China: Just Talking – No, They Are Not All the Same
The day had finally come. The day of T’s and P’s departure. The girls were preparing for the departure. Me and B had still some time before we left China. The best moments of our one year stay in China were running in our minds and we also give a thought on T and P. They would surely face many questions regarding China.
The most common one when getting back from China usually is: „How do you recognize one from another?” Of course I do. Everybody does. Chinese are not all monozygotic twins. On the other hand, many Chinese think “white men are all the same” They say we all have “large noses, eyes, and fair hair.” Only slowly some stereotypes are getting obsolete …
Another question on anyone who claims he/she learns (or even knows) to speak Chinese is a classic one: “So you understand that ping pong?” or “Can you draw even sprinkled tea?” Only seldome I manage to answer before the challenge of “Say us something!” Even though it may seem strange, Chinese is much of a language as another language – so why not to learn it? It is really different from Czech. But this is what makes it so interesting and entertaining. And the script – symbols belong to the Chinese language as much as the Latin script to the Czech language. Some Chinese are striving to learn the Latin script. When you happen to write some letters in cursive then you give your Chinese friends a mystery they would debate whole afternoon. Chinese symbols consists of certain parts and these parts of certain strokes. The whole system requires you to invest considerable amount of time and also enthusiasm. However, one soon comes into realization , while studying Chinese, spilled tea and even those unintelligible sounds make perfect sense.
„And can you eat with those chopsticks?“ Yes. One can learn pretty quickly to eat with them. And it is much faster when you realized you would be otherwise hungry. It is not true Chinese don’t use anything else to eat their meals. In many restaurants they bring you spoon. And you need a spoon for many meals.
Another question is related to food: “Can you cook gongbao?” My friends in China couldn’t understand how people in Europe can even like chicken gongbao. Chinese prefere pig ears, viscera, and really fatty pork.
This was only a small list of all kinds of questions I am asked almost permanently. But this is a quite good thing. It means that people are interested in China. And it is even better if they want to listen to my story. Then they maybe realize that it is a whole different world from what they imagined.
However, I have to node that even Chinese are not a nation that wouldn’t have their own prejudices of other natures. But this we explore in the next article.
No. I don’t have slant eyes even after so much time I have spent there.
Text and photo: Hana Bašová
To conclude the great journey we did with T and P we intended to see two place. We had seen those with B already yet they were still interesting enough for us to see them again. First, it was the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan颐和园), a romantic place we idyllically remembered for its winter atmosphere. In summer, however, the atmosphere was much worse. The second place in our trip would be the Forbidden City, Gugong in Chinese. It means “the Old Palace”.
When me and B were thinking at the airport about all prejudices our Czech friends have, we realized even our Chinese friends’ idea about our culture is not much accurate.
I was much more smarter on my second turn in China. And before my first stay in China I had heard many advice by my class mates. “Try not to use handkerchiefs often.” “Don’t stick your chopsticks into the food”.
It was only couple of minutes before the departure. T and P were about to fly back to the Czech Republic. Me and B were ready to travel to Vietnam for another adventure. There was much to remember. T and P looked pretty tired. It is no easy thing to travel across China in one month. Many say they haven’t experienced cultural shock but still China is much different from Europe.
Even though it seems that the fate wants a boulder to fall on us along the road, the driver managed to deliver us safe and sound. We even managed to take couple pictures as if it was the only chance. During couple of following days we realized that it is impossible to get enough of this place…
The day of our departure from the mountain paradise had come. Luckily, we had whole afternoon at our hands. Therefore, we set off for the last trip. We intended to explore only the nearby area.
In a small family hostel near the Leaping Tiger Gorge (Hutiao xia虎跳峡) we had some good night sleep. After our arrival we headed straight to see the wild Jinsha River 金沙. At its narrowest point, a tiger allegedly leapt over it. We were completely exhausted by a walk in fresh air. However, we woke up soon next day morning to enjoy raising sun at our terrace.
We felt like waking up to mornings in mountains veiled in pleasant haze is hardly something we would get enough of. We had already spent couple of nights at our hostel. At breakfasts we wondered if the locals are still so impressed with the mountains.
Our small trip to waterfall became a nightmare. Ponies that stood across narrow pathway and deep precipice under seemed harmless. Once I got across these obstacles my landlord appeared. With great enthusiasm he instructed us to other waterfalls. As there was only one road heading to our hostel I had to mentally prepare myself to another and another waterfall.
Surprisingly we survived the journey from the Leaping Tiger Gorge to Lijiang 丽江. We were in the town for the second time and nobody was looking forward to it. We got enough of it when we were there couple of days ago. Thanks to my ingenuity we were accommodated next to Lashihai 拉市海. But it was far from spectacular. Partially, the reason was in the fact we hadn’t even seen the historical center of Lijiang. The reason, on the other hand, for tourists to come in the city.
We stepped out of the silent temple in one of Lijiang’s streets and found ourselves immediately among tourist crowds mostly consisting of Chinese. They threw themselves on all delicacies around – from sugar hawthorn to huge baked bones.
