Some observations about China


This post was originally published in 2007
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

1 It is filled with Chinese people. 2 Shanghai, at least, is not as dirty/crowded as I was led to believe. Sure there are piles of rubbish around, but one only sees those from the bus/taxi/train, when traveling from a nice area to another nice area. So long as one doesn't accidentally wander into the "affordable housing" zones, one doesn't see much rubbish. 3 The selection of ludicrously expensive clothes is vast. 4 I've been here for ~2 weeks, and haven't seen a fight. Not even a shouting match, and I haven't been pick-pocketed. 5 The police force must be absolutely massive, more often than not there is at least a police car visible. The police often park on a corner and just sit in the car with their lights flashing. In fact, they almost never turn their lights off, just drive around with them flashing all the time. Apparently one is expected to wildly swerve out of the way only if the police car has both the lights and the siren engaged. There are a lot of police on motorbikes here, and pedal-powered officers. I repeat: there are a lot of police here. 6 There are a lot of security guards, everywhere. The housing compound where Yvonne's parents live is patrolled twenty-four-hours by ex-military security guards. They look mean and carry batons. They also have walky-talkies, which they jabber into non-stop. They are very serious, and don't seem to take chances. If a delivery vehicle arrives at a gate, for example, the guard there will wave him down, ask the driver where within the compound his delivery is for, then give the driver a time limit to arrive at that residence. The driver is then allowed to proceed. The guard will then radio a fellow guard, who will wander over to the delivery driver's destination to check that he has indeed gone where he said he would. I don't know what would happen if the driver was late or got lost, but I doubt it would be fun for him. There are a lot of guards, and I imagine they get bored patrolling, and would relish a good bashing. I doubt the police would take the delivery driver's side in this instance, either. 7 There are "crossing-wardens" at almost every zebra crossing in the shopping areas. They stand on either side of the road with whistles in their mouths, augmenting the red/green crossing lights. If someone attempts to jay walk, the warden will grab them and push them back onto the foot path. When the light goes green the warden checks everything is OK, then waves the crossers over the road. All of this is necessary, given the complete lack of attention drivers pay to pedestrians. They will just drive slowly through the crowd of people crossing the road, beeping their horn wildly. It's not so bad when the cars do this, what one has to watch out for is the scooters and bikes. They go much faster, expecting to be able to weave through the crowd. I told Yvonne that if it looks like one is going to hit me, I'm going to do my damnedest to jump out of the way and then kick them off their bike/scooter. 8 To qualify for a drivers license in China, one must be competent at controlling one's vehicle, have good eyesight and hearing, and be totally insane. A couple of days ago, Yvonne and I took a bus home from town. The bus was pretty standard for that route (different routes have different buses, depending on who runs that route), big dents all up the walls, scratched windows, brand-new LCD screens displaying adverts, coughing wheezing raving-lunatic driver. Not only did the driver speed (it seems buses/taxies are given some leeway with regards to the speed limits), he weaved in and out of traffic! He passed other buses, trucks, cars... Oh and like all drivers in China, he honked the horn incessantly, even when there was nothing in the way. As far as safe driving goes, all of the above is pretty far out, but this is the best part: the driver would drive in the center of the road (where the left-most right and the right-most left lanes ran side-by-side), for long stretches of road. A few times other buses/cars had to swerve out of the way, when they realised this guy wasn't kidding around. During all this, no-one batted an eye. Before I return to New Zealand I'll rent a taxi and take a five minute video of "normal" driving in China, to prove I'm not on LCD 24/7. Seriously, forget amusement rides, come experience the real thing. 9 If one is planning on spending the day in town, one needs to plan when and how much to drink. The toilets in China range from luxury to hole in the ground. In most public toilets that are not inside a large mall, one is required to part with coin, or not wipe. There is usually a happy "sales attendant" sitting at a table in the "lobby" of the public toilet who sells toilet paper. 10 Chinese people never cease to be amazed at a white person using chopsticks as well as them, and will always say so. This gets old quickly. Humans are creatures that are able to learn things, motor tasks can be learned especially well. The use of chopsticks is a motor task. Ergo any human, with practice, should be able to master them without too much difficulty. Using chopsticks is not an art. I could probably make more observations like that, but they'd get increasingly lame so I'll stop there. We're going to Hangzhou tomorrow. I know nothing about Hangzhou, it is a place somewhere in China that we are going to travel to on a train. I'm looking forward to the train ride.
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