas where you can drive to reach the Wall) also features a gondola ride and a mini-rollercoaster.