May 01

Closing thoughts on Travel to China

Some final thoughts as I reflect on this fascinating trip to China.

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First — I will never understand the rules of the road in China. I have to say, it was a little scary just being a passenger. Actually, I am not certain there really are any rules of traffic. Left turn from the far right lane? Right turn from the left lane? U-turn in the middle of a 5 point intersection? — Who designed this model of ground surface transport? Additionally, pedestrians beware! It is the best advice I can offer to foreign travelers. Even if you see a little green sign at the crosswalk venturing across is a treacherous task! In many other countries green is a symbol to indicate safe crossing. After careful observations I am convinced that green in China actually means, Run For Your Life!…and watch out for those motor-scooters and bicycles. They seem to just do their own thing regardless of the “rules” for any other vehicles. To my astonishment I did not witness any fatality accidents. Neither was I harmed by any road warriors. I did learn that some people can actually “buy their license”. It is true. No test. No training classes required. Just pay and go!….interesting. Funny! I actually know a couple people in the U.S. that would find that option very useful.

Next — The country is really quite filthy with respect to air quality and general tidiness. Basic sanitation is lacking in most places and caution is advised when eating or drinking anything. Potable tap water is not common. Bottled or boiled water is the safety rule. There are so many (nearly a billion and a half) people in China and, of course, where there are a lot of people there is always a lot of shit and garbage to contend with. How to dispose of waste, rubbish and sewage is a challenge for any society and in this respect, China is substantially behind most developed countries. The number of cars on the road are a major factor related to the poor air quality. I am not sure what the answer is but I am certain that China will need to address the issue of environmental degradation in a substantive way soon. In future visits I plan to wear the protective face masks, especially if I’m there in winter months.

Something else — Public spitting. When I was a teen I acquired the ugly habit of spitting. On the farm or around the countryside it is not so terrible, but in cities with high population density, spitting is cause for some concern related to public health. It is a vector for disease and just generally not polite in the eyes of most Westerners. Not that one Westerner pointing this out would be cause for a sudden paradigm shift in the common practices of a nation with nearly 1.5 billion people.

All joking aside, China is rich in her historical and cultural legacy. As I anticipated, this trip would be merely an investigation that has sparked an even greater interest to learn more about this deeply complex and mysterious culture. I have to say that I enjoyed the smaller cities of Jinan and Xi’an. They were just more comfortable for me. I can not imagine being in a city like Beijing in the heat of summer! Ugh.

In future adventures into China I want to see more of the countryside and rural life. I also need to go to the more detailed areas of The Forbidden City as well as some other museums. You might be surprised what I get myself into!

In closing, I have to say that everyone I met was warm and friendly. Well, everyone with the exception of a couple cranky waitresses in Shanghai. My students were all welcoming and gracious. The experience of meeting so many of the people with whom I regularly speak online was heartwarming! Chinese society is generally polite though the driving is a bit aggressive and some of the accepted norms of public behavior turn off many outsiders — see comments on spitting ^^^ above….and that pushing thing on the subway was another cultural mannerism that I am quite certain would not go over well in Manhattan!

I will be going back as time allows. There is so much more to see! I feel good about the wonderful bridge of friendship I’ve established with people far away. Thank you all.


Here are the links for my articles about planning the China trip, and preparing for the trip along with the fun visa application process. Then, go read these articles about my first few days in Beijing, taking the train to Jinan, and another train to Shanghai and a flight to Xi’an.


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    • Sandy on May 3, 2015 at 11:10 am
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    This problem in our country it really has, well, i think each one of citizen want to change this, but the government should be more “gelivable”( a most popular word on website, in chinese, we say Gei Li “给力” ). Do you know what the word means? O(∩_∩)O

    1. Gei li = force. Am I right? That is what the translation software told me.
      Well, I am not sure force is the way to solve a problem like this. I think a change in consciousness is part of the solution and that must come from the long process of raising awareness. Awareness involves educating people about the costs associated with pollution in relation to the benefits of living in a clean environment.

    • May on May 6, 2015 at 4:13 am
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    I really hate it when people spit in the streets. It’s a bad habbit,but those people are not quite aware of. Good news is that Chinese goverment tends to pay more attention on public health and guide people to do what’s more sanitary. Hope the situation truns better in coming few years.
    Frankly speaking,we think Chinese education mode is not so practical for normal life,eg,if you are not planning to be a scientist, learning higher Math and Phisics seems nearly useless in daily lfe.
    What are we supposed to do if we can spare some time? In my opinion,some useful subjects,like cooking,dancing ect could be proposed, In that way,people may become more talented and well-mannered, and maybe could live a better life!

    1. The key to breaking bad habits is education. When more people understand the health risks of the behavior they will limit that behavior.
      Your observations about Chinese education are interesting, May. You are probably right that advanced level math and science are not important for many people in their daily lives. However, I must tell you that American education is not the pinnacle of excellence either. Many schools in the U.S. spend much too much time on silliness and couch it in terms of education.

    • Echo on May 9, 2015 at 2:39 am
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    Dear Kevin

    We are glad that you gave us the chance to show you around our country. We do appreciate that you have a strong interest on exploring China. We enjoy your articles here and your efforts to educate your students to improve their English language skills, life experience, social manners, etc.

    We know Chinese culture is a mystery for many Westerners. Although, in recent years, Eastern cultural elements have mixed with the Western lifestyle. China is a powerful country from an economic standpoint and is the most populous country in the world followed by India and the United States. The principles of Eastern culture were established back in the era when China was an empire. It is long history. Some people may love and some may hate it.

    We also know we are facing a lot of problems especially in eyes of western people: the severe air pollution, the behavior of some people, our system of education etc. Some foreigners even doubt our Chinese know how to behave at the dinner table.

    We know we still have long way to go and we are working on that. Working on each aspect as we gain awareness of the issues.

    Please be patient and pay attention, we will be different!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Echo.
      My article-commentary about social situations in your country was not meant to offend in anyway. I simply tried to show a few examples of differences between our cultures. Differences between cultures are not bad. For the traveler, they are worthy of noting in order to avoid miscommunication or a cultural faux pas. Also, different countries develop at different times and in their own way. Western standards of health and hygiene are recognized for their benefits. As countries like China move forward with a better educated populous these standards will be adopted and eventually built upon. Education is key and it works both ways. Each culture has a lot to offer the other.

    • Morning on May 19, 2015 at 4:40 am
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    One of the true benefits of international travel is to see things from a different perspective. When we see how others live we can share ideas and increase awareness of problems. All of us need to pay attention to the aforementioned advice.

    Social situations are complicated, especially in China because of dense population. Every one including our government is working on each aspect to become better.

    1. I agree that travel can provide a different perspective.
      If we are aware we should be able to learn something as well!
      Functioning awareness & living consciously is such an important part of knowing what is best to do.

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