Last time I have already started talking about Lashihai lake 拉市海. We intended to see it. The lake is to be found at the foothill of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong xueshan 玉龙雪山) at the altitude of over 2400 meters. The lake’s area is around 5330 hectares. Long time ago, an old horse tea road lead through here. Pu'er tea普洱was very important export commodity. Today, over 60 bird species nest on the lake. More than thirty thousand birds fly here in winter. The best time for observation is December, they say.
Lijiang 丽江, a small town in Yunnan 云南 province is known as a land of clear sky, clean air, and beautiful landscape. Lijiang truly meets this. And it has even something more to it. It is a tourist paradise. When you pay 80 yuan admission to enter the city center only annoying vendors prevent you from exploring the area.
We survived the trip on the Great Wall of China. We liked it but ahead would be waiting pre-departure preparations. We were busy packing, me and B. As it turned out, packing one year worth of life in China to one coffer is far from easy and takes much more than just one afternoon. Therefore, I took T and P to their guest house and left them to take care of themselves.
Our great journey was about to end. But at that moment it still seemed we would travel for couple of more weeks. Imagine a group of four ragged students waiting for a bus while sitting on cobble stone. We were hoping for it to come any minute… Yeah, any minute…
After several weeks on the road we were about to return to Beijing. What a strange feeling it was. B and I felt like we were coming back home even though we lived there only half a year. We took a train from Lijiang 丽江 Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan province 云南. We stayed there for couple of days. Eventually we were even glad we managed to buy flight tickets because it was a last minute buy as we had been waiting for them to become cheaper.
It was easy to count hours before the departure of the girls (and our as well). Still, we intended to utilize them as much as possible regardless the unbearable heat in Beijing.
We managed climbing up the hill very well. We walked through a small village. Some watched us, some obviously had met tourists efore and waved at us. Once we reached a crossroad we suddenly saw its contours. And we also recognized contours of a small shop at the crossroads. It wasn’t overpriced. Surprisingly. We refilled our water and sugar supplies (popsicles). If there exists something like an addiction on popsicles, I was an addict in China.
We gladly left Lijiang 丽江, a small and among tourist popular town in south China. We worried a bit that we would need to return to our hostel on our way back. However, we forget our worries and looked forward to the new adventure.
In Chengdu 成都 , we visited places mentioned in previous articles. I enjoyed nostalgia, other members of our journey enjoyed great weather – mostly it was raining gently. So it wasn’t hot as it usually is in Chengdu this time of the year.
I am of those people who cannot enjoy shopping. Mostly I have this feeling that the time spent finding something could we spent much more efficiently. When I decide to go somewhere shopping I need time.
It was getting closer to our departure from Xian 西安. With our backpacks we had to move by city bus to a train station. It was pretty easy till then...
It is true that I base my articles on my experiences and remarks of my friends, yet I have this feeling that everyone gets to the point when he needs to leave the big noisy city for fresh air in the countryside.
We were returning quite disgruntled from the village of Longjing 龙井. The intrusive lady reminded us again that we are still tourists in China – and given my face, I still will be one.
Upon our difficult arrival at Hangzhou 杭州 we had crammed schedule ahead. Right in the morning, we went to explore how to get to our other goal the village of Longjing 龙井 that is famous for its tea plantations.
Certainly there are lists of the most used words in any language. We learn what words we use the most in our mother tongue. We do not wonder as those are mostly words that are logically the most common as well.
Days in Beijing passed by merrily. School in the morning, studying, chats with friends… Everyday routine was diversified with weekend trips. Summer Beijing was not very magical, to be honest.
When you are studying in China and you want to learn more than you would at classic lessons you can ask about optional classes. There are usually many as such at universities. You can choose everything from sports, literature, or trivia to calligraphy or local dialects.
I know the old proverb starts bit differently, yet I hold to the opinion that this tweak has some truth to it. At some places I think about this proverb more often. At some places even every day. Perhaps you already realized that by the latter I mean China.
„To terminus? What will you do there? There is nothing! “
First, I have to say that I come from a small town. Arrival in Prague was a large shock for me. When I was then hustling in Prague in darky morning trying to find the right address, I had no idea such an experience was not my last time. Next time it would be more intense.
For as long as I had travelled in China, my main reason was studying the Chinese language. As more and more people ask me how learning Chinese in China is going I am going to spend some time explaining how it is.
Beijing, the city of our year-long study stay, did not greet the girls pleasantly. Yet despite all obstacles we faced, we didn’t let it to spoil our mood. We decided to see all the sights, we hadn’t manage to visit during the first couple of days, before our flight back. We counted with some problems in our grandiose travel plan anyway.
I have written about one of Chinese minorities, the people of Hui (回族) in one of my previous articles. I praised their cuisine and their kindness and knowledge about the place of my origin.
Even though we tried, we didn’t manage to get nice weather. Smog, that impervious pot lid, held tiring heat above Beijing. But we were determined to prevail.
