We have already said goodbye to China and shared our favorites, but with the good comes the bad and so it’s only fair that we share our China gripes. Due to censorship in China, we stayed light and positive, not wanting to be locked out of our site all together. Here are some of the gripes we had while traveling.
I liked China, I really did, but it wore me out. By the time we were leaving, even though there was much I would miss, it was time to go. For every amazing experience there are more frustrating ones. As George Orwell pointed out in “A Brave New World Revisited”, these things that grate may be engineered specifically to break down individual spirit in order to strengthen the dictatorship. The longer I was in China the more it seemed this was true, whereas in most developing countries the frustrations are due to lack of preparation and experience; in China it often feels like the frustrations were intentionally created. Here are some of my biggest gripes.
The internet sucked. I know, I know, I wrote an entire piece on how travelers have become too tied to their digital lives and that traveling before the internet was great, but often the internet is an amazing tool. This wasn’t an infrastructure issue, this is because China filters, monitors and censors the internet. The slow access to information is a pride point of China’s rather than something to be fixed. It was a constant reminder that you are in a police state, that what you are doing is being watched and you have no rights. I will write another piece, specifically on censorship, but let’s just say I don’t agree with the “Great Firewall of China” and believe that this one thing will cause China to always be poorer and less developed of a country than the USA and Europe.
The best example of how you can be materially rich as China is, but still be backward is in etiquette and health. If you need to sneeze or cough, just do it, right on people next to you. If a urinal is in sight you can probably pee right there, on the floor, instead of walking up to the urinal. Eating? You aren’t enjoying it unless you are chewing with your mouth open…even better if some is flying out of your mouth onto the table. Think that’s gross? How about homemade baby food? You know, the kind you make by chewing something, then spitting it into your child’s mouth. Clearly many Chinese people learned personal behaviors from the Discovery Channel…sadly though it was watching the shows about animals, not people.
The biggest gripe I have is the total lack of silence. China is noisy, all the time, everywhere. The people speak into mobile phones at the volume we would use on a factory floor in an emergency! Apparently mobile phones have no silent, or ring volume selector at all, it feels as though all phones are always set on “beach” volume, no matter where they are. This could be sleeping, in a dorm. Chinese dorm mates’ phones would regularly ring, at full blast, in the middle of the night. Know what happens then? They answer it…and speak in the “oh my god, stop the factory line, Linda’s arm is trapped in it!” volume. Everywhere there is noise, no place for thought or reflection. If there was a quiet room often hotel staff would come in, turn on a TV or music to uncomfortably loud levels…then leave the room. It seemed as though they turned them on just to stop the quiet from infecting our minds. I have read that noise and sleep deprivation is a great way to instill groupthink, wear people to the point they cannot fathom rebelling and become better comrades. I can’t help but think that the society may be intentionally designed noisy for this reason.
For whatever reason it is that China makes everything more difficult and loud than it needs to be, I don’t know, but they do a good job of it. Nothing can be easy in China and you cannot go anywhere without suffering the annoyances of animal-like behavior. While China will likely remain on my short list of favorite countries, I have some major gripes about China…let the rant begin.
My Dad always told me that ‘patience is a virtue,’ while I agree, it’s not one that I have. I am horribly impatient, which did not bode well for me in China, where nothing comes to those who don’t wait. With over a billion people in China it makes sense that for some things you have to stand in line, but it seemed they had spent considerable time thinking about how they could maximize the wait time for every experience in China. For example, the Shaanxi Museum in Xian is supposed to be the best in China, and there’s no admission fee, which means there is a very long line. After spending an hour and a half in line we got to the front where we simply needed to write our passport number down and take a ticket from the stack on the counter. Why there was such a long line to reach a couple staffed booths, where the staff doesn’t do anything just boggles the mind.
All the waiting might not be so bad if you weren’t waiting with a crowd of Chinese people. They don’t wait in line, they push, shove and cut in line. Regardless of if they are in a rush or if we are all waiting due to a physical barrier they will push. If you can watch this phenomenon from a safe distance it is hilarious. The people at the front of the line inevitably become pinned against whatever barrier it is that everyone is waiting to pass through and a crowd of hundreds can be compressed into a space the size of your bathroom at home, no one is any closer to boarding the train because the gate still isn’t open. However everyone is now much more hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.
My biggest gripe is the obnoxious habit of spitting, everywhere. This habit is not gender specific or practiced only by a certain age group, everyone spits. I understand it is likely due to the high pollution, also creating a lack of blue skies, but I will forever jump out of the way when I hear someone clearing their throat. As I know that soon after that a huge snotty glob will be hawked onto the sidewalk or if your not careful onto you. The need to spit everywhere including inside is absolutely disgusting and creates a dirty atmosphere throughout China.
I am done with my rant, thanks for reading, it feels good to get it off my chest. Although I do worry that it may discourage you from visiting this incredible country. As much as all of these little things started to get under my skin during our visit it is why I travel. I didn’t set off on this trip in hopes of finding places and people that operated just like back home. However, it’s always nicer to explore a country when you can get a good nights sleep, not be spit on, peed on, coughed on or sneezed on.