He Said/She Said: Traveling India vs China

He Said/She Said: Traveling India vs China

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India and China, lumped together as two of the “BRIC” economies they are often mentioned in the same sentence.  The reality on the ground illustrates how inappropriate that is, the two most populous nations couldn’t be more dissimilar.  Here are some of the difference we’ve noticed.

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HE SAID…

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For Christmas, my father-in-law gave me The Growth Map in which the author of the original BRICs report delves deeper into his thoughts on these countries.  He expresses his surprise by how the BRIC concept was received and sometimes misunderstood.  One key misconception was that these countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) were similar.  The only similarity they shared was that they are large countries with high growth potential.  Due to population size, age and education they were poised for growth, but what each could become is drastically different.  After months traveling across India and China I’ve come to believe it’s an insult to group China with India.

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Where there is an open space in India you will find trash and stench.

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China is going through the industrial revolution at warp speed.  They studied what it took Britain and the USA to develop, created a plan to do the same, and made this plan happen.  For 30 years it has grown its economy, domestic talent and technological prowess on a scale that the world has never seen.  As a result it has lifted more people out of poverty than ever before in world history.  Explore it’s cities today and it’s hard to imagine that the buildings, streets, sidewalks and subways didn’t exist just 20 years ago.  There is no denying that this has been accomplished by withholding the freedoms that I just last week preached, but the results are hard to deny, a Chinese person born today is being born into a comfortable, developed, country.

The other side of the coin is India, the world’s largest democracy.  It’s unpaved streets are covered with household litter stuck to the streets, animal feces (or worse) is the glue connecting the litter to the roadway.  It’s not a surprise to see raw sewage in waterways, the same waterways that adults and children alike bathe in.  While there are pockets of wealth, places without beggars, squalor and stench far outnumber them.  It is common to see children working in stores, shining shoes, and idly about town during the school day.  I hope Indians can work together to build a more modern, equitable society that cares for it’s weakest, but the more time I spend here, the more pessimistic I am that it can overcome itself.

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SHE SAID…

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I’m not an economist, but it doesn’t take much formal education to clearly see the differences between China and India.  While I have enjoyed both countries with their rich histories, bustling city streets and stunning natural surrounds, China is far easier to travel in than India, which leaves me wondering why travelers always seem to choose India over China.  When it comes to public transportation, food safety and basic infrastructure, China is light years ahead.  Not once did we experience a power outage in China, never did we get sick from the food and rarely did we encounter trash in the streets, while these things are par for the course in India.

When we flew from Japan to China we prepared ourselves for culture shock.  We didn’t expect to be able to communicate with anyone, thought we’d have to be wary of food and dodging people’s spit.  However, when we landed in Qingdao we were blown away by the friendly people, many of which spoke English and the incredibly clean hostels.  We started immediately eating street food, even meat.  After traveling over 20,000 kilometers on the trains and saw 26 cities, we can’t recommend China enough to fellow travelers.

Nowhere will you see a street this orderly and organized in India as this one in Shanghai.

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On the other hand I would recommend anyone thinking of going to India to do their research, because this kind of travel is not for everyone.  Not once have I met someone that has traveled in India and not gotten sick…the term “Delhi Belly” is not just a joke.  From the moment we set foot in India we have experienced daily power outages and dodged rubbish.  The people are friendly, but the constant daily struggles of travel in India are evidence of how far the country has to come; not only in terms of tourism but for the improvement of life for their own citizens. If you want to see a developing country that’s really developing skip India and head to China.

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YOUR TURN: Have you been to India or China?  Why did you choose one over the other?  What are your experiences in developing countries?  Share with us in the comments.

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Comments

» Bka :
Jul 16, 2012

Our travel experience is limited to China and based on your experiences in India, it may remain “limited”…..Shanghai was like NYC on steroids!……not only did we enjoy the modern conveniences and friendly people, we were frequently reminded, as Matt alluded to, that most of this transformation occurred in just 20 years…..amazing….peace….love you guys dad

LOCAVORista Reply:

Dad, you know that if I had to choose between the two I would choose China every time. However, I am glad that we are doing India as it is a fascinating, albeit frustrating place.

» Ayngelina :
Jul 16, 2012

Oh man China and India are the two countries I’d like to see but keep putting off, I’m not sure which one would be more difficult to travel.
Read Ayngelina’s awesome post I’m on vacation

LOCAVORista Reply:

Ayngelina, don’t put off travel to China and India too long as they are countries I believe would best be seen young as they require a lot of energy. And I promise you India is more difficult to travel as the frustration level is much higher in my opinion.

» Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) :
Jul 22, 2012

Really interesting juxtaposition between these two countries, and a helpful one for me because while Tony and I intend to visit both, I admit that I’m just a tiny bit intimidated by both. Mostly I’m worried about the “filth factor”, though by the sounds of it, you really didn’t find much to worry about in China. I think it is probably for the best that we are saving India until we have been on the road for a few months, because I think it’s the kind of place that might be extremely taxing for travelers who are just cutting their teeth!
Read Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)’s awesome post Our Japan Itinerary

LOCAVORista Reply:

Steph, I understand how both countries can be intimidating and I will admit neither provides “easy” travel. However, now that we are two months into our Indian odyssey I can tell you that India will try your patience much more than China and the “filth factor” is far higher in India. I agree with your idea of hitting India later in your trip as it is definitely tough travel. Looking forward to your impressions of both places.

» Shailesh :
Jan 25, 2014

Everything you wrote about India is right. Its dirty and filthy and difficult to travel. I have traveled to many places in India, big and small cities. All of them facing same problems, child labor – very common, poor and over crowded roads, beetle leaf spits (paan) and Gutkha pouches on roads, public toilets and buildings, garbage everywhere in unpaved streets, Dirty & overcrowded & very often delayed public transport – Trains Buses, Domestic travel by air is costly but travel to Thailand via AirAsia is much cheaper sometimes. Unhygienic street food (nobody wear gloves), no food safety (even in many restaurants their kitchens are horrible!), Public water supply is dirty and filtering standards are followed only on paper.In every city you visit, auto-rickshaws and tuk tuks try to fool you (no matter Indian or foreigner)by over-charging you if you don’t know the reasonable rates and bargain with them. These are just few points. I am from India.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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