... is that joyful? Already in one of my past articles I quoted the first sentence from Analects by Confucius. To be honest I thought of it very often. Prior my departure to China almost every other person asked me: „When may I arrive? You know I wouldn’t need a guide when you are there...“
„You study Chinese? So you can read scattered tea?“
„Chinese? Ping Pong?“ „Do you have skew eyes from eating all those rice already?“
Spring was coming soon which lured us to the nature outside Beijing. “Why don’t you go to the Sidu river 十渡?“ one teacher–friend told us. The description suggested it is beautiful there: allegedly „Guilin桂林 of the north“. It is a vast karst area covering 300 km² in north China. This area was formed by the Tu-ma river. Sidu literally means “ten fords”. Today the fords are replaced with modern bridges yet they say the place has still some magic in it.
„This is something you have to see!“
„It’s sure worth it!“
„It is world’s wonder.“
The Temple of Eight Immortals (Ba xian an八仙庵) is the largest Tao temple in Xi'an 西安. When we were deciding on what sight to see as the first, the temple was pretty clear choice.
We had last day to spend in Xian. We had tickets not to the opera but for the evening train which would get us to my beloved Chengdu 成都.
Terracotta army in Xian 西安 was truly interesting yet it wasn’t the only thing we saw there. We were, perhaps, bit disappointed from all those people we had met there. Whether they were tourists looking for something exciting, or vendors trying to make profits, and I don’t even mention high admission… We even hadn’t seen any good place to have lunch in. We ate only some snack, got on the bus to get back to the city.
Before I traveled to China, I had noticed weird mostly roundish buildings on various ad posters. I didn’t understand why would anyone build something like this.
Our stay in Yunyongyao云永谣 commenced with a funeral, not particularly traditional way to begin one’s trip. Most of the locals took part in it. Some right in the procession, others just watched from afar. Soon, however, cracking and music ended. Only streets covered with red papers could tell the story.
After while, during our search for tulou 土楼 we went off the tourist-luring village with never ending music. Chinese tourists took pictures of each other wearing traditional and nontraditional clothes rented for horrible money. All of a sudden, everything went quiet around us. We were approaching local hills on a narrow road.
Our trip to see the famous tulou 土楼 was great. A strange van appeared and it was not strange after all. Chinese tourists stepped in and we stepped in as well because they said that the last bus had just left and the van driver would give us better price.
When we peaked out to the street in the morning, it was truly alive. The digger was demolishing houses, and people were engaged in their work. I sought to protect my breakfast against omnipresent dust. It was clear now what we would do on that day. We had to get as far as possible.
Perhaps everyone who has visited Beijing and had little spare time paid his visit to famous Summer Palace (Yiheyuan 颐和园), northwestern Beijing. Less tourists, however, know, that near the “new” Summer Palace is also Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan圆明园).
After all the information we gathered from our friends and teachers about Suzhou 苏州, everybody would look forward to see it! “Up is paradise, below are Suzhou, and Su Chang and Hangzhou" (in Chinese hang you tiantang,
xia you Su-Hang 上有天堂，下有苏杭) we heard when we were mounting green city bikes, and rode through narrow streets near our hotel. The streets were crowded with various stands that lured us to stop (many of them at least). But we didn’t want to miss delicacies of Suzhou.
When returned to the hostel we were decided to get up early, get on the roof and start the day with a look at Suzhou in the morning 苏州. Right with the alarm clock ringing we started cursing the idea. Because we did not want to be lame in front one of another we get from warm duvets, and headed to the roof.
Dali 大理 je belongs to the Pai 白 minority. At the first glimpse you realize the city feels differently than Han 汉 (i.e. ethnic Chinese) cities. Once we accommodated ourselves, we walked in the streets surrounding our hostel. Somehow we managed to find rooms in an area where were no foreign or Chinese tourists. A pleasant change.
It hasn’t been so long ago when I boarded the plane to Helsinki. I was thinking how I would spend a night before leaving for Beijing. Suddenly, I realized that my stay in China is coming to an end. It was one of these moments when I felt nostalgia and casted my mind back.
Christmas is the time of remembrance. One remembers passed year, how and with who she spent Christmas and how it was. I couldn’t help myself from such assessment when I saw grey snowless streets. It remined me of my first Christmas outside home, Christmas in Chengdu 成都.
End of June was about leaves. Since May, my friends had been leaving. Finals were coming and those who didn’t need any confirmation of their study stays and exams passed just packed their luggage and boarded the plane. Other didn’t visit schools because their relatives, and friends arrived. Dormitories emptied.
As I promised myself on my exploration tour to the campus I fulfilled that promise. At the beginning of September I trotted to my future campus.
It wasn’t bad in Beijing. Yet sometimes a time comes that one just want to go somewhere else. Anywhere. The break of the first May was coming and we had already forgotten how crazy it is to travel in China, especially when even others have holidays. But this time we were bit smarter. We learned how to buy train tickets on the Internet.
When we said farewell to Suzhou 苏州, the train took us to the famous Shanghai 上海. Shanghai is the name everybody things of when asked if they can think of a Chinese city. Once it used to be a small fishermen village.
When before the departure from Chengdu I decided to final packing of my things, I found out that I have a lot more than a few things.